One on one with Erick Dampier
by Chris Navalta
For the past seven years, center Erick Dampier has grown tiresome of listening to five different coaches while playing for the Golden State Warriors.
Now, he's going to spend the summer listening to himself.
Dampier has the chance to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this offseason. And after putting together the best statistical year of his career, the man they call 'Damp' will definitely weigh out his options this summer.
"I've wanted out for a while," Dampier said. "And I figured the only option to get out was to go and play hard. I worked hard over the summer. I worked really hard. (Former Warriors assistant coach) Clifford Ray was a big part of that. He was a big motivational factor for me. My family too. So, I just took it in stride, I went out, worked hard, and tried to make myself better. At the same time, I still wanted to try and help make the team better. I knew that if I played hard, some good things would happen for me."
Last season, Dampier and the Warriors finished with 38 wins and were in playoff contention until the last week of the regular season. With the following season in mind -- along with possibly opting out of his contract -- Dampier dedicated last summer to the weightroom and the basketball court.
Starting the season with nearly an entirely different team, along with Adonal Foyle on the injured list, it was Dampier's time to shine. Before he knew it, he was seeing plenty of double-double performances in the Warriors box score night after night.
With the loss of nearly 60 percent of the team's offense in the offseason (Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas), that put Dampier as the go-to guy inside the paint. And the decision to give him the ball more has paid dividends.
"With Antawn and Gilbert being gone, that just opened up the door for a lot of other people," Dampier said. "That was the time for most people to step their game up and show what they're capable of. When Antawn was here, he commanded a lot of shots. So, we had to put him in the box in order for him to get shots. With Gilbert, he was able to get his offense going anytime because he had the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time. So with those two gone, I thought that really gave me the opportunity to step my game up and just go out and really play."
Putting up the best numbers of his career, Dampier has been able to turn the heads of fans and media, who are now saying he is arguably in the top three among best centers in the powerhouse Western Conference. But for Dampier, he wasn't the least bit surprised by his performance.
"It didn't surprise me at all," Dampier said. "I always thought that was something I was capable of doing. Over the last couple of years, it was just a matter of whether or not I was going to get the opportunities. I was preaching to the coach, I was preaching to the General Manager to just give me the opportunity -- at least some touches in the box -- so I could present a presence. Finally, Eric (Musselman) began to listen to me. He started throwing the ball to me a little bit more. I just now showed what I'm capable of doing."
Dampier's season ended abruptly with just eight games to go when he injured his ankle in a road game against Toronto. Still, it was a satisfying season.
"It was a good year," Dampier said. "At times, I felt I could have had better games. I think I'm capable of playing a lot better. I'm planning on going into the off-season and work extremely hard. I don't want people to say: 'Hey, Erick was playing hard just because it's his contract year'. That's not even the case. If you look at last year, I wasn't the system. But I was playing hard. For me, the biggest thing was to just come into this season and be consistent. I wanted to play hard. And I did the whole season."
Dampier began his career in 1996, when he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers. After his rookie season, he was traded to the Warriors, along with Duane Ferrell, for Chris Mullin. Since then, he's seen five different coaches with five different philosophies (P.J. Carlesimo, Garry St. Jean, Dave Cowens, Brian Winters and Eric Musselman). The Warriors hadn't made the playoffs once during Dampier's tenure. And it didn't help that the frequent turnover held from flourishing his talents as a player.
"When you have five or six different coaches (in seven years), the system changes. And when a new coach tries to implement their system, it's whether or not players buy into it. I learned a lot from all of those coaches. But it was just harder on us, going season after season not knowing the foundation for the team. Once we used on coach's system, another one came in. But that goes along with the business. The organization has to make changes."
While he's seen plenty of changes within the Warriors organization, Dampier has also seen changes within himself -- physically and mentally.
"I think I've evolved a lot," Dampier said. "I probably didn't work as hard back then as I do now. Because I've seen the rewards that follow if you go out and work hard. I think I play this game harder now because I'm here, I want to be comfortable around my surroundings and I want to be on a good team. I figured if I was going to get out of Golden State, the only was I was going to do that was to play my way out. And I just took that in stride over the summer. And I think it's very important that I keep working hard and improve my game. I think I'm definitely capable of playing a lot better. So, I'm going to go out and work hard this summer. And hopefully, I can take my game to another level."
Dampier also credits Foyle, his closest friend and teammate, for his progress as a player. Both Dampier and Foyle are the longest-tenured Warriors and have been pretty much the only constant the team has had over the past seven years. And despite the two players competing for the same position, they have a mutual respect for each other.
"You always want a good center behind you," Dampier said. "And I thought Adonal and myself complemented each other. We've been here for seven years, we're the best of friends and we both want each other to succeed. It's now getting to the point where he wants to start. So, who knows where we go from here? He's a great guy to play with. I wish I could have him on my team always. But he wants to be a starter and I want a chance to be an All-Star. Who knows where the future will take us?"
Dampier should be taking advantage of the free agent market this summer. He'll be listening to offers from plenty of NBA teams that will be in dire need of a strong presence in the paint. Dampier hasn't put much thought as to where he'd like to play next year. But he has a pretty good idea what that team should have in order to lure him there.
"I definitely want to play with a point guard, with a good shooting guard," Dampier said. "I wouldn't mind going to the East. I have a chance to be an All-Star there. I wouldn't say money is a factor. But hey, all of us want to be taken care of. I've been in the league for 7-8 years. So, I'm pretty much taken care of financially. So, I don't think money is a big issue. So, we'll see what happens. There are going to be some doors that's going to open up for me. There may be some possible sign-and-trades. It'll just be a matter of whether or not the Warriors are willing to do it."
Dampier has also dedicated himself to community service. Back in his hometown of Jackson, Ms., he built the Erick Dampier Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps children's dreams come true.
"I started the Erick Dampier Foundation about two years ago," he said. "We help underprivileged kinds go to camps all around the world. We're doing a lot in the community now. We're trying to find a place in my hometown to house the Erick Dampier Foundation. I want to go back home and build a boys and girls club. We're just trying to help the youth. It's my way of giving back. I feel if I can change just one kid's life, put a smile on one kid's face, I'll feel like I did a good deed."
For more information on the Erick Dampier Foundation go to www.erickdampier.org
Do ya feel lucky, punk?