As Dion Waiters and his crew hung out at a South Philly diner back in April, the topic of conversation eventually swung to what type of player Dion would resemble in the pros. I was there writing a profile for Dime; when asked my opinion, I offered up Latrell Sprewell, which I meant as a compliment. Like Spree, Dion is a tough defender, a good shooter, intense on the court and explosive to the rim.
Dion’s brow furrowed as he considered that for a minute.
Then somebody brought up Dwyane Wade, and Dion’s eyes immediately lit up.
That Dion identified far more with one of the singular stars of his era in Wade obviously isn’t a slight to Sprewell, who also played a bit before Dion’s time. It only speaks to the high standard he holds himself to, and his determination to reach the outer limits of his potential.
“I’m coming for whoever’s got the No. 1 spot,” Waiters told me later. “I don’t just want to say I made it to the NBA. I want to be an All-Star, I want to win championships, I want to win defensive awards, MVP – I want to win every award possible.
“And that’s my main thing. I don’t just want to be another NBA player, I want to be somebody.”
He appears to be on his way. No player’s stock has improved more during the run-up to the draft than Dion’s has. Long said to have received a promise in the lottery, Dion shut down his individual workouts, yet his draft projection skyrocketed from the mid-20’s back in the winter all the way to where Yahoo! reported late last night that he might be considered by the Cavs at No. 4.
There’s so much talk about measurables – vertical leap, wingspan, sprint time, height without shoes. And all those statistics have their place, but there are certain ingredients for success that you can’t time with a stopwatch or evaluate with a tape measure. A player needs the requisite physical attributes and on-court skills, but when it comes down to it, you also need the focused mentality to put it all together.
I could tell you Waiters was one of the finest perimeter defenders in the country last year. Or I could tell you how he’s determined to show his mom that her support and guidance over the years has paid off.
“There were times when I wanted to give up,” Dion said about his difficult first year at Syracuse. “But my mom was there saying, ‘Don’t let nobody win.’ Just strong words from a person like herself, that gave me that much more firepower to go out and prove everybody wrong. I saw what she went through to help get me to the position I am.”