D’Angelo Russell has many excited for a breakout season of sorts. The Lakers’ point guard had plenty of struggles in a tumultuous rookie season. Playing under Byron Scott, with Kobe Bryant in his farewell season, and a social media mistake under his wing led to Russell’s oft-cited issues.
But so far in his second season, Russell has looked like a new man. The former second overall pick had a strong summer league and preseason, looking like the best player on the Lakers already, at just 20 years old.
D’Angelo’s quirky moves and crafty passes are certainly sights to behold. But the characteristic that has often been credited for his superstar potential is the confidence with which he plays.
Despite all of the issues that Russell endured in his first season in Los Angeles, the Ohio State product has not changed his demeanor. Through it all, he has remained the same confident player.
On Tuesday, Russell made an appearance on the Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski and spoke about the past experiences that allow him to remain confident in his abilities despite roadblocks:
“I give all my credit to Montverde and Ohio State. At Montverde, it was so hard for me to stay focused and handle adversity as a 14-year-old kid, not playing. You feel like you’re wasting time, you feel like ‘I could be in Kentucky, playing against all my friends, putting on a show for the city,’ knowing that in college, I probably wouldn’t be as qualified. […]
And my family knew how to handle it. When I came to complain to them about all this stuff in high school and college they told me the same thing: ‘Stick it out. It’ll be worth it in the end.’ So getting to this point, I went through so much, so much adversity. Not playing, to starting, to starting, to not playing, to not being able to shoot, not being able to compete, not being able to get the opportunity that I wanted. It really tested your true character.”
Asked if any doubts ever crept into his mind last season, Russell responded with an even more candid answer:
“Never, never. It’s crazy cause I know where I come from. I know what kind of family I have. It’s so hard growing up where I grew up at. So when you get to this, it’s all – it’s a challenge, don’t get me wrong – but it’s not on the same level. Some days you have to eat cereal at night, you might not have milk in the morning. Your mom driving you to school in the morning, she’s working two to three jobs.
That stuff’s way harder than dealing with the media here, dealing with TMZ bringing up issues that can really affect your mentality. Little stuff like that, it’s just a smack on the wrist. When you know you come from that, you know how hard you’ve worked and you trust your ability and all this it’s just a movie, it’s just a book. You’re writing your story. When you retire and it’s all over, you’re gonna sit back and laugh at these moments.”
Russell was incredibly open about his upbringing, including his high school and college days, and how it set him up for success at this stage of his life.
The point guard also credited the veteran teammates on the roster for being leaders and enabling him to become a leader himself:
My teammates, they’ve done a great job of just really guiding. You say ‘D’Angelo Russell’s a leader,’ but you’ve got guys like Lou Will, you got Luol Deng, you got Metta World Peace. You’ve got all these guys that have been through it, that really know how to lead. They really know what they’re talking about.
It’s so hard to be a leader in this league when you don’t have the experience or credibility or you come in at the age of 19 and you have no clue what it takes. You have to listen to those guys. They’ve made it so easy for me so I’m not worried when I got guys like that that are .by my side really helping me be the leader that I want to be. They’re feeding me the jewels, dropping the jewels on me every day in practice.
I’m well-prepared. I’ve only been in this league one year and I’ve seen the progress and hopefully you guys see the progress. So I couldn’t imagine when I’ve been here four or five years, six or seven years, if I’m that fortunate, just the confidence and my whole demeanor and just how much I’ve grown since year one to year eight.”
D’Angelo Russell has become a leader in his own right since last season. He has gained confidence as a playmaker and on-court coach, helping his teammates understand where they need to be on the floor. It appears that he is still learning about how to become more vocal in every instance of leadership.
Fortunately, he not only has teammates that can help him get to that point, but he also has the support system and backbone needed to confidently step into that role.