For Eric Maynor, strapping on a sky-blue Tinkerbell backpack was a sure sign that he'd arrived in the NBA. Oddly, the rookie-hazing ritual doled out by his Utah Jazz teammates could be a mark of hard-earned success. During his basketball career at Virginia Commonwealth University, Maynor was the all-time leading scorer, with a whopping 1,953 points as a point guard. His buzzer-beating Duke Dagger in the 2007 NCAA tournament tops his college highlights and showed that the 6-foot-3 Maynor — not exactly tall by NBA standards — knows how to rise to the occasion. In June 2009, he was drafted by the Jazz in the first round, but in December, he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Pondering his future in the NBA, the 22-year-old Raeford, N.C., native says he has more clutch shots in his arsenal.
Q: Was it hard to adjust to the NBA after being a star at VCU? A: It is totally different. This is highest-level basketball, here, you know. You're playing against the best guys, so you have to be mentally and physically prepared every day. You know, sometimes in college you can strike off a little bit and you can still be good. But, at this level, there is no slacking. You have to be on your game every night.
Q: Was there a moment when you started in the NBA when you were pinching yourself to see if you were dreaming? A: The first pre-season game — and, really, in the first regular-season game I played against Denver — I got in [the game] a little bit and I was like, "Yeah … This is real." I just really realized that I am supposed to be here. And now it is just about playing basketball, it's not nothin' else.
Q: Basketball has really been a love affair in your family. [Maynor's father and older brother played college ball, and his dad nearly went pro.] Who in your family gets the most respect on the home court? A: I would say me now because of the situation I am in. [Laughs.] But you know, we do not really look at it like that. Any time the guys tell me something — my brother or my dad — I listen to them and try to get better. [They emphasize that] you have to work at it if you want to be good. The moment that you are sittin' down and just chillin', somebody else is out there working hard.
Q: In your early time at the Utah Jazz, you were seen sporting a hot-pink Barbie suitcase and a Tinkerbell backpack. Was that the worst of your hazing as an NBA rookie? A: That is over with — I don't have a book bag anymore. That was the worst thing. Yeah, [I did catch some flack], but the girls liked it.
Q: In the 2009 NCAA tournament, you finished your college career with a last-second chance to beat UCLA, nearly repeating your Duke Dagger feat. Did you get any good advice from former VCU Coach Anthony Grant after missing the shot? A: I still talk to Coach Grant to this day, so it was not like that was the last time we were going to be done with each other. I talked to him the other day, as a matter a fact. He was always talking to me about basketball and just about life, period. He is always preaching to me about doing the right thing. So yes, he gives good advice.
Q: Do you think Rams forward Larry Sanders will come back next year to VCU or go pro? A: I am waiting to see how it goes in the summertime and where he is projected to go. I am going to be in his ear and make sure he makes the right decision, because I was in the same position he's in. Like I tell him, he has got so much coming at him right now, he just needs to focus on his season right now.
Q: Since being traded to the Oklahoma Thunder, you're living closer to your first VCU coach, Jeff Capel. Do you ever see each other? A: He came to a home game. I talk to him sometimes, and we text message. He is just that type of guy — he is more than a coach. They care about you as people, you know.
Q: Your final shot against Duke in the 2007 NCAA tournament — do you think you'll ever be able to top that moment? A: I would say that was one of my best memories. But I have got more to come. —Bethany Emerson