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Amid a chaotic season, Tyson Etienne put forth his best display of basketball after turning in a strong sophomore campaign with Wichita State.
The Shockers dealt with a head coaching change while navigating through difficult circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Several games were canceled or postponed, making for plenty of uncertainty throughout the year.
Still, Etienne and the Shockers experienced great success on the court.
Etienne was named the American Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year after averaging 16.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and one steal in 22 games. He shot a staggering 39.2% from 3-point range on 7.5 attempts, ranking 18th in the nation in 3s per game (2.95).
Behind the play of Etienne, and the guidance of first-year head coach Isaac Brown, the Shockers earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. While they lost to Drake in the First Four, the Shockers had an incredible run after they were projected to finish seventh in their conference.
Now, Etienne is looking to go on a run of his own in the pre-draft process.
On April 18, Etienne announced he would enter the NBA draft while maintaining his collegiate eligibility. He has already worked out privately with the Cleveland Cavaliers and has workouts set up with the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns among others.
Etienne recently sat down with Rookie Wire to discuss the pre-draft process, his experience last season with the Shockers, what he wants to show teams and much more.
Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity
How is it going during your pre-draft process?
https://www.instagram.com/p/CPPRhtiDcde/ TE: It's going amazing. I'm enjoying every single minute of it, every single day. I'm getting a lot better. I am learning a lot of different things and just taking each day one step at a time. I'm going into these workouts and interviews prepared and ready to go.
What has been the biggest surprise of this process?
TE: Nothing too surprising but just understanding, on the background (side), how many different people have so many different roles within these organizations. They have all of their bases covered. If you have questions for them, they have the answers or have somebody that is in a position to get you that answer. Just knowing how many people work behind the scenes. Oftentimes, the naked eye sees the team and the players on the court and coaching staff but there is a whole help staff and help support that's in the background really making the engine go. Just being able to meet these people and pick their brains on certain things is definitely something I've been very interested in.
Can that be intimidating in a way?
TE: For me, personally, no, it's not intimidating. I understand that in all great things, running an NBA team, you have to have people in all of these roles because if you spread yourself too thin, it may not be the most efficient product. Just meeting these people, learning their stories, learning why they got into the position they are in and why they do what they do has definitely been something that is really enlightening.
Where are you training at right now?
[video width="1920" height="1080" mp4="https://therookiewire.usatoday.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2021/06/20210611_TYSON_WORKOUT_FINAL.mp4">[/video] TE: My base camp right now I'm working between Chicago and Indiana. I'm working with coach Joey Burton and Mike Robinson, my performance coach, in Indiana right now. I go to Chicago, that's where my agency is based, to work out and take some meetings.
How much have you improved since your season ended?
TE: Even though our season only ended in March, I feel like my game has taken leaps and bounds. Something I've really been focusing on is my finishing around the rim. I've had the ability to finish against people my size but finishing against length was something I wasn't necessarily the most efficient at during the season. Now, since I started working with Joey and my skills coach back home, John Hawthorne, we're really just working on learning different angles, changing my pace and not playing so fast when I get below the free-throw line. My ball-screen reads continue to improve and understanding different concepts, especially at the NBA level. The last thing I've really been focusing on is getting into my pull-ups and working on the placement of my ball. I had a tendency last season to pick up the ball from the left side of my body and then turn my hips a little bit on shots and it would cause the ball to go left. We have become more disciplined on where I'm picking the ball up. Now, I'm picking up the ball on the right side of my hips like Joe Harris, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard. I've definitely seen the results pay off with my jump shot now.
How would you describe your game for someone that didn't watch you a lot?
https://twitter.com/GrantAfseth/status/1402295650801360896?s=20 TE: I would describe my game as being a tough player with the ability to score the ball from either guard spot. The ability to impact the game in many different ways, not just by shooting the 3 but also just being a leader and being tough and doing whatever is needed to get a win. Whether that's going and getting 30 points a night or going and trying to defend the opponent's best player or just being a leader. I just want to win in whatever facet that comes through. I have the ability to do so and impact the game.
You shot 39.2% last season from 3-point range on 7.5 attempts. When did you know you were a good shooter?
https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1370844226230001664?s=20 TE: I probably realized I was a good shooter during my freshman season. I had a lot of games where I was primarily just a shooter but some of the shots I could make off the catch were extremely difficult so I kinda started to hone that in and sharpen that, even more, this past offseason but also expand upon that. Expand upon playing off the dribble, playing in isolation. I'm thankful for my coaching staff, my trainers because I was able to make that jump this year.
When did you get that green light to shoot from your coach?
TE: I knew (coach Brown) was ready to let me have the green light pretty much from the first day he took over as head coach. It didn't come from, 'Oh, we're just going to let him shoot it.' It was that I earned it. That green light came from how I approached the game when I came onto campus as a freshman. That's why I got the green light from him and the rest of my coaching staff and from my teammates. They know the work I put in. They know how I approached the game. The shots that people saw me taking in the games were sometimes closer than the shots I was taking in practice. I was making a lot of shots in practice and I made them in the games as well. It wasn't just going out there, spit-balling; we had a scheme to how we approached things. We just worked for it.
What was it like to win AAC Co-Player of the Year?
https://twitter.com/TheTyEtienne1/status/1369837457055883264?s=20 TE: I was extremely grateful. I didn't know I was going to win Player of the Year at all. I really wasn't even going into the season focusing on winning Player of the Year. My main focus was I wanted Wichita State to be No. 1 in the conference when the season was all said and done because they had picked us to be like eighth or ninth. It was a hard time going into this last season so my focus was on I knew that in order for us to have success, I would have to play at an elite level. I wasn't really thinking about winning Player of the Year so when I won it, it was a testament to the work I put in but also to the people that assisted me in that work: My coaching staff, teammates, trainers at home and my family and friends. I have learned from all of them and they have supported me in different ways so I was so glad I won that award. I really attribute it to the people that helped me get there.
