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“Everyone has a vet.” That statement from Kevin Garnett has stuck with me. Sam Mitchell was his. He was Rajon Rondo’s. It’s the circle of NBA life. You would be hard-pressed to find a player whose career was not set on its course by a veteran in his first locker room. Those who become vets themselves pass those lessons along. These are their stories.
It has been one heck of a rookie season for Ty Jerome. The University of Virginia product’s rights were traded twice on draft day before he landed with the Phoenix Suns. The 22-year-old point guard missed the first six weeks of his debut campaign with an ankle injury. He was starting to crack the rotation in the second half of the season when the coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA in ways no veteran has even seen.
Jerome remains locked down in the Phoenix area with his girlfriend. Outside of injury, this is the longest he has gone without being able to get up shots. He was kind enough to spend some time with Yahoo Sports talking about his introduction to the NBA and staying ready during the COVID-19 outbreak for a potential return to action.
First off, how are you doing during the coronavirus craziness?
Jerome: It is crazy. I’m just trying to stay sane and keeping my normal routine as much as possible — waking up, doing in-home workouts, getting dressed — and then from there just watching movies, stuff like that. I’m making sure I’m staying in shape to be prepared for whatever happens.
Who is your vet, and how did that relationship develop?
Jerome: I have two of them. One was Tyler Johnson, and then Devin Booker was the other. Just from the first day of summer workouts, training camp, those two guys were always there for me and went out of their way to help me from Day 1. ... They went a step further than [than preparing me for the grind of the NBA].
What on-court lessons did you learn from them?
Jerome: I missed the first six weeks of the season with an ankle injury, and when I got back my playing time was up and down, so when I wasn’t playing Tyler would play one-on-one before games and work out after games together. He really went out of his way. It’s easier when you have someone to go at it with and help you work, so he was that guy for me when he didn’t have to be. He was making the second-most money on our team, so for him to be that guy with a rookie speaks a lot about who he is. He did a lot for me. ...
It was super tough for me [when Johnson was waived after the trade deadline in early February], because he was one of the guys I grew closest to. When he left, that sucked. We still speak not daily, but definitely weekly. We were on FaceTime two days ago, so we stay in touch. Even when that happened, he would still text and FaceTime me, letting me know he would still watch our games when I played, so that was cool.
What off-court lessons did you learn from them?
Jerome: At a certain point, it can’t all be people telling you how to do it. You’ve got to observe and learn and make mistakes and go through it yourself. Watching those guys handle their business, especially a guy like Devin, because he’s pulled in a hundred different directions every day ... and he has the pressure of trying to win games. Is he going to be a first time All-Star? All the different distractions. Watching how he handled coming into every game and being ready to play and doing his job and scoring the crap out of the ball every single night, that’s something if you’re not learning from and watching, that’s on you. Watching how he handled his business and not letting off-the-court stuff ever affect him when it was time to play, that’s cool.
What were some of your other rookie duties?
Jerome: We talk about it all the time, but our vets are super nice. We really don’t have to do much. Occasionally, we had to bring some food to the plane or go pick up some doughnuts, but there wasn’t anything every day we had to do. They were super nice to us.
What was your welcome to the NBA moment?
Jerome: Probably playing against Chris Paul and playing against LeBron James. Those are two guys who have been in the league and played at such a high level for however long. My thing is it always happens after the game. We played the Lakers at Staples Center this year and the Thunder at home, and I played in both of those games this year. During the game, you’re not thinking about it. At one point, I switched onto LeBron in the post. The double came, he passes it, whatever, and after the game some of my friends were asking me, “LeBron, blah, blah, blah,” but you’re not thinking about it during the game. The competitive nature in you is just turned all the way on. You’re just trying to get a stop. After the game, it’s like damn, I was guarding LeBron, but at the end of the day, these are the guys you’re competing against now.
Have you had a here-to-stay NBA moment?
Jerome: There have been some games where I felt like that. I’ve strung together two or three games where I was like, OK, I can do it. But then I want to string together a season full of that. I think I’ve shown glimpses to myself where I go, Yeah, I can do it at this level, but I’m a long way away from where I want to be.
How surreal has it been to have your rookie season suspended by the pandemic?
Jerome: My rookie season was rough from the beginning, when I missed the first six weeks and got hurt again three months later, so I was kind of struggling, and I finally felt the healthiest I’ve been all year before this happened. This is obviously affecting more people besides the sports world, but this has definitely been the strangest basketball year of my life. You’ve got to find a way to stay in shape, stay ready, do what you can to work out during this time and make sure everyone’s staying safe. That’s the biggest priority.
What has the communication been like through the hiatus between teammates, coaches, the front office and even the league? Are they keeping you guys regularly updated on all developments?
Jerome: They update us, but the updates are so minuscule because they really don’t know anything right now, either. Some of the phone calls and updates end up being like, “Hey, how are you?” There are not a ton of updates to be given at this point, so everyone is kind of in the dark. It’s probably the most in the dark players have ever been. The main message is just to stay ready. You don’t know what can happen. The season could resume, so don’t be the guy who comes back and is out of shape.
How have you and your teammates maintained chemistry during the hiatus?
Jerome: That was one of the most special parts of this year, how close we were on and off the court. We still have our group chats with people talking. I was on FaceTime with a bunch of different guys this past week. Guys are playing video games together. ... We can’t go out to eat right now, so we’re just doing whatever we can.
How optimistic are you about the future for this young Suns core?
Jerome: I’m super optimistic about the future. One of the things about the NBA is that the future is always uncertain. We don’t know what the future holds, but I know this program is definitely headed in the right direction.
If there is a shortened season, would you like to see a play-in tournament for the eighth seed?
Jerome: A chance to compete for the eighth spot, that would be awesome. I’d definitely love that. It would be frustrating [if they have to go straight to the playoffs], but the NBA is in a tough spot right now. I’m sure they don’t want to do that, but if it comes to the point where they have to, you can’t take it personally.
Finally, is everyone in your family doing OK at this time?
Jerome: Everybody’s healthy. They’re all staying safe, staying inside, so I encourage everyone else to do the same.
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