Caron Butler reached out to his new coach, Larry Drew, with a simple request – could he get the numbers for all of his new teammates?
Entering his 12th year with his sixth team, the Racine native knows something about joining a new franchise, so the 33-year-old reached out and wanted his new teammates to get together for dinner.
One of those players is point guard Brandon Knight, who not only spoke several times with Drew since being acquired in a trade at the end of July but hosted his new coach for a home visit.
Drew – or "LD" as he’s affectionately referred to already by members of the Bucks – spoke at length during his initial press conference on June 3 about how important it was to him to define roles and build relationships with his players.
So far, there has been little lip service paid and much action taken in fulfilling those statements – like the team dinner called Monday night on the eve of training camp.
"We just talked about expectations and where do we see this team going, the direction and what we’re capable of doing with the personnel that we have, the new faces," Butler said of the dinner he called. "We felt really good about what we can get accomplished here in Milwaukee.
"We had a good energy, a good vibe. That’s what you want to do – establish a tone for training camp. We’re going to do the same thing (Monday night) as we go over some play sets and stuff like that and continue to build our camaraderie."
There was a concerted effort by general manager John Hammond to reshape a team that finished with a losing record but still made the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, and only four players remain from that roster: Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and John Henson.
So while such team building exercises may, on the surface, seem somewhat trite in a professional setting – they’re anything but that for this Bucks team.
"’LD’, when he came in, coach Drew, did a great job of establishing unity," Sanders said. "I think that was something that was definitely missing, that unity, guys being crutches for each other."
Nate Wolters is about to experience his first NBA training camp. So is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is also living in a foreign country and away from his family (for now) for the first time in his young life. Miroslav Raduljica is also new to the United States and the NBA.
Then you have veterans like Luke Ridnour, O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia, Carlos Delfino and Gary Neal and young players with experience like Knight and Khris Middleton who may know of one of another but haven’t spent much time together.
And, all will be battling each other for minutes.
Chemistry matters, as the Bucks discovered last year, and this group is already working to make sure that no matter the situation they’re all pulling in the same direction. That foundation has started to be poured already, and will need to solidify through camp on the court.
"I have to see what I have," Drew said. "I know what these guys are capable of from an individual standpoint, but we’re talking about putting it together as a team, guys who have never played together. It’ll be a process. I’m excited about it and looking forward to it."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.