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Zaza Speaks, Part 1: His mentors and mentoring rookies Bell and Jones

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Part 1 of an exclusive interview with Zaza Pachulia. He covers a range of topics including his own role models, and mentoring Jordan Bell and Damian Jones (including his veteran tip for dealing with referees).

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Zaza smash tomorrow, hang with kids today.
AP Images for Footlocker

Zaza Pachulia took some time on Tuesday to present the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco with a $25,000 check for completing the San Francisco Kids Foot Locker Fitness Challenge.

The challenge is an extension of a partnership between Foot Locker and the Boys and Girls Club of America that, according to the BGCA website, aims to inspire “all active club members to engage in physical activities for 60 minutes on a daily basis.” The event was described further in an email from Zaza Pachulia's PR representative:

On behalf of Kids Foot Locker Foundation, Golden State Warriors center and NBA Champion Zaza Pachulia presented the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco with a $25,000 check for completing the sixth edition of the Kids Foot Locker Fitness Challenge – a six-week program kicked off in mid-October by Pachulia’s teammate Andre Iguodala. The Challenge encouraged all Club members to lead a healthy lifestyle through participating in physical fitness activities.

At the Don Fisher Clubhouse, Pachulia spoke to and played basketball with kids from a number of participating San Francisco Clubs, encouraging them to “GO BIG,” both in the classroom and on the court or field of their choosing.

Pachulia was generous enough to give Golden State of Mind an exclusive interview to discuss a range of topics including his own role models, mentoring Jordan Bell and Damian Jones (including his veteran tip for dealing with referees), as well as the way he thinks about running the Warriors’ offense and setting hard screens. The interview was long enough that we’ve split up the transcript into two parts. But here’s a bonus picture of Pachulia teaching youngsters how to set some heavy hitting screens to tide you over:

Zaza teaching kids how to set hard hitting screens.
AP Images for Footlocker

Zaza Speaks, Part 1

Eric Apricot: Thinking about the Boys and Girls Club of SF, did you yourself have a positive role model when you were a teenager?

Zaza Pachulia: I did. So growing up in the Republic of Georgia, you know, we were part of the Soviet Union when I was born, but we got separated in 1991. It was really tough back then, but you know basketball was so popular. Growing up in a family when both my parents were athletes -- my dad was a wrestler, my mother was a basketball player –- I learned a lot from them.

Back then, there was no social media, no Internet. Circumstances weren't as good, no electricity, things were pretty tough. So I was so lucky to have my parents. I definitely learned a lot from both of them. Different perspectives, so I was lucky. So those two were a huge influence when I was a kid.

EA: Was there anything like the Boys and Girls Club when you were growing up in Georgia?

ZP: Fortunately, now the system is different. We do have Boys and Girls Club, as of now. When I was a kid, we didn't. Georgia loves sports, right? It's one of their priorities. Soccer is very big. Basketball is probably second place. Rugby is very popular as of today.

So parents love taking the kids to different sports. And honestly, before I started playing basketball, I played soccer for two years. And I was swimming. And it definitely helped to me in other sports and to lead a healthy life. They have very mutual approaches, like discipline. No matter what sport you play, you need to learn discipline. And professionally, teamwork! Soccer definitely has teamwork. Soccer also helped with my footwork, honestly.

Then my parents settled on the right sport, basketball. So, the system is a little bit different over there, but trying different sports was amazing. Having a coach, we would practice four times a week at the beginning and as we got older, it became more and more. It's kind of like an academy type approach, very close to the Boys and Girls Club. I think the Boys and Girls Club for today's realities is a perfect fit.

EA: Speaking of mentoring, is there a rookie on the Warriors that you are mentoring right now?

ZP: That is such a privilege to have great veterans so you can learn good habits from them. Coaches can only teach you certain things, right? Basketball is way more than Xs and Os. It's the lifestyle, it's the approach, it's the thinking, it's the preparation, the discipline. So you learn those things, tricks, little details, right? You learn those things from the veterans. So in my life I had great veterans like Juwan Howard and Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill when I was a rookie. Looking back, how helpful it was!

So you want to have a good influence on your rookies. Especially with the big guys, right? Because I'm a center. So we have Jordan Bell and Damian Jones — especially those two young guys — who are amazing talented players and have a bright future ahead of them. It is one of our duties actually to talk to them as much as possible. You don't want to talk too much, but when you see things you can help them to do better, of course then. You know what's a great thing? They're willing to listen and learn from us. It's amazing to have these kind of rookies.

EA: Do you remember any specific veteran tips that you've handed down to Jordan or Damian?

ZP: You want to ask them about it? [laughs] Because, you know it happens every day —you don't plan it. Like, you see something they're not doing right, so you tell them, and they listen.

I'll tell you one of the things actually that comes up in my mind. Me and Jordan we're on at the same time on the court, and one of the officials called a foul. And then Jordan went to him and he called him "ref." And then after the game I told him see from now on, you're going remember all their names of all the referees. So you don't call them "ref," you just call them their name. It's good, it shows that you care, that you know their names. Because they know your name!

Since that time, he always comes to me before the game and says we got this guy, that guy and that guy. Good job, way to go! And it's so important, right, to start your career right, on and off the court. It kind of gets your name out there, your reputation. It's important to have a good reputation from the beginning.

Coming next in Part 2, Zaza talks about running the Warriors offense from the post, between the legs passing, and the art of setting hard screens.