Las Vegas often serves as the getaway spot for people across the country. Sin City provides others with an escape, and/or a break from the pressures of the real world.
Of course, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except in the case of NBA players, that is. Many of the league's athletes in fact hope they can cash in (pun intended) on the hard work they put in and parlay it into a new gig in The Association.
That's because players can be found by the plentiful working out at IMPACT basketball facility in Las Vegas over the summer. One of the most well known and highly regarded training centers, only those who are dedicated to logging long and committed hours in the gym come to town to work out with Joe Abunassar and his staff.
Over the last few months, one of the more surprising faces to turn up at the facility has been Marcus Fizer. The fourth overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, injuries went on to hamper the forward through 2006. Since then, he's made various other stops on his basketball journey, touring the world en route to a bevy of international stints. He was last seen in the NBA in 2006, when he caught on with the Hornets the same day he was named D-League M.V.P. for that season.
Such a basketball resume isn't the most glamorous one, that's for sure. But fast-forward to 2012, and Fizer is hoping to break back into The Association once again. The past few years have given the former Bulls' forward an opportunity to understand what may have gone wrong and how to make things right, while also finding his faith and training harder than ever before. Having already worked out with the Warriors this summer (and more looks with NBA teams to come), all Fizer desires now is a second look. If he's able to prove how much progress he's made, what's the harm?
In one of the more candid interviews you'll read by a guy on the comeback trail, Fizer met up with RidiculousUpside.com during NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this past week for an exclusive Q&A. Continue reading to learn more about what he's been up to lately, how he plans on making it back to the NBA, and why he believes he didn't stick in the first place. Why is it unfair to label Fizer a former lottery pick bust? Find out all this and more below.
Q: Why don't you begin by explaining what you've been up to since you were last in the NBA, Marcus?
A: The last couple of years I've been bouncing around some places that actually turned out not to be best places for me. I'm trying to get things back in order. I was in Argentina last year and had some success down there, but when I came home for the holidays, I decided I wanted to really get back into shape. I started thinking about the rest of my career, and not just picking up money here and there.
I've made a commitment, and have been down here in Las Vegas training at IMPACT basketball the last four months. I've lost a good 30 pounds, about 5 or 6 percent body fat, and have just been doing really well.
Q: How have you been able to do that? What's been the difference these past few months?
A: It's been wonderful. That's the key that's been missing from my game. You can try and do it on your own as much as you want, but there's only so much you want to do without working out with professionals. You can go get your shots up and have family and/or a friend rebound for you, but someone's bound to fool off.
At IMPACT, you get none of that. You work hard. It's an hour to an hour and a half straight of weight lifting. Then you come back in the evening and play for an hour or so two. That's what myself and my two roommates have been doing since February.
There's NBA caliber talent at IMPACT all the time. This week, I've been playing five on five with guys like Anthony Davis, Ty Lawson, Kenneh Faried, Kosta Koufos, Ryan Anderson, and Austin Daye. Koufos is big! To be able to go around him, get and-ones and things like that feels good.
Those guys have been looking to me with our games on the line. They want me to hit the game-winning shot. I've never been looked at like that and embraced as the veteran on the floor.
Q: You're obviously motivated enough to make it back to the NBA. Realistically, what can you contribute to a team? What's your ceiling?
A: Definitely my wisdom. I know the game. I can come into training camp and start talking to all the young guys and let them know I've been in the same situation they're in now. I'm a former #4 pick. I never expected my career to go the way it did, but it happened.
I've been a preacher for going on three years now. I understand the path that God took me on. I let everything that came along with the NBA--the money, the fame, the limelight, and all that be about me. I glorified God by it all, but not the way I should have. But now, he's brought me down to a place and slowly showed me I'm going to have to work harder.
It was given to me as a gift, but I made a mockery out of it. He showed me I'm going to have to work my way back by taking small steps. I'm not trying to play 40 minutes per game. But I can be a good solid veteran that comes in, plays defense, can hit the three. I can get buckets. I'll be the guy that comes in about 20-25 minutes a night that a team uses to go bang on somebody.
Q: This offseason, we saw a guy like Andrea Bargnani get traded to the Knicks. Along with him comes all of the baggage he brings for not living up to that former #1 pick potential. Do you ever feel as though you've faced similar pressures as a former lottery pick yourself?
A: My thing is, my career was derailed my injuries. It's probably my fault, because I wasn't training the way I should have. But I've had three ACL surgeries. To be playing right now is definitely a blessing. When you're playing at any high level after that, it's just a blessing.
But you see guys who are former lottery picks who have played most of their careers, and then turned out not to have done anything. I think it's unfair because of the injuries I've had to deal with. Like I said, I'll take the blame because I didn't train the way I should have, but now I get it. I have an opportunity to finish strong, and that's all I'm worried about.
Q: You're obviously also a former NBA D-League MVP. What can you tell me that you remember from that experience?
A: The D-League has gotten better since I was there. It was definitely a humbling moment. But I got to play for the late and great Dennis Johnson. Of all the teams that wanted me, I felt honored to play for him in Austin with the Toros.
I obviously came in there as the most known NBA guy. But we had a talk and I let him know that I was there to learn from him. He was harder on me than anyone on the team. We got into a little spat. I was doing things that didn't work out. What I wanted to do on the court wasn't successful, so he came to me on the team bus and let me know. I did what I wanted to do, and we lost. From there on out, he didn't have to worry about that from me.
Being down there, I learned so much. The role I had there is actually the type I'd like to fill on an NBA team now. We had so many young guys, and I was the big name. I took less money when I was down there so that the younger guys could get their money too. I learned how to be a good veteran and a leader. When I was there, we rose up to first place. Great experience.
Q: Despite your success in the D-League, that was then and this is now. Is it safe to assume returning to the NBA is your outright goal? How does playing internationally again fit in as a backup plan?
A: Playing overseas is tough when you have a family. Waking up with my kids and getting them ready for school, those are things that are very dear to me. Missing that is hard, but now we have Skype and things like that to interact. That takes some of the pressure off. I can adapt a lot better now.
I'm a 34 year old man with three kids and a wife, so family is what's most important. My faith, my family, and then comes basketball. I know that if I keep working hard, it will happen for me. If it takes me going over to Europe and playing for five months over there, that's what I'll do. I can always come back and get into the NBA when that season is over. Whatever is needed that myself and my representation deems the best possible situation, that's what I'll do.