Pin It
Submit to Reddit

The Rookie In Boot Camp 

Haston works to earn a spot on an improved team

On Charlotte Hornets' Media Day, Kirk Haston looked the part he will be playing this season: The Rookie. The team's top 2001 draft pick (16th overall) stood quietly as everyone moved in place for team photos. Jamal Mashburn, Baron Davis, Eldridge Recasner and other veterans laughed and cut up. Not Haston (pronounced HASTE-ton). He didn't talk, and he didn't break into a grin when the camera started clicking. Looking like a West Point cadet, he threw his head back, pursed his lips and trained his eyes on the photographer.

That's not to say Haston is a dour 22-year-old. He's not. He loves watching the Andy Griffith Show (he has 65 hours of tape) and cheering the Atlanta Braves. He also exults over what most Southerners consider nectar of the gods ­ sweet tea.

"All the restaurants here serve it ­ it's great," he says of Charlotte. "It really feels like home. It's a good Southern town, what I'm used to."

A native of tiny Lobelsville, TN, about an hour southwest of Nashville, Haston is going through basketball boot camp. As the team's top rookie in the draft, he's the one the veterans will most enjoy picking on, the one who has to adjust quickly to a higher level of play.

After all, the Hornets ­ who opened the preseason October 9 and begin the regular season October 31 ­ aren't just any NBA team anymore. Remember their fantastic finish last season? They swept the Miami Heat 2-0 in the first playoff round, then took the Milwaukee Bucs to the final game of a best-of-seven series. Just missing the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Hornets recorded their best season since the franchise began playing in 1988-89.

Haston, a six-foot, nine-inch forward who starred at Indiana University, was attractive to the Hornets primarily because of his outside shooting. Hornets Coach Paul Silas calls him "the best shooter in the draft." Haston racked up his best college stats last season ­19 points and 8.7 rebounds a game and 26 three-pointers over the season. He led the Big Ten Conference in scoring and made third team All-America.

Though Haston will be called on to play several of the big-man positions ­ he can play close to the basket as well ­ the Hornets needed him most for his accuracy from the perimeter, especially since the Hornets, as all NBA teams, will be facing zone defenses this season. "He's big," Silas says. "He can see over defenses."

"He also can make the big shot in a crucial moment," says Hornets General Manager Jeff Bower. Most memorable, perhaps, is a three-pointer he stroked at the buzzer to give Indiana a win over top-ranked Michigan State.

But playing the perimeter in the pros is more than popping the long ball. It means handling the ball more in general, using the passing angles and getting a step on the defense by shooting off the dribble.

The desire to work on those things brought Haston to Charlotte six weeks before training camp opened ­ something that should help him acclimate quicker. "It's rare for a player to work on anything other than his strengths," Bower says, noting that he's been doing mostly individual drills. "Kirk came to Charlotte in the middle of August, and it's been great to see his progress. He's a quick learner and knows how to listen."

Perhaps that's because he learned many of the finer points of the game ­ including his shot ­ from his grandfather, Hoyt Kirk, once a small-college coach in Tennessee. Now a Church of Christ minister, Kirk will make the eight-hour trip to Charlotte as much as possible. "He made all but one of my home games in Indiana," Haston says. "He has several friends who are always ready to travel with him."

Haston's learning curve also ratcheted up under Coach Bobby Knight at Indiana. After red-shirting his freshman year, Haston played two seasons under the volatile Knight before the coach was fired. It wasn't easy.

"Coach Knight would say, 'You're going to transfer' or 'I'm going to kick you off the team before the NCAA tournament,'" Haston recalls. "It was hard to go through, and I didn't understand it at the time. But, usually by the next game, I would find out I wasn't off the team, that I was starting.

"Coach Knight didn't act that way with every player ­ only a select few ­ but a lot of players don't react well to that (kind of behavior) now," continues Haston, who considers Knight (now head coach at Texas Tech) a mentor. "He understood that it took different things to motivate different players. He knew how far to push you."

Holding up under Knight's harangues taught Haston not to make the same mistake twice and raised his mental toughness from "about a three to off the scale," he says.

He's going to need mental strength as he battles for playing time with the Hornets, a team deep in forwards. P.J. Brown, Jamal Mashburn, Stacey Augmon, Derrick Coleman, Tim James, Jamaal Magloire, Lee Nailon and Matt Bullard have 49 years of experience among them in the pros. Only James, Magloire and Nailon are relative newcomers, each with two or fewer years.

Haston is starting from scratch, but continuing to develop as a player is important to him. He's reminded of it each time he thinks about his mother, Patti Haston, who raised him as a single parent and died while he was in college. An elementary school teacher known as "Miss Patti," she was killed when a tornado tore through Lobelsville in May 1999. "She was always my reality check," he says.

Even though she didn't play basketball herself ­ "she was a cheerleader and around basketball because of my grandfather," Kirk says ­ she helped nurture his talent by driving him for hours to AAU practices and tournaments and letting him work on basketball in the summer instead of taking a job.

Kirk knows what advice she would be giving him as he starts his pro career: "This is only the beginning, don't be satisfied or complacent and make sure to keep improving."

He'll have to do all that to get playing time on an already talented Charlotte team. If Haston had landed with a struggling team, he would have been assured of more time on the floor. But, he says, he prefers the situation he's in. "I have an opportunity to earn some minutes, and they will be quality minutes with this team," Haston says. "I would rather play 10 to 15 minutes on a team that's going somewhere than 20 to 25 on one that isn't.

"I'm still wearing my state high school championship ring," he continues. "While I was at Indiana, I was disappointed we didn't win a national title there. I want to wear a new championship ring."

And he wants it to say "Charlotte Hornets."

The Charlotte Hornets are now in the midst of an eight-game preseason schedule that includes two home games ­ October 16 against the Boston Celtics and October 23 against the Atlanta Hawks at the Charlotte Coliseum. Both games are at 7pm. The team opens the regular season at 7pm October 31 at the Charlotte Coliseum against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Pin It
Submit to Reddit

Tags: ,

Speaking of Sports.html


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Latest in News

Search Events

  • Good Eats

    Our critics' guide to recommended restaurants in Charlotte
  • Goodeats

    Our critics' guide to recommended restaurants in Charlotte
  • Theater: Fish out of water

    Sunday, May 18
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2018 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation