After a stand out rookie season in which he won the Eastern Conference’s rookie of the month award in April, New York Knicks forward Chris Copeland is poised for a massive sophomore campaign. Copeland, who is currently a free agent caught up with the Empire Writes Back to discuss his years in Europe, an unbelievable rookie season, and his bright future in the NBA.
EWB: After going undrafted and having to prove yourself in Europe, you make your NBA debut on November 2 against the Miami Heat. It must have been surreal to be sharing a court on opening night with players like Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, and Dwayne Wade. Take me back to what was going through your head that night?
Copeland: Honestly, that’s a great question but I’m probably going to give you a bad answer because I don’t remember the game. (laughs) I remember the crowd, I remember looking at the lights and watching the game, but not watching the game if that makes sense. I remember we won, but I remember being so lost like, wow I’m really here, You know what I’m saying? It was surreal, it was like I was in a dream. It was like wow, Im really sitting here with my jersey on, Im playing for the Knicks game 1 against the Miami Heat – look at these fans at the garden. I don’t remember the game I just remember looking up and looking around (Laughs) being like, this is crazy. It was special.
EWB: One area where some have been critical of you has been on the defensive end. It’s clear that over the course of this season you made big improvements on that end of the floor. What do you think is the biggest reason for the growth you saw on defense?
Copeland: I would say the coaching staff and my teammates. They’ve been patient with me, and continued to work with me. I learned a lot from them, and I asked a lot of questions. Everybody gets scored on in the NBA, there’s an amazing bunch of talented guys that just know how to play, so its tough to guard guys. I think 1 on 1 I’ve always been ok, my biggest issue was the defensive schemes – being in the right place at the right time and so on and so forth. For me I didn’t know when to be, and where to be, so I think those guys really helped me understand why I should help, when I should help, what to look for, and how to anticipate the play – those guys helped me big time.
EWB: After a great Rookie season, which you won the EC’s Rookie of the month for April, what kind of role do you see yourself playing next year whether it be in NY or elsewhere?
Copeland: I don’t know, honestly it depends on the particular team. But I’ve said on record a couple of times that my biggest goal for next year is that I want to win the most improved player in the league. My goal for this summer is to come back a much stronger, better player. That’s the biggest goal for me. Whatever role I’m in it should show through, I think that’s the most important thing.
EWB: Growing up which player influenced your game the most?
Copeland: I looked up to a lot guys, honestly I tried to take bits and pieces from different players. In the NBA probably my favorite player of everybody was Michael Jordan. Penny Hardaway is another guy I looked up to – he was so versatile, he could pass, shoot, score, do it all on the floor and he was 6’8”-6’7”and I always wanted to be a guy that wasn’t stuck in one particularly role, that could do anything.
EWB: Of the remaining teams in the NBA playoffs who do think wins it all?
Copeland: I’m really salty honestly I cant watch it anymore. I saw it on TV at a friend’s house and I tried to watch but I just cant follow it right now. This is the first year too, I watched every final every playoff each year but this year I just couldn’t do it.
After having the opportunity to speak with Chris Copeland about his NBA future one thing becomes immediately clear: He cares.
Copeland, who took an untraditional path to the NBA, fighting his way through the NBA’s D League and Europe, understands as well as anybody the dedication necessary to succeed in this league. More importantly, Copeland knows what goals are within his reach – like winning the NBA’s most improved player award next year.
Perhaps that’s why the talented rookie cannot even watch the NBA Finals right now – still feeling the sting of being bounced from the playoffs by the Indiana Pacers, because he, more than anybody, understands the hard work it takes to reach the next level.