Festus Ezeli: Intriguing player, intriguing person

805220.jpg

Festus Ezeli: Intriguing player, intriguing person

Festus Ezeli, whomthe Warriors selected with the No. 30 pick in the draft, is a 6-foot-11,255-pound center from Vanderbilt. Hes defensive-minded and physical and wasthe schools all-time leader in blocked shots.But off the court,the 21-year-old might be even more impressive. And his path to the Warriors wasa very uncommon one. Heres the quick story on Ezeli:---Ezelicame to the United States from Nigeria when he was 14 years old. By that time,he had already completed high school and his family sent him here to continuehis education.RELATED: Warriors draft Festuz Ezeli with final first-round pick
---Helived with his uncle, who was a pediatrician in Sacramento, and he lived inYuba City. He attended Jesuit High School and tried to play basketball buthadnt played before.As Ezeli put it in aJunE 11 interview it didnt work out there (at Jesuit). Basketball-wise, Ezelicouldnt have played anyway at Jesuit. He didnt have any high schooleligibility since hed completed high school in Nigeria.---In2006, he went to Yuba College. While there, he took biology and science courses,but he also took basketball, as he put it. He didnt play with the team, butbecame the teams videographer so he could practice with the team.---Whileat Yuba, Ezeli also began to play AAU basketball. Because Ezeli was takingfewer than 12 units at Yuba, he could do that and not have any of his futureeligibility affected. Hes still only 16 at this point.RELATED: Will Ezeli have more of an impact than Harrison Barnes?
---Ezeliended up getting 27 college scholarships, but chose Vanderbilt. Ezeli wanted tobe a doctor so he was a biology major for his first year-and-a-half atVanderbilt.But when he startedto believe he had a future in basketball, Ezeli became an Economics majorbecause I felt like I couldnt do both of them (pre-med and basketball) aswell as I wanted to, so I had to pick one and I loved the game. So I decided togo with business, something close to business, and it was Economics.---Inhis senior season at Vanderbilt, Ezeli averaged 10.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and2.0 blocks in 23.2 minutes per game. As he puts it Im still learning thegame.

Kerr continues to weigh options regarding return to Warriors' bench

Kerr continues to weigh options regarding return to Warriors' bench

OAKLAND -- Though he insists he has made no final decision about returning to coach the Warriors in the NBA Finals, Steve Kerr conceded Monday that he likely would remain in the background throughout the series that begins Thursday

“As of right now, I would not coach,” he said after practice.

“I’m alright; I’m not well enough to coach a game. And I know that from . . . I coached all 82 games and I felt OK. I was uncomfortable and in a lot of pain, but I did fine. I could make it through. The first two games of the Portland series, whatever happened, things got worse.”

Though Kerr has been a constant presence over the past two weeks, this was the first time he presided over practice. Acting coach Mike Brown was ill Monday and did not come to the facility.

“I’d like to tell you that I’m ready, but I’m not ready to coach yet,” Kerr said. “I’m still feeling a lot of the effects of what I’ve got going on.

“I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies. Hopefully, Mike will be back (Tuesday).”

Kerr last coached a game on April 19, Game 2 of the first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Trail Blazers. He flew with the team to Portland for Games 3 and 4 but did not coach either game. It was on April 23, between Games 3 and 4, that Kerr announced he was taking a leave of absence to pursue remedies for chronic pain in the wake of multiple back surgeries.

The Warriors have gone 10-0 under Brown, who is in frequent communication with Kerr ever since May 10, when the team began preparations for the conference finals.

“I’ve been in every meeting since the San Antonio series started,” Kerr said. “Every film session, every practice. I address the team quite a bit; I think my messaging is important.”

Though Kerr said he plans to accompany the team to Cleveland next week for Games 3 and 4 of The Finals, he continues to weigh his options regarding returning to the bench.

“Once we get to Game 1,” he said, ‘it might be a good time to make a decision one way or the other.”

LeBron doesn't care about long Finals odds: 'I only play blackjack in Vegas'

LeBron doesn't care about long Finals odds: 'I only play blackjack in Vegas'

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- There's a four-headed, shot-making, scoreboard-breaking monster out West awaiting LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

The Warriors are stomach-churning scary.

James, though, can't run or hide. With eight NBA Finals appearances under his belt, he is ready to face a team he's called "a beast." After all, he has slayed behemoths before.

Pushing off any talk about the Warriors until after Sunday's practice, James was asked to assess the task at hand: beating Golden State's All-Star-studded lineup of Kevin DurantStephen CurryKlay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Is this the biggest challenge of his career?

"It's probably up there," he said. "I mean, it's up there."

And then, almost as if he was trying to remind himself that he's got three championship rings and is frightful in his own right, James recalled other fearsome postseason opponents - San Antonio and Boston.

"I've played against four Hall of Famers as well, too, with Manu (Ginobili), Kawhi (Leonard), Tony (Parker) and Timmy D (Tim Duncan) on the same team," said James, occasionally sniffling as he continues to fight a cold. "And if you add Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) in there, that's five Hall of Famers. So, it's going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me, they're going to challenge our ballclub.

"This is a high-powered team."

James also took on a Celtics team loaded with big-name talents.

"I've played against Ray (Allen), KG (Kevin Garnett), Paul (Pierce), (Rajon) Rondo and Doc (Rivers). So, it's going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise."

Cleveland-Golden State 3.0 is the matchup fans worldwide expected and wanted, and James believes they're in for quite a show.

Both the Cavaliers and Warriors have upgraded their rosters from a year ago, when they went seven games in an epic series that spawned the first comeback from a 3-1 deficit in Finals history and resulted in Cleveland winning its first pro sports championship since 1964.

That Warriors team James conquered in 2016 won 73 games during the regular season and was being mentioned as one of the best to ever take the floor.

Hard to believe, but this version - with Durant - might be even better.

Golden State has been putting on a basketball clinic over the past two months, winning 27 of 28 games since March 11 and becoming the first squad to start the postseason 12-0.

Durant, who previously faced James in the 2012 Finals with Golden State, has taken a great team and elevated it to a nearly unstoppable level.

The Warriors are using Durant in every imaginable way on offense, and James isn't surprised to see his good friend and Olympic teammate more mobile than he was with the Thunder.

"You adapt to the culture," he said. "You adapt to the style and that's the same thing that happened to me when I went to Miami. I started to slash more and move more without the ball, shoot more standstill 3s and figure out ways I could be more productive than just having the ball in isolation. So, it's the right thing to do. He's one of the most dangerous guys we have in the world already. So it makes it even more dangerous when you equip that talent, that skill with those guys."

On the brink of becoming the first player since the early 1960s to play in seven straight Finals, James finds himself in a similar - and somewhat surprising - situation.

The Cavaliers are being given little chance to defend their title against the vaunted Warriors, who have been winning by an average of 16.3 points per game in the playoffs.

For the sixth time, James enters the Finals as an underdog, hardly a role he's accustomed to before June. The only time he won a championship as a Finals favorite was with Miami in 2013, when the Heat upended the Spurs for their second straight title.

James isn't worried about point spreads or any odds.

"I only play blackjack in Vegas anyway, so it doesn't matter," he said.

What does matter is that the 32-year-old is having one of his finest postseasons, and the Cavs are gelling the way they did at this time last year.

Maybe James has nothing to fear.

"I feel good about our chances," he said. "Very good."