Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford is in the middle of the third season of what will hopefully be a lengthy NBA career. Averaging career highs in minutes, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and points per game, he was recently selected as a reserve for the 2010 NBA All-Star Game for the first time in his professional career. OGGOA caught up with the two-time National Champion, two-time NCAA Finals Most Valuable Player and member of the 2008 NBA All-Rookie Team while he was on his way to prepare for a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Horford spoke with us about a variety of topics including his professional success, memories of Florida and advice for younger Gators who are trying to propel the team back into March Madness.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: The biggest thing going for you right now has to be your selection to your first NBA All-Star Game. How did it feel to earn that honor in only your third season in the league?
AL HORFORD: “It’s a real honor to be nominated to that game. The coaches really have a lot of weight into that decision, and I felt really special that they picked me over a lot of other guys.”
AS: The NBA has been utilizing you to help grow its product abroad. Do you feel any extra pressure in this regard?
AH: “Not really. I think if anything, it’s good. It’s something that, even when I played at Florida, I wanted to put myself in the position to be able to come and play in the NBA. It just feels a good to be a part of the league and a good team.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Al Horford after the jump!
AS: A lot of players dominate in college and then regress in the pros against better competition. Not only have you maintained your production, in many ways you have improved. How have you been able to accomplish that?
AH: “When I got to Florida, I did a lot of work to get better as a player with Coach [Billy] Donovan and Coach [Anthony] Grant, when he was there. And I just progressively got better every year like some of my other teammates who were with me. I think the key with the NBA is I’m still staying hungry, I feel like I can get a lot better still. I’m still working on my game. I have not reached my full potential yet. I think that’s why I’m able to improve every year.”
AS: You played high school basketball in Michigan. What was it about the University of Florida that made you decide to play there?
AH: “To be honest, it was taking that official visit and seeing Gainesville and the campus for myself. I was really sold as soon as I came in – the nice campus and the buildings and the palm trees and everything. I fell in love with that. I never told Coach that. I tried to act tough on my visit, but I knew that I wanted to go there as soon as I saw all of that. I really liked it. To top it off, I got to hang out with Corey Brewer and Taurean Green for my official visit, and I had met Joakim [Noah] – I played with him early in the summer – so I had a chance to spend some time with him, I knew he was going there. It made my decision a lot easier.”
AS: How often do you get a chance to speak with Coach Donovan?
AH: “I talk to him probably once a month. Lately, we’ve been texting a lot more. I always keep up with the Gators – basketball and football.”
AS: Have you been able to watch a lot of Gators basketball this season? From what you have seen, what do they need to work on to be a tournament-caliber team?
AH: “I’ve been able to watch quite a bit. They’ve been on TV more up here. I feel like they’re heading in the right direction now. They are still growing and learning, but I think the bigs really have to pick their game up consistently in order for them to have any chance of making the tournament.”
AS: If you were in Gainesville on Coach Donovan’s staff and had the chance to work with Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, how would you coach them up?
AH: “I would tell them to go out there and just play hard and do the things that Coach is telling them to do. Coach is experienced, he’s been there, and he’s looking out for their best interests. [They should not] worry so much about their individual numbers and stuff, just go out there do the things to impact winning – defending, rebounding, blocking shots. From all that, I think that will generate offense for them. That is something that every player looks for. Me and Joakim looked for that when we were there. We followed what Coach had to tell us. We believed in him, and I think that made the biggest difference for our team.”
AS: Finally, how did you end up in Ciara’s “Never Ever” music video last year? Is there anything your fans need to know about that?
AH: [Laughing] “Man, that was crazy. She came to one of my games last year, and I guess she saw me on the court. She got a hold of my agent and sent the information over that she would for like me to participate in her next video. My agent talked to me about it, and as soon as he brought it up, I was like ‘Yeah!’ You always want to be a part of a music video – that was always my thing. So I was so excited, I was like ‘Yeah, I’ll do it!’ I guess she went to the game and saw me and thought that I’d be a good look for the video.” Ciara’s “Never Ever” Music Video (skip to 4:29).
Horford will appear in his first NBA All-Star Game on Sun., Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. on TNT.