Do you feel like the American is slept on a little bit as a conference?
TE: Yeah, absolutely. You think about it, we had the No. 4 team in the country in our conference in Houston. They played different teams and came out victorious. When we played Houston, we split the season series so I feel like the American Athletic Conference is so slept on especially this season, we weren't able to have a lot of non-conference games. Probably had we had a normal season, you would have seen the American Athletic Conference pull out a lot of wins versus other conferences. Just the conference itself, I think it's probably one of the toughest defensive conferences in the country, if not the toughest. You can look at the numbers and they will back that up. We may not have the big-name schools, the conference itself is extremely difficult. I feel like each and every one of us in our own right showed that we belong and can play with the elite conferences in the country.
What was your overall experience like last season given all of the circumstances surrounding it?
TE: It was definitely crazy when you consider all of the different things you had to do to get into the arena. Getting to the locker room, making sure you're cleared to play that you're not failing any tests when there was a game at the end of the week. It definitely caused a lot of different variables we never experienced before. That was difficult to get through to start but once we got into the swing of things, I feel like our athletic training staff did a good job of keeping us safe for the most part. We never had a scare during the season, thank God. The hardest thing is you can't control the other schools; we can't control what's going on with the other program. We had plenty of times when we were supposed to have a game and the game was canceled and then we wouldn't play for another eight days. That's hard when you're trying to catch a rhythm and you're not playing for two weeks.
What was it like to make the NCAA Tournament?
https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1371248756960595969?s=20 TE: It was an amazing experience especially because we didn't know if we were going to get into the tournament for a bunch of different reasons so to hear our name called on Selection Sunday was truly a fulfilling moment. To get to Indy, to go through everything and be a team that was in the tournament was something I know a lot of people will never forget. Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted it to; I didn't have my best game. I feel like I learned a lot from it. I feel like, despite all of that, we had a remarkable season. We did so many different things that nobody thought we could ever do; nobody thought we could make it to the tournament. We proved a lot of people wrong and ourselves right in the midst of adversity.
Now, you're testing the NBA waters. You had a workout with the Cavaliers and have others scheduled. What was that like to work out with them?
TE: I feel like my workout with Cavs went really, really well. I'm just taking everything a day at a time, maintaining my eligibility, but I know what my intentions are. As July 7 comes, I'll have to make a decision based on the feedback and the information I received over the next couple of weeks and I'll be ready to make that decision when that time comes.
Overall, what are you trying to show teams during these workouts?
TE: I want to show teams who Tyson Etienne is. I didn't go to Duke or Kentucky or Kansas. Had I gone to those bigger schools and still had the season I had, I'd probably be projected to go in the top 20 but I didn't go to those schools and I'm OK with that. I'm proud to say I went to Wichita State but in the same token, there are a lot of people that may not have seen me or be too familiar with my game and who I am. For me, every workout is showing them who I am and what I do but, more importantly, who I am as a person and what I can contribute to an organization. So, really, it's a full showcasing of Tyson Etienne.
How important are those interviews with teams?
TE: Obviously, basketball is basketball and you have to be able to perform on the court. When you're in the position to declare for the NBA draft, everybody can play basketball but what separates you from another prospect is your character, how you approach the game. People are fortunate enough to make it into the NBA but it's hard to sustain a career that lasts 10-15 years. That's something that is hard and I feel like that is something that goes beyond the X's and O's and the talent on the court. I feel like the interview process is extremely important because that's when they can evaluate who you are as a person, what type of man they are bringing into their locker room and what type of man is going to be around their fans and city.
Who were some of the players you looked up to growing up?
TE: The main person I looked up to growing up and still look up to, even though he is no longer with us, is Kobe Bryant. That's my favorite player and one of my favorite men for the rest of my life. I hope to take the blueprint that he has laid and make it into what I can as Tyson Etienne. I also really love Steve Nash; he is my favorite point guard ever. Damian Lillard is my favorite player in the NBA now. Just his ability to move on the court, we have similar ways we move on the court. Obviously, I'm not saying I'm Damian Lillard by no means but just physically how we move on the court, we have similar builds. Donovan Mitchell is somebody I look up to. Those two guys I look up to not just because they are great players but their mentality and approach to the game is something I admire greatly. Some more low-key guys I like are Malcolm Brogdon, nobody is talking about Malcolm Brogdon but I enjoy watching him. I enjoy watching Luka Doncic. Even though he is putting up great numbers, his pace and feel for the game is amazing. Bradley Beal, Duncan Robinson and Joe Harris -- those are great guys I like to watch. I watch a lot of film and like to pick up tips and tricks from every single guy I watch.
Before I let you go, I need to grab a prediction. Who do you have in the NBA Finals and who do you have winning it?
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
TE: I got the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA Finals and have them winning it. Coming out of the West, I really want Utah to go because I really like Donovan and that's my boy but I think Phoenix is going to make it out of the West just the way Chris Paul and Devin Booker are playing together with Deandre Ayton there, it really makes it hard for defenses to guard. They also have Mikal Bridges on the corner. They have a lot of people on their team that may not be superstars but they fill their role and excel in it. I hope Brooklyn takes it all though. I'm from New York so I want them to go hard and win it.
Finally, you have until July 7 to make your decision on staying in the draft or returning to school. What will be your thought process when you make that final decision?
TE: It's not going to be a rushed decision. It's going to be a well-thought-out, well-strategized decision. It's going to be a decision that's best for Tyson Etienne, not for anybody else. It's going to be the best decision for myself and my family.