“Our first preseason game, when we came out, everybody was screaming, `Kobe! Kobe!”’ says Andrew Goudelock, who was a Lakers rookie during the lockout season of 2011-12. “I’d never been around that kind of stuff. I said to him, `That doesn’t faze you, people going crazy, screaming your name, taking pictures – it doesn’t get on your nerves?’ He said, `Once I get out here, I don’t hear anything. It’s just me and the court. I play like there’s nothing going on.’
“I said to myself, that is a good philosophy to take.”
More than three years later and 6,000 miles away, Goudelock will be leading his team into the Euroleague Final Four in Madrid, Spain. It is a weekend unlike any other in basketball — a combination of March Madness (with superior talent) and the NBA playoffs (with more passionate fans).
Goudelock, a 26 year old from suburban Atlanta, is the Kobe Bryant of Turkey. He is the leading scorer of Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, the first Turkish club to reach the Final Four in the 15-year history of the modern Euroleague, and on Friday he will be rewarded with an intimidating hail of booing, chanting and singing on the homecourt of his semifinal opponent Real Madrid.
If Fenerbahce (fen-air-BOTCH-ay) succeeds in upsetting the tournament host, then its opponent in the championship final on Sunday is likely to be CSKA Moscow, regarded as the most talented team outside the NBA. CSKA will be opposed by the proud Greek club Olympiacos Piraeus in the other semifinal Friday.
“For sure it’s going to be tough, but we’ve had all types of battles,” says Goudelock. “This year we beat every Final Four team on their homecourt except Madrid, and that was because we didn’t play them. We’ve been a road-warrior type team. We’re confident.”
He knows how the semifinal in Madrid is shaping up. Both teams have former and future NBA players. Goudelock will find himself matched up against Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull. If the game is tight at the end, the ball is going to be in Goudelock’s hands. He will try to replace the mighty noise with a calming, intensifying silence. He will have to trust his instincts. He will need to believe in the teachings of Kobe.
“The rules are different here, everything is so much different — the big games are almost like a stalemate where you’re beating each other up, so it comes down to who is executing down the stretch and hitting the big shots,” Goudelock says. “That’s why I went into practice this week wanting to murder everybody. They came up to me after practice and said, `You were really aggressive today, are you OK?’ I said I was just trying to get ready. Because my first year, the week before the playoffs, Kobe turned it up. We had a meeting after practice and he said, `You’re going to see me going hard because it’s playoff time. We need to go hard, be hungry, try to kill whoever we play.’ I thought about that before our practice. He’s like in my head, like a little genie.”
Lessons from Kobe
There were three squads. Kobe and his fellow starters wore purple shirts. The Lakers’ second-string wore white.
“Third-string, which was the pink squad, we had little pennies, like sports bras or something,” Goudelock recalls. “I was like, man, it’s not looking too good for me. I would call home and say I’ve been giving it all I’ve got, but I don’t know if it will be enough this time.”
He had been ecstatic when the Lakers picked him midway through the second round of the 2011 draft, No. 46 overall. The reality of his dream-come-true turned out to be traumatic as the Lakers sprinted through their lockout-abbreviated training camp. Goudelock, an undersized 6-3 shooting guard, was behind on everything. He wasn’t used to their defensive pick-and-roll coverages. The NBA three-point line was too deep. The scrimmages were too fast. There was one practice when he didn’t even play.
” And then Kobe was like, `We’re going to call you the Mini-Mamba.’ So that was a great moment for me. “
I would go to the hotel and just break down, start crying,” he says. “I was like, man, it’s over for me. It didn’t take a brain scientist to know what was going on. But I was going to keep fighting hard, to keep my head up.”
He tried to be first in the sprints, the loudest and most active in the defensive drills, the player his coaches would notice in spite of his inexperience. Mike Brown, the new coach, told Goudelock he would be playing off the bench in the last of the Lakers’ two preseason games.
“As soon as I got in the game I was just nervous,” says Goudelock. Dribbling in the frontcourt, he could feel Chris Paul — the newly-acquired point guard of the Clippers — moving in to strip him as the shot-clock ran down. “I’m looking around, and I remember hearing the coaches saying, `Shoot it!’ I went up and shot it right in Chris Paul’s face and I missed it. The guys were pretty mad. Andrew Bynum was like, `Man, what are you doing?’ I’m like, `He told me to shoot it!’ I was just bug-eyed, and I took a couple more bad shots.”
Then the game began to settle. He told himself to focus on defense and take the shots as they came. In the second quarter he hit his first three. In the second half there were two more threes, including a shot that gave his team the lead. Afterward he was called into Mike Brown’s office and congratulated for fighting hard all preseason.
“He said, `So I’m going to give you a chance,”’ Goudelock says. “But I didn’t know what that meant. No one tells you anything.”
The next morning in the trainers’ room, Kobe yelled over to Goudelock. “He said, `Mitch wants to see you,”’ says Goudelock, which meant that he was about to be cut from the Lakers by GM Mitch Kupchak. “And my face dropped, I’m about to cry, I’m looking around, and I’m about to walk up there — and that’s when they say, `No, man, he’s just playing around with you.’ I had the biggest sigh of relief. I was just skipping around, I was so happy, and Kobe was over there cracking up. I never had my heart jump so fast.”
This was the defining season of his life. Three days later he was canning a pair of threes in the nationally-televised opening game on Christmas Day against the Bulls. Throughout the season he would trash-talk Kobe at practice.
“I thought it was a prime opportunity for me to really compete with the ultimate competitor,” says Goudelock. “He kind of gave his respect from there because I wasn’t really afraid of him.”
Goudelock was earning a reputation for his fearlessness. He became aware of this one night as he watched a teammate pass up a difficult shot. “Kobe turned around to me on the bench,” says Goudelock, “and he was like, `The only people on the team that would shoot that are me and you.”’
At the end of his first month, after he had made half of his four threes while generating 12 points and three assists in a big win at Charlotte, Goudelock walked into the locker room to hear Matt Barnes and Luke Walton talking. “They were saying, `He sure does like to shoot,”’ Goudelock recalls. “I’m like, `What are y’all talking about?’ They were laughing, they said, `You know who we’re talking about. We’re talking about you.’
“And then Kobe was like, `We’re going to call you the Mini-Mamba.’ So that was a great moment for me.”
His 55 year old Serbian coach at Fenerbahce, Zeljko Obradovic, has won eight Euroleague titles with four clubs. In terms of success he is the Phil Jackson of Europe. In terms of sideline behavior, he is Bobby Knight circa 1985.
“He’s passionate for the game, just like we are,” says Goudelock. “He’ll be so red sometimes it’s almost not red anymore, it’s like he’s turning purple. Sometimes I still can’t look over at him because it will really affect you if you’re not really, really tough. When I first came here, I was not used to that. I made a mistake and I told the coaches, `He looks like he’s going to rip my throat out.’ But they said that’s not how he really is, and then he told me, `That’s how I am, it isn’t anything personal.”’
Obradovic told Goudelock that he would be entrusted with the ball when the game was in doubt. He also said that Goudelock would have to earn those moments on the court by playing defense and by making wise decisions for the sake of his teammates when the double-teams arrived.
“You would be surprised if you get to know him as a person,” says Fenerbahce GM Maurizio Gherardini of Europe’s winningest coach. “He is very fair, and he respects the players he needs very much. He is always trying to have a dialog, even if he is so demanding. He thinks basketball 24/7, but you will also see him reading a good book or enjoying a good meal or watching a great show or listening to quality music.
“It took Drew a little bit at the beginning to understand the intensity and the demands of a coach like Obradovic. But after the first couple of months, their relationship developed in terms of understanding each other, and that has been shown by Drew improving game by game. If you want to be more of an impact player over here, you need to be consistent every time you step on the floor.”
They have practiced hard twice per day throughout the season. Goudelock’s commitment to defense has improved, as has his recognition of the defensive gimmicks that have been thrown at him in Europe, where by rule there are no limitations on zone coverages.
“If you want to be on the court, you’re going to have to give it your all,” Goudelock says. “If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, then you’re going to run. He holds everybody accountable.”
He has learned to appreciate his relationship with Obradovic. “Sometimes I have a hard time understanding him,” Goudelock says. “One time he said, `Even Ray Charles can see this pass.’ I thought that was pretty funny.
“There are two phrases that he likes to say,” Goudelock goes on. “He says, `This is how is.’ And he says, `All the life is like this.’ He was saying today at practice, because one guy was late on a rotation, he was like: `One second could determine everything. All the life is like this.’ I’m laughing inside; I can’t laugh out loud or he’ll tear me to pieces. This is how is.”
He laughs because it’s true. All the life really is like this.
Born in Stone Mountain, Ga., Goudelock grew up to receive two scholarship offers. During his senior year at College of Charleston, where he played for Coach Bobby Cremins, Goudelock ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring (23.4 points) and second in three-point shooting 40.7%).
The Lakers would cut him loose before the 2012-13 season. But during that year, despite playing with two different D-League teams, Goudelock was named MVP.
At the end of that season, he was recalled for the playoffs by the injury-depleted Lakers, for whom he scored 20 points in a blowout opening-round loss to the Spurs. Last season was spent with UNICS Kazan in Russia, where the average temperature in January peaks at 13 degrees.
“You can’t really drive because your car is sliding all around the road, you see people spinning out everywhere,” Goudelock says. “You can’t go outside without having like 20 scarves and coats and big pants and boots. There’s no American food, they don’t speak English. My teammates were telling me I came to probably the toughest place in Europe for my first year.”
