Two weeks ago, I caught up with University of Miami redshirt freshman big man Julian Gamble after he participated in a basketball/religious venture to Africa with Athletes in Action. On Wednesday, I posted the details of his 13-day trip overseas where Julian said he had a life-changing experience meeting orphans, a fun time playing international basketball and much more (Q&A Part I).
In this second part of my interview with Julian, we got a chance to talk about his rough upbringing in North Carolina. He told me how his single mother struggled to raise him and his older sister and brother and how he himself struggled, attending 14 different schools from the time he started kindergarten until he graduated. Gamble, who didn't really become a hot commodity until his junior year of high school, told me he was more than happy to accept a scholarship from Miami and says being a Cane is a dream come true. He said he passed on offers from Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee because of the bond he built with coach Frank Haith, another Carolina guy, who was able to convince him UM's basketball program was headed in the right direction. The following is the rest of what he and I talked about.
Q: Who was the first person to put a basketball in your hands and when did you first start playing?
A: When I was smaller, I’d have to say it was my father. Just watching TV and during the time Michael Jordan and all those guys like that were playing. I just watched basketball, that’s pretty much how I spent all my time with my dad. He took me out to the court one day. He never seriously played basketball. He always would mess around though. And then I went out there shooting and I fell in love with the game. At first it was all about spending time with my father, but as time progressed I just really found the love for the game. I didn’t get serious or start thinking about going to college until around 10th grade maybe. I was a late bloomer. I really didn’t come around until my 11th grade year. That’s when I started getting my offers and things like that. In my 10th grade year, I had a lot of mid-major offers.
Q: When did you go through your big growth spurt?
A: In eighth grade I was 6-1. By the time I was in ninth I may have been 6-4. From the 9th to 10th, I grew up two more inches. I’ve grown up a little bit since I got here.
Q: How tall are you now?
A: I’m not even sure. The last time I measured I was 6-9. But just from talking to my teammates and stuff today they say I’ve grown. I might be 6-9 or 6-10.
Q: What have you learned about college basketball since you’ve been here?
A: My first impression of coming here and seeing practice and seeing the game, it’s much, much faster than in high school. That was my first adaptation to make. My first impression was the energy level. In high school, the best players would just take the game over. Some teams might play good defense. But in college, everybody can do every thing. It’s not like anybody can step in and average 20 points a game. I think I’ve improved majorly from just working with coach Mac and working with my teammates and talking to coach Haith and things like that.
Q: Where have you improved or need improvement?
A: One area I need to improve is my strength and my conditioning. Those are two areas I’m looking to improve on in this offseason right here. Also, my defense – its something that would keep me on the court and give me opportunities to play. I’m not the type of guy to get stats or whatever. I just want to help the team. I want to help the team win. That’s the role I play.
Q: I know coach said you’ve lost a lot of weight and toned up. Now, it’s time to brag about what you’ve done.
A: I’ve lost around 25 pounds since I got here. I was 265 when I came in. I was 239 when I weighed myself now. I’m definitely going to pick up some weight though, lifting in this offseason, muscle, things like that. But I lost a lot of fat, nearly 30 pounds of it. I feel like a new man. The biggest difference is my quickness, my jumping, my all around game is just a lot more easier when I’m lighter. Being as tall as I am, my knees hurt when I’m heavier. Now that I’m lighter my knee pains aren’t present or a major issue like I was before.
Q: A lot has obviously changed since the day you accepted a scholarship to Miami. This team has gone from last place in the ACC to the second round of the NCAA tournament in one year and now some experts are saying you guys are a Top 10 team. What’s changed from your perspective?
A: From my personal perspective when I was first getting recruiting, coach Haith was telling me he was going to change the face of the program. I had faith in him. I knew people who knew coach Haith being from Carolina and they said he was a man of his word. I didn’t need to hear much else because I believed in him. Being here and going through last season and seeing exactly what he said would happen, it was really good. It’s just making everyone around the nation see we’re trying to work toward being a force for a long time coming. It’s all about hardwork. It’s not as if somebody says were going to be good and its over. It always about hard work for us and progress.
Q: That being said, expectations are going to be different next season. The pressure is going to be different now that you guys are where you are. How do you think the guys are going to handle the preseason hype?
A: I don’t think its going to change at all. It just kind of shows our hardwork has paid off. But at the same time we’re a humble group of individuals. We’re not the type of people if the spotlight is on us we’re going to walk around and not see people for what they are. We’re people like everybody else. Just because we won 20 games doesn’t mean we’re going to walk around here like we don’t know anybody. We’re still going to be the same people and I feel we’re going to approach things like we did before with that hard work ethic and the desire to want to improve. I don’t think because the spotlight is on us, we’re going to relax. That’s all the more reason to work even harder because people are going to be coming at us even harder. That hardwork mentality is going to stick no matter how bright that light gets.
Q: Are the guys excited by those expectations? ESPN's Andy Katz has you guys ranked eighth in his preseason poll. Also, you’re playing at Kentucky and at home against Ohio State. Is there a lot more excitement in general?
A: Of course we’re excited because these are things outside of playing basketball these are things we dream of, playing in the big games, playing at Kentucky and things like that. So, there is a level of excitement. But at the same time, this is a very large task we have to tackle so we have to work that much harder to be able to accomplish that goal. We just don’t want to go to Kentucky to say we played them. We don’t want to play Ohio State to say we played them. We’re trying to win those games. So, in order to win those games, we got to work hard to put ourselves in position to do that.
Q: When is that you guys will start working with coaches again?
A: We’re not with the coaches, but I myself will call the coach and ask them what type of things I need to work on. They’ll describe the drill and I’ll go and work on it myself. It’s all about being with our strength coach, lifting weights. We’re trying to prepare ourselves as much as we can. I want to have myself ready so I won’t have to go back and do any work I should have done already. We haven’t had a workout where everybody was together. People have been going back home and things like that. We won’t really have our full workout until I think the 30th of June -- the Monday after Summer [Session 2]. I think its going to be a level of excitement. I mean the truth is, we’re all men, but we miss our boys. We have a lot of fun together. So, it’s not like when we see everybody , “OK, your back.’ That will be our prime moment to get together and work hard. When the whole team gets back together there is going to be focus because we know this is going to be a big year for us.
Q: Talk about your role this year. Ray Hicks, Anthony King are gone. Coach talked a lot about you being that reliable post option that Anthony was. How do you see yourself in the mix with Jimmy Graham, Dwayne Collins and Cyrus McGowan?
A: I think for the most part it will be a rotation like it was last year. With Jimmy being a senior, Cyrus being a junior and Dwayne being a junior, I’m going to be learning from them more than anything else. If worse comes to worse, I’ll defer to them because it’s going to be my first turn around. I think the rotation will be in that two in and two out we did last year. It’s really going to be great because all four of us bring different things to the table that will be helpful to the team. I got full confidence in coach Haith. He knows what we do well and how we’ll play well together for the better of the team.
Q: I think most people would consider you more of a true center type prospect than those other guys who are more like natural power forward. Do you see yourself as a center?
A: I don’t want to say I’m going to be Anthony King’s replacement or I’m going to do what King did as a player over his career. It’s extremely difficult to replace a guy like him not only as a player, but off the court with his leadership and everything. My role this year will be trying to be as reliable a post player as possible, doing what I can do to help the team like grabbing rebounds, blocking shots and taking charges so we win. I know we have a tremendous talent level. I don’t have to be one of the people to score points. We got a lot of people that can score points. I know I can do the small things and try to help them out.