Gar­nett gives Bucks words of wis­dom

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - Matt Ve­lazquez

There are few peo­ple more in­tense than Kevin Gar­nett on a bas­ket­ball court. Ac­tu­ally, there are few peo­ple more in­tense than Kevin Gar­nett any­where.

On a bas­ket­ball court is where you could find Gar­nett on Tues­day af­ter­noon as he set up shop at the Mil­wau­kee Bucks' down­town Sports Sci­ence Cen­ter for the first time. Gar­nett made ap­pear­ances at Bucks prac­tices last sea­son but hadn't yet stopped by this sea­son.

Clad in a black sweat­shirt with the hood pulled up, Gar­nett put sec­ondyear cen­ter Thon Maker through a work­out fol­low­ing the team's prac­tice. The in­ten­sity was pal­pa­ble as the 41-yearold, 15-time all-star, 2004 MVP and 2008 NBA cham­pion de­manded fo­cus, ex­cel­lence and hard work from the 20year-old cen­ter.

Gar­nett barked at Maker for watch­ing his shots in­stead of turn­ing to catch a pass to put up an­other. He slapped Maker's stom­ach, test­ing his fo­cus and strength while he launched jump shots. Gar­nett re­minded Maker to slow him­self down and let the game come to him.

By the end, Gar­nett was an­noy­ingly bounc­ing a bas­ket­ball off Maker's back as he shot from the foul line. While do­ing that, he was re­in­forc­ing the pos­i­tive men­tal­ity Maker should main­tain at all times.

"What are you talk­ing about, Thon," Gar­nett asked. "What are you think­ing about, Thon? Best in the (ex­ple­tive) gym . ... That's the dream, Thon."

That's the way the ses­sion went, with the two soaked in sweat by the end. Be­fore ar­riv­ing in Mil­wau­kee, Gar­nett had watched film of the Bucks and was pre­pared to tai­lor his lessons ac­cord­ingly, and not just to Maker. In the morn­ing be­fore prac­tice, Gar­nett put Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo and Khris Mid­dle­ton through their own work­out.

"He men­tioned (watch­ing film) when we first got in here this morn­ing with me and Gian­nis," Maker said. "It's big, it's pretty big. So you've got to con­cen­trate, pay at­ten­tion and go to work."

Bucks coach Ja­son Kidd, who was a con­tem­po­rary of Gar­nett's in the NBA, has en­joyed the op­por­tu­nity to bring Gar­nett into Mil­wau­kee's prac­tices over the past two years.

He knows Gar­nett truly en­joys shar­ing his knowl­edge and suc­cess with the next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers and is will­ing to bring ev­ery ounce of his pas­sion to the court.

"You just have to lis­ten, and if you're not lis­ten­ing he's just go­ing to turn up the vol­ume a lit­tle bit louder, so you will pay at­ten­tion," Kidd said. "He's the best and his ex­cite­ment to give back to the game (is great). The game has been great to him, so to be able to work with the younger guys ex­cites him, I think. To give him the idea of what it was like when he had the Kevin McHale's, the vet­er­ans teach­ing him what it meant to be a pro.”

Maker, in just his se­cond year in the NBA, is still learn­ing what it means to be a pro. Af­ter a strong push at the end of the last sea­son and a pro­duc­tive, start­ing role in the play­offs, he en­tered this sea­son with high ex­pec­ta­tions.

The early re­sults were not what he was hop­ing for. Maker strug­gled to find con­sis­tency on de­fense and strug­gled to stay out of foul trou­ble. On of­fense, he of­ten hov­ered beyond the three-point arc but wasn't a ma­jor fac­tor in­side of it.

Since shift­ing out of the start­ing lineup at the start of November, Maker has be­gun to turn things around. Dur­ing the Bucks' three-game win­ning streak head­ing into Wednesday's 7 p.m. game against the Detroit Pis­tons at the BMO Har­ris Bradley Cen­ter, Maker pro­vided pro­duc­tive, high-en­ergy min­utes off the bench.

He's more con­fi­dent and is spot­ting up for more com­fort­able midrange shots and get­ting them to fall. He has worked with as­sis­tant coach Sean Sweeney on his foot­work and prepa­ra­tion for de­fend­ing the pick-and-roll and in do­ing so has lim­ited his fouls.

Work­ing with Gar­nett built on that progress, with Gar­nett hon­ing in on the men­tal as­pect of Maker's game.

"I had a slow start, but in terms of my­self and hav­ing that mind­set, I kind of got a chance to look at it again today when we spoke and worked on a few things," Maker said.

With Gar­nett com­ing back for the se­cond suc­ces­sive year, Kidd looked at it as an ad­vanced course from last year's of­fer­ings.

"There's al­ways AP," Kidd said. "With KG, he's go­ing to push the en­ve­lope. He's go­ing to share his knowl­edge. His IQ is off the charts. The guys have to be ready no mat­ter what, no mat­ter what time of the morn­ing it is, they have to be alert and they've been sponges.”

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