“After that first practice, we said, this guy is coming to training camp. We don’t care about anything else, we got to hold on to this kid and we got to see what he can do with our main guys.”
The kid did pretty good. Heat president Pat Riley and former general manager Randy Pfund had found a gem.
A GREAT LISTENER
And when Haslem started the first NBA game he ever played in, there was no one more proud of him on the entire planet than Frank Martin.
To this day, Martin remains a father figure to Haslem. He calls Haslem from time to time and still gives him that same tough-love treatment he did back when he was coaching Miami Senior High.
“If you play for Frank Martin, he’ll either turn you into a man or you’ll realize you’re not a man at all,” Haslem said.
Martin turned Haslem into a man. It wasn’t Miami that made Haslem tough — not completely, anyway. Martin finished the task. Of course, he takes no credit.
“He wanted to be coached,” said Martin, now in his first season at the University of South Carolina. “He wasn’t one of these kids who thought he had all the answers.”
For every man who has had the pleasure of coaching Haslem, he has been the archetypal team-first player. Do you think Haslem walks through life without fear? Wrong. Haslem fears failure every time he steps onto the court. The fear of letting down his teammates drives him.
When Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough mauled Dwyane Wade in the face during the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, Martin was watching the game on TV and knew in an instant what was going to happen next.
“Put it this way,” Martin said, “I new U.D. was going to come and have D-Wade’s back.”
Tasked with shaping a basketball player from clay, Riley probably would just recreate Haslem.
If Stan Van Gundy had to start a team from scratch, he would begin with Haslem and know he had a chance to win.
Think Spoelstra ever has to motivate his team? Nope. He has Haslem.
“He’s been our captain for so many years for a reason,” Spoelstra said.
But, above all, here’s the thing that has made Haslem one of the NBA’s best rebounders: He takes instruction. So simple; so vexing for coaches; so unattainable for some players.
“In high school, he wasn’t a great rebounder,” Martin said. “In college, he only averaged 6.5 rebounds per game. He was undersized. People told him, ‘You have to become a better rebounder.’ Well, there you go. Udonis listens.”
That an undrafted 6-7 1/2 center with average rebounding numbers in college has not only lasted 10 seasons in the NBA but also thrived is only a small part of Haslem’s unlikely career. To fully grasp the significance of Haslem’s rebounding record, you have to understand what he gave up to achieve it.
He gave up millions.
Twice during Haslem’s career he could have left Miami for more money. In 2005, he gave up around $5 million to stay in his hometown. In 2010, he left roughly $14 million on the table.
“That loyalty he got from Pat Riley and the Heat, you can’t put a price on that,” Martin said. “In a day and age when everyone takes what they can get, he never lost sight of what he did get.”