Horford’s Extra Maturity Is Apparent Early On

By Sekou Smith
Updated: July 15, 2007

SALT LAKE CITY — Al Horford’s gamble paid off minutes into his first quasi-official NBA game Friday night.

Intent on making an immediate impact when he came into the league, Horford decided against bolting for the NBA draft after his sophomore season at Florida.

That year of hard work and nonstop refining of his game showed up in the Hawks’ summer-league opener.

32 minutes after he set foot on the floor, Horford, the No. 3 pick in last month’s NBA draft, was all anyone who watched his Hawks debut could talk about. He was as strong as advertised, as polished as advertised and certainly as confident as advertised.

“That’s the reason I stayed that extra year at Florida,” Horford said Saturday night before the Hawks’ second game against San Antonio at the Rocky Mountain Revue. “I felt if I had another year to perfect some things, a little more experience, my game would be much more solid. And it shows out there.”

It certainly did Friday night. Horford led all scorers with 18 points in the Hawks’ 64-63 loss to Utah. He also grabbed six rebounds and stood up to the challenge of banging with Jazz brutes Paul Millsap and Rafael Araujo.

“Oh, you won’t intimidate this guy,” said Hawks assistant coach Larry Drew, who is leading the summer-league team. “He’s very polished for a kid his age. You just don’t see many young players like him, guys that come into this league and seek that contact down low. That’s the thing I noticed about him. He seeks contact.

“Lots of guys shy away from it, but he has no fear. And he does so many things. You can give him the ball in the post. He can pass it. He can handle the ball in transition. He just has a really good feel for the game.”

Part of that feel is innate — Horford’s father, Tito, played three years in the NBA — but much of it is a product of Horford’s continuing maturity and a strong work ethic.

But like all lottery picks, Horford believed his own hype a bit after the draft. After weeks of draft workouts and interviews, Horford allowed himself a moment to bask in all that he had accomplished.

Then came the days immediately following the June 28 draft, when all the well-wishers had vanished and the reality of the NBA set in.

“I think I definitely got calmed down, but not by choice,” Horford said with a big smile. “You just feel so high at the draft, and then two days later … it just felt weird. It was just different. Nobody was there hyping you up. It was all about business. Once I realized that, I got my mind set and was ready to go.”

That’s exactly what the Hawks will need from their prized 6-foot-10, 245-pound rookie power forward/center come October when training camp begins.

“I think a lot of that is his dad,” Drew said of Horford’s measured approach to the transition from college star to NBA rookie. “His dad prepped him and let him know exactly what the league is going to be about. You come in knowing that during your rookie year you’ll take some lumps, bumps and bruises before you can become an established player. You come in knowing you might have been the man in college, but it’s going to be a different story in the NBA.

“When you come in with that frame of mind and that kind of attitude, you’ve already got half the battle whipped. Then you can spend your time preparing yourself and putting in the work necessary to become a great player. And in addition to all the other stuff, Al has that.”