Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The challenges of Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams

Interviewing Michael Carter-Williams. Before the interview proper, I told him the premise of the piece which is about adversity and asked if he is all right with that topic and the subsequent line of questioning. He agreed and the man is a trooper. I wish him all the best.
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The challenges of Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams
by rick olivares

“Sometimes I think that adversity is my middle name.”

Michael Carter-Williams, the Milwaukee Bucks point guard who is in town for the NBA3x3 event, stifled a chuckle.

“Right now, I feel tired. Jetlag,” he offers. “That’s actually the easiest of my concerns."

It seems that all his young 24 years on this planet, Carter-Williams has had to deal with adversity. As a high school freshman, the precocious talent led Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School to a league championship. And he stood only five feet and nine inches tall then (Michael now stands at 6’6”). 

In his college frosh year in Syracuse, he mostly sat on the bench. However, he bounced back in his sophomore year putting up stellar numbers.

In his first year in the NBA, Carter-Williams, drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, was named Rookie of the Year giving the perpetually underachieving ballclub some good cheer. Yet after his injury-shortened second season, he was traded to the Bucks. 

In the midst of his second year with the Bucks, Michael’s hearing things about he isn’t the solution to their point guard woes and that he can’t shoot.

Does it bother him? 

“Yes, it does,” he admits and wonders if this is some cruel sophomore jinx. “In college, I was angry because I wasn’t playing. I performed well in practice and I thought that I could be in the rotation and help out. It’s hard for me to deal with being benched because I generally have a positive attitude and I try to pick up teammates who are feeling down because of being benched or their poor game up. But at the same time, I was struggling with not playing and I found it increasingly hard to practice what I was preaching.”

It’s hard for a young baller to do some reflecting and soul searching when there are constantly cameras and audio recorders in his face. However, during the quiet and long moments during the flight to Manila, he’s had time to think.  

“Back in ‘Cuse, I found a way to deal with my unhappiness,” he recalled. "That meant putting in a lot of hard work in the gym and practice. I got myself stronger and did everything I could to improve. It all paid off.”

In Philadelphia, he had that dream start to his professional career that doesn’t happen to most NBA draftees. Selected 11th overall in 2013 by the 76ers, Michael was named Rookie of the Year. However, as a team, the Sixers took a step back from the previous campaign’s 34-win season, stumbling to 19 in Carter-Williams’ rookie year. The following season, they won one fewer match. And Carter-Williams was traded away for future draft picks.

The trade was a sobering moment for Carter-Williams. “When you enter the league, you know trades happen and that it’s also a business but you never think it will happen to you. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect. I never got traded before. I felt like the team gave up on me. And when you’re rebuilding and trying to do something special, it hurts.”

“The pro game forces you to grow up fast. One good game is just one good game. Tomorrow is another day where you can have a bad game. In the NBA you need to have a short memory because you have to let go of the losses and bad games and come out and play the next. So a huge part of what we do is mental. You hear ‘mental toughness’ thrown around a lot in sports and as you get older, you realize how true it is.

“In Milwaukee, the guys are great; they welcomed me. They also lost some players so there’s a rebuilding process. And it was a little rough at first.”

At this point, Carter-Williams paused. He’s heard the analyses and radio talk about his shooting woes and wondering if the Bucks were better off keeping Brandon Knight, the guard he replaced in Brew City. During his second year with the Bucks he was in and out of the starting line-up as Gianis Antetokounmpo thrived in a starring role. Sharing the point guard duties is another Syracuse alum in Tyler Ennis. And this current off-season, Milwaukee’s front office brought in former Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Matthew Dellavedova.

Pondering the point guard logjam in Milwaukee, Carter-Williams considers this a challenge. “In the NBA you have to be strong. As I said earlier, you need a short memory with the bad. So far, I have always been trying to prove somebody wrong. In the first two years, I wanted to play well against the teams that didn’t draft me. Now it’s working on my all-around game and jumpshot."

“When I was in college, I was upset that I was sitting. Now I understand that you do what you have for the team. If it means me starting or coming off the bench, it’s fine. The coach knows what’s best. I just have to get ready.”

“What this has all taught me so far — college and pro basketball? I have to constantly remind myself of that everyday it’s all about working hard every single day of your life and not taking anything for granted. And handling adversity."


Michael Carter-Williams paused one more time. “Maybe a few years from now, I’ll laugh and say, ‘Adversity? Oh, I had that for breakfast.’"

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