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Up-Close and Personal with Jason Kapono

By: Gregory Dole

Unlike dunking, anyone can shoot a basketball. From kids on an elementary school playground to old-timers, most people can shoot a basketball. And then there are those who make money because they can shoot the ball so well.

Enter Jason Kapono. The Toronto Raptors recently gave the UCLA graduate and California native a four-year, 24 million dollar contract. The chilled-out, skinny guy stands at 6’7”. He doesn’t look like a multi-millionaire athlete in the NBA. But he is and the reason why is that he can shoot the ball better than everyone else in the NBA, shooting an amazing 51.4 percent last season from beyond the three-point arc. He is the reigning and back-to-back winner of the NBA three-point shooting competition, cementing himself on the list of the greatest all time shooters such as Larry Bird and Peja Stojakovic.

Says Stojakovic: “There are many great shooters in the NBA. Guys like Ray Allen and Michael Redd, but the best is here in Toronto – Jason Kapono. You can’t really separate who are the best, but there are some top guys and Kapono is at the top of that group.”

UMM: In college, you were an all-around scorer. In the NBA, you became known as a shooter. How was that?

Jason Kapono: “When I got to the league, I had to concentrate on what I did best. You have your superstar players who can do everything and then you have the other players who are pigeonholed into a specific skill that they can do best. You have your rebounder types, like Ben Wallace. You have your shooter types, like Steve Kerr. Early on I realized if you want to keep your job, you need to be the best at something.”

UMM: At what point did you think you could play in the NBA?

JK: “You always do. Obviously you have to be somewhat cocky and confident. I always told my mom and dad that I would be in the NBA since I was six and seven years old. You may never think it could happen as a reality until a certain time but I always believed it. I had played basketball since the fourth grade at a competitive level so I knew that I could play with the top players in the country. I have always been one of the best so it was just a matter of time for me. In the NBA you just have to wait for your opportunity. I finally realized I belonged in the league when I started getting more playing time last season.”

UMM: You are not a fantastic athlete. Other than being tall, you look like an average guy. How did you find a way to succeed?

JK: “My physical tools aren’t going to blow you away. I realized that as a kid that hey, it is not in my genes. I had to work to get better at it and that was all I could do. I was always going to have to work harder than everybody else.  My skills were always going to have to be better than everybody else's and in the mental aspect of the game; I had to be stronger as well. I had to have better focus and confidence. Why be scared by somebody who could jump higher or run faster than you? I will out-think and out-work you.”

UMM: Where did you learn the mental side of the game?

JK: “My coach in high school was helpful, but really, playing the game and getting experience was the way I got better. You put yourself through those basketball battles on the playground, in high school, in tournaments, in college, playing at a big time college in front of a lot of fans, in a pressure-packed college game. It is experience that teaches you the mental part of the game.”

UMM: In 2003 the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Lebron James and yourself. How was that experience?

JK: “It was like travelling and playing with the Beatles. All the press we received, all the fanfare. I think it was good for me personally just to experience that, to see what type of game it was at the top where all the publicity is, where you are on television all the time.”

UMM: Moving to Miami, you won a championship playing with Shaq, Dwayne Wade and Alonzo Mourning. How was that experience?

JK: “The championship year was a tremendous year, even though I did not play all that much. Just to take part in it, is something you always dream about as a kid. You watch teams win a championship, to have a parade and all that, and to be a part of it is an experience you can’t describe accurately enough. Living the experience is something else. All the hard work and practicing throughout the year to get to that point and having it pay off at the end of the year is amazing.”

UMM: What put your Miami team over the top to win the championship?

JK: “Winning the championship is about being the best team at the end of the year. I would say that the practice and the preparation for other teams was a great lesson in winning. Taking each game as though it was your last. We were lucky enough that no one got hurt. At the end of the year we just started to click. It is such a long season and you are always going to have peaks and valleys. Talent-wise, we had great players. It was just a matter of everyone playing well at the same time. You have got to be able to peak at the right times. In the 2006 season, we peaked at the right time.”

UMM: Any advice for struggling beer-league basketball players that want to improve their game?

JK: “Footwork is the most important part of being a great shooter. You always have to be down and ready to shoot the ball. Your feet have to be set; you never want to be shooting on the move. You never want to have your body swaying, right to left or whatever. You want to be moving towards the hoop. You want to perfect the form that you have. I don’t say that there is one correct shooting form but you don’t want to be changing your form throughout the game. It has to stay the same way. You don’t want to be changing where your elbow is, like up or down or whatever.”

UMM: Coming to Toronto, was it a surprise? How have you dealt with the record year for snow?

JK: “I was a bit surprised about how fast it happened but I was happy. I have come to Toronto a few times. It is a great city, it is a clean place to live and there is a lot of stuff to do. I knew the city was not going to be a problem and the organization is great as well. As for the weather, you just have to stay inside, turn the heat up and stay warm.”

UMM: Do you see yourself going back to California when you retire?

JK: “I am definitely a California guy. At some point, I will go back. The weather is great. My family is from there. I love the beach. I was a beach bum; I grew up living close to the beach. I love the lifestyle of being in sandals, in t-shirts and shorts all day long.”

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