Kendall Gill’s road to Ice Cube’s BIG3 3-on-3 basketball league had a bumpy start.
The fifteen-year NBA veteran turned Comcast Sportsnet Chicago Analyst felt good after he left the BIG3 Draft Combine this past April but that all changed as he watched his name go uncalled in the inaugural draft.
“I had fun and I played great and then when my name wasn’t called, I tell ya, that was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had,” Gill said. “I worked my butt off and I felt I came and did what I was supposed to do and unfortunately I wasn’t drafted but you know, that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes in life.”
Created to show that there is basketball life after the NBA, the league features some of our favorite ex-NBA hoopers like Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Charles Oakley and Julius “Dr. J” Erving just to name a few.
With the new league set to kick off without the Chicago native, Gill had to be patient for his opportunity to show and prove that he still had some gas left in the tank.
“Life is not fair all the time. You have to play the cards you are dealt and that’s what I did so I waited. I kept my fingers crossed and the call came.”
The call was from team Power Head Coach and NBA Hall Of Famer Clyde Drexler, one of Kendall’s childhood heroes, letting him know that they wanted him to replace Corey Maggette who went down with a leg injury in the BIG3’s opening week.
12 years after his last game as an NBA player, Gill was set to make his return to the world of professional basketball as the oldest player in the BIG3 3-on-3 basketball league. I sat down with the former "Flying Illini" and chopped it up about how he prepared for this moment and what was in store for him as he made his return to the hardwood. Peep the Q & A below as we get set to jump off Week 5 of the BIG3 3-on-3 basketball league.
“I felt like I was in the Hot Tub Time Machine. I felt like I was back in the NBA.”
TTom: It's been 12 years since you've played competitive basketball, how did you feel last week in Philly as you made your debut with team Power?
Gill: Man it was great. I was telling my wife that when I was in Philly last weekend that I felt like I was in the Hot Tub Time Machine. I felt like I was back in the NBA. It was first class all the way. From the hotel accommodations, to the production, to the competition. It just seemed like this was where I was 12 years ago and the first thing I noticed was that the guys were competing. This is no joke. Guys are coming out there giving 100%. Its not like guys are just showing up to play 3-on-3, they’re trying to win and that’s exactly what I wanted to be involved in.
TTom: At 49 years old, that makes you the oldest player on any team in the BIG3, how were you able to stay at a point physically were you felt you could compete at a high level?
Gill: Well I’ll give you a perfect example. This morning at 5:30AM I did my basketball regimen and that consist of working on my dribbling, my footwork, my defensive strides. Then we get into shooting, then post moves, free throw shooting and things like that. At night, I box. I don’t know if you know but when I retired from the NBA, I went and became a professional boxer. That’s how I stay in shape and actually before I got the call to join team Power I was exclusively just boxing. I wasn’t working on basketball or anything because I didn’t know if I was going to play or not. But when I got the call I immediately hopped back into my basketball routine and now I'm going through 2-a days everyday until the season ends.
TTom: Compared to other guys in the league, did you feel you were in the best shape of anybody there?
Gill: No doubt. I was in the best shape. The one thing that I know, that they don’t know and this is not trying to be degrading to any of the guys in the league but truth is truth. Fight shape is different from basketball shape. There’s a reason why professional fighters have to go through 8 weeks of grueling training camp to get ready for 36 minutes of a fight because the conditioning required is something entirely different of basketball. When I went into the combine in April, I knew I was in better shape than everybody else even though I was the oldest player there.
"We don't really hang out with other teams believe it or not."
TTom: Was there anything that surprised you from a competitive stand point once you joined the league?
Gill: The competitiveness off the court. We all stay at the same hotel. We all hang out in the lobby but for the most part guys hang with their teams. We don’t really hang out with other teams believe it or not. That’s the one thing I’ve noticed. Its like ok, everybody’s friendly but it’s the type of friendly were you say,we play you guys tomorrow, I don’t wanna talk to you.
TTom: So that same competitive edge that you guys had in the NBA is carrying over to the BIG3?
Gill: Aw yeah...most definitely. Its still there man. I was sitting there with some of my teammates and some guys came up that they know from the league or other teams and I noticed the conversations weren’t that friendly. They ask if you're alright then its like on to the next, we’ll see you guys next week.
Old Mans League? "You can throw that statement out the window"
TTom: Critics have called the BIG3 "an old man's league". What do you have to say about that?
Gill: We had two injuries in the first week to Corey Magette and Jason Williams but if you look since then it really hasn’t been anything serious because guys are better conditioned. When they started the first week nobody was used to playing at this high of a level so now that a few weeks have passed, everybody’s body has adjusted to it. So I believe you can throw that statement out the window now.
"...that’s a true renaissance man if you ask me."
TTom: With an icon like Ice Cube leading the way, a person that seems to be successful with any idea he chooses to pursue, where do you see the BIG3 going from here?
Gill: Ice Cube was telling me that he just got tired of guys that he knew could still play, retire and we’d never see them again. Why not give them a platform to compete at a high level. The idea has worked and who knows what’s next…Paul Pierce, maybe Kevin Garnett, who knows maybe even Kobe Bryant will come out and play. The bigger the stars you get, the better the league is going to be and also the more competitive its going to be. Its all because of Ice Cube. This man is an icon in this country. From music and entertainment to now step right into the sports world and be successful, that’s a true renaissance man if you ask me. My NBA friends are calling me and I think there will be a lot of guys lined up for the combine next year. There a lot of guys lining up right now that are watching this that want to play and they're going to come into the combine next year ready. No spots are guaranteed.
For more info on Ice Cube's BIG3 3-on-3 Basketball League click here
Follow 15 year NBA Vet & CSN Chicago Analyst Kendall Gill here