Festus Ezeli Interview
Former Vanderbilt Center Festus Ezeli didn’t start playing the game of basketball until he was a teenager, but since then he has made the most of his opportunities. After being primarily a backup for much of his first two seasons, Ezeli started his Junior and Senior years while averaging double digit scoring in each season. He also holds the Vanderbilt single season record for blocked shots with 87. Now that his college career is over, Ezeli has set his sights on the NBA. We recently got a chance to speak with him to talk about the evolution of his game, his senior year and what sets him apart from his peers.
NBADraft.net: You picked up basketball at the age of 16 and now you are working out for the draft, when you started playing did making it to the NBA ever cross your mind?
Festus Ezeli: As a kid you dream about being in the NBA. I never really knew for sure that I would be going but that was always an aspiration of mine. Now that it’s here, it’s just very exciting. It’s amazing.
NBADraft.net: Since you started playing at such a late age, was it frustrating at times to be behind your teammates in terms of your basketball knowledge when most of them had been playing their whole lives?
Festus Ezeli: It definitely was. For a lot of my career there has been more frustration than joy. There were a lot of times where I felt like there was a void that I had to try and fill. I felt like I was behind. And I was behind. Everybody already knew how to dribble and do the little things. I didn’t even know what the three second call was. There was a lot of catching up that I had to do. There was a lot of frustration on my part and from the coaches because they had never met someone so raw at my age. It was good though because in the last year that has all changed. There has been more joy than frustration. I understand the game better now and it has become a lot easier.
NBADraft.net: Coming into your senior year, what was the aspect of your game that you wanted to work on the most?
Festus Ezeli: I wanted to become a dominant player in the post. I wanted to add anything I could to my arsenal. I really wanted to be able to step out and shoot more. I had a setback early in the year with an injury which cost me time and really hurt me in terms of my conditioning. I had to work on getting my footwork back and I had to play catch up again and get back to being comfortable with that jump shot that I had worked so much on during the summer. It was tough but by the end of the year I was able to get back to that comfort level.
NBADraft.net: You served a 6 game suspension at the start of this season, how difficult was it for you to watch your teammates play those games?
Festus Ezeli: That’s one of the toughest things to do as a player. Especially for me since I had already experienced it a little my freshman year when I redshirted. It was tough having to go through that again. You never want to be on the bench while your teammates are playing. I just wanted to help my team but I couldn’t. There were a lot of times that I felt that I could have made a difference and helped my teammates out. I never want to be a burden for my team and my not being there for them was a burden at times. Especially on defense, because a lot of what we did on defense relied on me being around the basket blocking shots. It was just really tough for me to watch.
NBADraft.net: Do you think that the suspension set you back in terms of your progression early on?
Festus Ezeli: I think so. When I got back I had to work on the little things like getting my touch back in the post. I also had to get my confidence back since that was the first time I had an injury like that. It was tough for me to regain confidence in my knees. I was weary of doing certain moves or jumping in a crowd. I was tentative and it made me look like a different player at times. Those were some of the things that I had to deal with but I got better as the season went along.
NBADraft.net: Over the years you have proven yourself to be one of the strongest and most physical players in college basketball. This has allowed you to draw a lot of fouls. Do you think that ability will translate to the next level when you are going up against guys your size every night?
Festus Ezeli: It is all part of being physical. Drawing fouls comes from being physical in the post and having a back to the basket game. I think it will translate. I don’t see why it wouldn’t.
NBADraft.net: Talk about your post game. What have you been working on to develop more finesse and touch around the basket?
Festus Ezeli: It is all about getting shots up and getting repetitions. When I first came back from the injury I still had a little pain in my knee and I couldn’t move and explode like I wanted to so the more repetitions I get the more comfortable I am. I’ve been working on putting the ball on the floor in the post and backing people down. My workouts have mostly been about regaining my explosion and working on rebounding the ball.
NBADraft.net: Talk about beating Kentucky in the SEC Championship, and particularly about playing well against Anthony Davis after struggling against him in your first two meetings. What did you do differently against him in the SEC Championship?
Festus Ezeli: He’s a terrific shot blocker. Until you play against him, you don’t really realize how long he is. The first two games it just wasn’t easy getting shots up over him. I had to be more physical. In the SEC Championship game I went straight at him. He’s good at keeping space between you and him so that he can go up and block shots. During the championship game I was just going straight into him and trying to take away that space. He’s a good player. He had a career high against me the game before and I’m someone who takes a lot of pride in my defense. I felt like I let my team down in that game and so I didn’t want to let that happen again.
NBADraft.net: What have you been doing in preparation for the draft in June?
Festus Ezeli: I’ve been going through my normal offseason workouts. I’ve been lifting a lot. I’ve been in the gym working on every aspect of my game just so that I can improve in any way I can.
NBADraft.net: What player in the NBA, if any, do you feel most resembles your game?
Festus Ezeli: I’m not really sure. I’ve heard people say that I play a little like Nene because he’s just a strong, physical big guy who likes to play in the post. He likes to play close to the basket and is good with sealing his man. He is a really good player and he plays very strong. I also see a little of Serge Ibaka in my game as well. I would say that my game is a combination of both players.
NBADraft.net: If I’m an NBA GM, tell me why I should draft you.
Festus Ezeli: I’m a hard worker. I’ll do anything that the coaches want me to do. I can fit into any system and I think that I’m a good defender. I have a drive to win and I think that fits into what every organization wants to do.
he said all the right things... he's just too raw offensively to really contribute right away...great shot-blocking center
Late 1st round to early 2nd rd is realistic. On the correct team he can contribute. For instance, I think he could be just as good as Jason Collins or Erick Dampier who are both currently on the Hawks.