HAWKSVILLE – In the pantheon of awards Al Horford has won during his basketball career, being named Monday’s MVP of the John “Beans” Beckett Invitational probably doesn’t rank anywhere near the top (some people are into NCAA titles and stuff like that I guess).
But that didn’t stop the Hawks third-year center from celebrating a little bit after receiving the word of the honor as the crowd left the floor at the Hawks’ practice court.
“Yes,” Horford shouted in between laughter as he pumped his fist into the air on his way to the locker room. “Being 4-1 on my first day back is what matters to me.”
Jokes aside, and there were plenty of them delivered on and off the floor Monday, Horford’s glad to be back. His summer has been filled with work-related travel and activity, a summer break that probably felt more like summer school in this case.
After playing eight games in 10 days with the Dominican national team in the FIBAS Americas tournament in Puerto Rico, Horford took just a few days off before returning to the grind with an assortment of his Hawks teammates and other pros in daily workouts on the track and court.
“I know this is a big season for us, a big year, and that’s what you have to do,” Horford said. “This is what you have to do. If you want to get better you have to put in the time. So I’m here just like the rest of these guys trying to get it done.”
Horford worked with a team comprised mostly of younger players Monday, teaming with Hawks rookie point guard Jeff Teague and training camp invitee Frank Robinson to stay on the floor (winning team stays on until they lose) for most of the day. His presence on the floor was beyond noticeable, as he worked over big men from the opposing two teams (mainly veteran center Randolph Morris and rookie free agent and training camp invitee Garret Siler).
As much fun as he was having Monday, Horford acknowledged that the stakes are dramatically different now compared to what he was doing as recently as last week in Puerto Rico.
“It’s a big difference between just pro basketball and when you’re playing against other countries,” he said. “It’s a big deal. There’s a lot of heart and a lot of emotion. It’s such a big deal. It’s a lot of fun. It’s different basketball, but a lot of fun.”
For Horford and the Hawks, the real fun begins in a couple of weeks with the start of training camp. And after back-to-back playoff seasons the expectations are sky-high. With added frontcourt help in the form of veterans Joe Smith and Jason Collins, Horford is feeling better than ever about the Hawks’ chances of living up to their newfound hype.
“I like what we’ve done,” Horford said. “I’m happy we were able to get both those bigs and with Zaza [Pachulia] and then Josh [Smith] and myself, i think we’re going to be good. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to getting everybody in here and training togtether so we can get our chemistry down and be ready to go from the start.”