OAKLAND (AP) — One has been an entrepreneur since he handed out business cards for his lawn-mowing service in the fifth grade. Another was born in Nigeria and didn’t play basketball until he was 14. The third was the lone senior on The Associated Press All-America team and still slipped in the NBA draft.
The Golden State Warriors formally introduced Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green on Monday, bringing together an eclectic trio that took far different paths to the pros. The rookies are still learning about each other — and their new surroundings — but can bond behind a common thread.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers had all three rated higher on the team’s draft board than they were chosen. Each also expected to be taken higher, and each is eager to show why next season.
“You hope they have that edge,” Myers said, “whether they’re drafted first or 50th.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for this group.
Barnes, considered the top recruit in the country when he left his Iowa high school for North Carolina two years ago, led the Tar Heels with 17.1 points per game and also grabbed 5.2 rebounds last season. The Warriors drafted the 6-foot-8 small forward, still only 20 years old, seventh overall last week.
Barnes has idolized Michael Jordan since he was a kid. His mother, Shirley, even gave him the middle name Jordan in honor of the Hall of Famer. He took finance and business classes at North Carolina, and had talks with Jordan that had as much to do with basketball as they did Jordan’s brand.
For now, Barnes’ business is all basketball — even pointing to the wall on Golden State’s practice floor that shows the team’s last All-Star was Latrell Sprewell in 1997. Ever since he had to switch his lawn-mowing service into shoveling snow for $20 as a kid in Ames, Iowa, Barnes realized wins on the basketball court make building an audience easier.
“You have to know about marketing,” Barnes said. “You’re going to be grossing a lot of money in this business and you have to know how to take care of it. I went to school to learn about the business. How to protect your money, how to save it. If you’re going to invest it, where to invest it. But right now the only thing that’s important is winning.”
The biggest of the bunch also has taken the longest route.
The 6-foot-11, 255-pound Ezeli moved in 2004 from Nigeria to Sacramento, Calif. — only a 90-minute drive northeast from Oakland — and was cut by his high school during tryouts.
His uncle, Emeka Ndulue, a pediatrician charged with helping Ezeli’s medical school aspirations, originally pushed Ezeli into basketball as a side hobby. Ezeli ended up a video coordinator for a junior college until he was eligible to play, struggling for years to learn the basics of basketball after growing up with soccer and showing more of an interest in medicine.
Ezeli’s game was fostered even more during five years at Vanderbilt. By the time he left Nashville, he had 204 blocked shots, breaking the mark of 157 set by Will Perdue. Golden State chose him with the 30th and final pick of the first round.
“It was very frustrating for me and for coaches many times to teach basic concepts you should already know,” he said. “I really was just that raw. It’s been a nice little journey.”
Perhaps nobody the Warriors drafted has been overlooked more than Green.
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward was the Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team All-American. He finished with the most rebounds (1,096) and second-most blocks (117) in Spartans history, and became the leader in coach Tom Izzo’s system that always seems to make those magical March runs.
So leave it to Green — who slipped to 35th overall — to muscle Barnes for the No. 23 jersey, which was also worn by Jordan most of his career. Green wanted it for a different reason: former Warriors forward and fellow Saginaw, Mich., native Jason Richardson wore that number. Green even took a photo of Richardson’s old jersey painted on the practice facility’s wall.
“Forget Jordan,” he joked.
The three plan on getting a head start on the NBA learning curve.
They plan to live close to each other in the Bay Area and practice together most of the summer. Ezeli and Green already worked out Sunday. Barnes was invited, too, but he already had plans.
“He figured he had free tickets to the Giants game,” Green teased.
A fourth could join them later this summer at the Las Vegas summer league. Ognjen Kuzmic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, taken 52nd overall by the Warriors, is only 22 years old and is expected to return to Spain next season to develop more. Myers also expects Kuzmic to play with his national team, too.
Last year’s Warriors rookie, 11th overall pick and starting shooting guard Klay Thompson, might also make an appearance in Vegas. That could give an already intriguing group an even more interesting blend.
“Harrison’s been saying it but it’s true,” Green said. “I think our summer league team is going to be good.”