As Goudelock was earning MVP of the Russian league as well as the second-tier Eurocup last season in Kazan, he was being scouted from afar by Gherardini, who is one of the legendary executives of European basketball. During his 14-year run in charge of the Italian club Benetton Treviso, his coaches included Obradovic, Mike D’Antoni, Ettore Messina and David Blatt — the latter three having graduated onto the NBA. Gherardini, an Italian, became the first European executive of an NBA franchise when the Toronto Raptors hired him in 2006 as VP and assistant GM. He had been serving as a senior adviser to the Oklahoma City Thunder before he was hired by Fenerbahce one year ago, which in turn led to his acquisition of Goudelock.
“At the beginning it was like two boxers trying to study each other, and it took a while,” says Gherardini of the relationship between Obradovic and his new leading scorer. “We won a game when Drew asked to take the final shot, and he made it, and I remember explaining to coach that it was not a surprise to me, because I knew that is Drew’s personality, Drew’s game. He likes to take those clutch shots under pressure.”
Goudelock averaged a team-leading 16.4 points on his way to being named second-team All-Euroleague this season. He converted 45.5% from the European arc, which is fixed in-between the NBA and NCAA three-point lines. He has tried to assimilate as many of the tricks as he could learn from Bryant, the nuanced details that enabled Kobe to score in spite of his diminishing athleticism.
“Coach was very pleasantly impressed to have someone who can handle that pressure, to the point that if we are now in a clutch situation, eight times out of 10 it is going to be his shot,” says Gherardini. “Coach completely trusts him.”
“People here call me `Mini-Mamba,’ I don’t think anybody in America calls me that. When people ask me for autographs they want me to sign that sometimes. I have no choice but to think of him often. I think about him all the time.”
– — Andrew Goudelock
One day while trying to explain the personality of their new scorer, Gherardini showed to the Fenerbahce coaches and several players a printout of a story that had been written years ago about Goudelock’s uncle. The uncle had been a sophomore high school football player in Gainesville, Ga., when he was diagnosed with bone cancer. His left leg was amputated above the knee. He would die four years later, in 1986, but he would spend his final two years of high school playing on the defensive line on one leg, without a prosthesis, even as the cancer spread to his lungs.
“When I was in college, I happened to be scrolling on the computer, and I see a guy who looks like me,” says Goudelock. “Growing up, it was just me and my mom. My dad wasn’t around. So I didn’t ask any questions.”
Then he learned of his father’s brother. His uncle had been named Andrew Goudelock.
“I didn’t know I was named after him,” Goudelock says.
This was the point Gherardini was trying to make to Goudelock’s teammates and coaches.
“I was explaining the values in his life, the toughness, the will to never give up,” Gherardini says. “Somehow Drew’s parents were hoping he would have the successful career that his uncle was dreaming to have. Drew was very surprised that I knew about this story.”
As Gherardini laid out the bigger picture of Goudelock’s background, the legendary coach was nodding. All the life is like this.
A star in Turkey
“People here call me `Mini-Mamba,”’ says Goudelock by phone from Turkey. “I don’t think anybody in America calls me that. When people ask me for autographs they want me to sign that sometimes. I have no choice but to think of him often. I think about him all the time.”
Based on his quick-release threes, a floating runner second in Europe only to that of Juan Carlos Navarro, and the leading role he has shown alongside the most demanding coach in Europe, Goudelock should be a player of interest for any number of teams seeking a guard to score off the bench.
“I definitely want to get another chance at the NBA for sure,” he says. “That has always been my first goal. But I don’t want to settle, either. You see some of those guys taking terrible contracts — non-guaranteed, or for a half-year. I’ve paid my dues. If I’m going to do it, I need to have a real shot.”
He says he is making $1.85 million — a “net” deal, which means Fenerbahce is also covering his taxes, housing and car, as well as the needs of his fiancée and their one year old son, Andrew Jr. They are not taking for granted their happiness as a family or his success as an emerging player.
“A lot of guys don’t understand that you are playing basketball for a short window,” Goudelock says. “You do what you need to do in your time. You can’t be sitting around waiting for the NBA, because they know you’re waiting for them … as much as I want to be there, I can’t be falling for the bait.”
He can’t throw away what he has earned. He grasps the meaning of this weekend, even if people back home can’t begin to imagine the opportunity, the pressure, and the noise. Though Kobe would understand …
“There would be times when things would be going terrible for us, and I would look at Kobe on the bench expecting him to be riled up and mad at everybody,” says Goudelock. “He would just close his eyes, count to 10, take a deep breath, and come back to the game. Come back to reality like nothing happened. I didn’t know what he was doing the first time I saw him do that. He said, `One of the things that Phil Jackson taught us was to always stay calm in any situation. Because you never know when things will turn around.”
The plan on Friday will be simple. Shut his eyes. Mute the pressure. Count to 10.
“Whenever I have things going on in the game, I try to take the same approach,” Goudelock says. “Because he’s right. One shot can change the whole game, and you’ve got to keep your head in it. That’s one of the biggest things I learned from Kobe.”
This is why he is not overwhelmed by the odds of an undersized scorer from a small college winning against the home team in Madrid on his way to the world’s second-greatest championship. What would Kobe do? He would play as if he was meant to win.