July 10, 2012

Dallas Mavericks like look of incoming rookie class

Trio brings unusual experience and determination.

DALLAS -- Bernard James, Jae Crowder and Jared Cunningham looked like seasoned NBA players while answering questions in the interview room at American Airlines Center on Tuesday afternoon.

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle hopes they resemble veterans on the court next season as well.

"We like these guys a lot, and we know that our fans will be very proud of the kind of guys that we brought in here with this draft," Carlisle said. "Having three guys like this is a coup for us."

While the new Mavericks are rookies, they are an experienced group.

Cunningham, a point guard and the youngest of the three at 21, left Oregon State after his junior season. James, 27, is a post player who served six years in the Air Force before playing through his senior year and graduating from Florida State. Crowder, a 22-year-old forward, also played four years and graduated from Marquette.

"The opportunity is there for us," Crowder said. "Especially with me and Bernard being seniors, we've been through a lot of different things and fought through a lot of different obstacles to get to this point. It's an honor, we know it, and we have to take advantage of it."

Carlisle, who was joined by Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson, introduced Dallas' three players at Tuesday's news conference. The trio was acquired in the draft from Cleveland in a trade. Dallas drafted Tyler Zeller with the No. 17 pick in the first round but sent him to the Cavaliers along with Kelenna Azubuike in return for Cunningham (the No. 24 pick in the first round), James (second round No. 33 overall) and Crowder (second round No. 34 overall).

"I'm happy to welcome the newest Mavericks to the Metroplex," Nelson said. "I'm looking forward to working with them in the future. Not only are they great young talents, but they are all quality individuals. Welcome to Dallas, boys."

Crowder was happy when he learned on draft night that he would be playing with James and Cunningham. He had met both players at a pre-draft workout in Chicago.

"I had a big smile on my face, because I already knew them," Crowder said. "In Chicago, we talked about basketball and the combine and little about the draft. I knew a lot about both of them."

Crowder was a maximum-effort player at Marquette, where he was the Big East Player of the Year as a senior.

"That's the way we were brought up," Crowder said. "You can't make the ball go in, but you can control how tough you play and how hard you play on the defensive end."

James, who said he learned discipline from the Air Force, is also a hard-nosed player.

"Having perseverance and toughness, all of that translates into basketball perfectly," James said. "The military is just basically a big team. Going into basketball, you're on another team. You have to figure out what your job is and do that job. And do it well. And do it every day."

Both James and Crowder focused on defensive intensity in college.

"Toughness was one of the things that was high on our priority list in the draft," Carlisle said. "When we traded down and were able to get No. 33 and No. 34, it presented an opportunity to us because of the depth of the draft. James and Crowder would have been first-round picks most years."

Carlisle said James is still young at 27.

"This is a special guy," he said. "We are excited to have him here from a basketball standpoint. But we are honored to have him as a part of our organization for what he's done for us and our country. That's a big deal, and you don't get the opportunity to draft a guy like that every day."

Carlisle described Cunningham as an athletic playmaker on offense, but he is also a strong defender.

"I think the biggest adjustment for me will be strength," Cunningham said. "That's something I'm going to have to key on in this off-season right now. I'm going to have to work on my strength and being consistent. My determination and my heart are there. I just need to work on some physical attributes."

Cunningham might miss most of summer league with a hamstring injury, but Carlisle said his new point guard should be healthy and ready for veterans camp on Sept. 28.

Dallas was swept out of the playoffs last season by Oklahoma City. The off-season hasn't been much better. The Mavericks lost guards Jason Terry and Jason Kidd in free agency and also missed on signing Nets guard Deron Williams.

But that opens the door for Dallas' rookies to earn playing time.

"This is the beginning of a long journey for them, and there's going to be opportunity here. That's pretty obvious," Carlisle said.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us. These next few weeks are going to be important."

Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @bshirley08

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