Sunday , May , 27 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Interview with Springs of AND1

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

My man speaks the truth but, wise as they are, his words don’t paint the whole picture.  You see, there’s a problem with making a habit of excellence in a particular field: It quickly comes to define you.  For many, that means a struggle to let the world know you’re more than what they say you are.

Enter Jamal Nelson.  Most folks know him as “Springs”, and he’s cool with that.  Some might refer to him as “Electric”, and that’s alright, too.  Others call him “that dude who doesn’t do nothing but dunk.”

Interview with Springs of AND1
That’s where he has a problem.

Nowadays, these sorts of false characterisations tend to spread through the streetball community like an STD at an orgy. All it takes is a handful of haters with internet access, and a baller of Springs’ calibre is left labelled a one-trick pony. 

I was guilty of perpetuating the “He just jams” stereotype, too. Check my articles from last year’s tour, and you’ll read of tomahawks, windmills, alley-oops and all manner of other airborne antics. Did I mention that he had a crossover capable of causing enough ankle injuries to keep a physiotherapist in business, though? Did I tell you how he had a jumper wetter than Pavarotti’s armpits after a show? Did I tell you he runs the floor like a cheetah on crack? My bad.

We all helped spread the lie that Springs was a one-hit wonder, and now it’s on him to show and prove that he’s got the game to take on anyone from the blacktop to the big leagues. With another year of experience under his belt and a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder, the smart money is on him to make a name as one of the most complete players to ever hit the scene and silence those who speak against him.

So please, tell your friends Springs is “just a dunker”. Spread the word that he’s got nothing but hops. Shit, even call him out to his face if you get the chance.

It’s all just going to make the summer sweeter for him.

C.Y. Ellis: We last saw you at Madison Square Garden at the end of the 2006 Mixtape Tour. What have you been up to since then?

Springs: I’ve been working on my game basically, getting ready for the tours; going out, killing cats. And I don’t just dunk no more; I got all-around game.

CYE: They don’t know about that. People think of you primarily as a dunker. Does that bother you?

Springs: No, I’m killing ’em every time now. I don’t just dunk; I’m working on my other game. I’m working on my shot. My shot looking good now, so it’s going to be a long summer for these guys.

CYE: You signed a deal with AND1 at the end of last summer, right? You looking forward to going abroad with the team? 

Springs: Yeah, I’m going overseas. I haven’t been yet, but I’m really looking forward to going overseas. We’re going to be out there for a month, and I might even end up over there. Who knows?

CYE: So you’re looking to have a career outside of AND1?

Springs: I can go anywhere and play for anybody right now. That’s how confident I am about my game. I can go and take anybody’s spot in college right now. Name a school.

CYE: Are you looking to go into the ABA or the NBDL like some of the other players have?

Springs: I ain’t trying to go there. I ain’t trying to go to no ABA or nothing. I could go overseas right now. I would have chose to go to school, but that passed. Right now, if I could go to school, I could play anywhere.

CYE: What’s your beef with those leagues then?

Springs: I’ve played with the best around the world, and I ain’t met my match yet. If you find somebody, you can let me know (laughs).

CYE: Big talk! I’m glad you said that. You’ve been on the scene for a minute now. What’s been the best moment of your career so far?

Springs: The best moment of my career was probably when I made Helicopter fall. He’s my teammate now so, you know, I don’t want to brag about it. But that was probably the best highlight of my career, besides dunking on cats. I made a couple people fall, but it wasn’t on video.

CYE: I was there when you dropped ’Copter in New York. The kids don’t know about that one, but I saw it. What are your goals for the future?

Springs: I’m trying to make it to that next level, trying to go overseas. I’m not trying to be in the streetball scene for, like, ten years, you know? I see my place in the next two to three years…I might not be doing it. I might be doing something better.

CYE: Your nickname comes from your leaping ability. How much of your athleticism is natural, and how much comes from working out?

Springs: Actually, I don’t even work out on my legs. It’s natural, and I thank God every day for that.

CYE: Really? Damn.

Springs: Oh yeah, it’s natural.

CYE: Have you ever measured it?

Springs: Well, I jumped sixty-eight inches over that bar.

CYE: Do you know your standing vertical? It must be forty-something inches.

Yeah, it’s probably up there. It’s probably up there with Vince Carter.

CYE: Vince was about forty-seven back in the day.

Vince Carter when he first came in the league. It probably ain’t that now, you know, because of all that up-and-down.

CYE: Talking of Vince Carter, he has a distinctive dunking style. Some guys are power dunkers, while others have more finesse. How would you describe your style?

Springs: I’d say my dunks are more flash. Somebody can go through the legs and do their dunk and everybody will be like “Oh, yeah” but when I do it, it’s different. I do it with style. I got a style with all my dunks.

CYE: Do you have any dunks you’ve been practicing that we haven’t seen yet?

Springs: To be honest, I don’t even practice on my dunks. It just comes to me in the game, like when I went through the legs from the free-throw line. It’s all on YouTube. Went through the legs, shut it down. I don’t worry about those dunks. I don’t know what dunk I’m gonna do. I just go out there and play, and it just comes to me. If I’m running down the court on a break, I’ma try something new. Nine times out of ten, I’ma make it.

CYE: Are there any dunks you haven’t yet pulled out in a game situation?

Springs: Any dunk I do in the lay-up line, I do in a real game. I don’t just do those dunks in the lay-up line, and then the real game comes and I can’t do it. Everything I do, I do in a real game.

CYE: Are there any dunks you see from other players that you don’t think you could pull off? Maybe some of the stuff Air Up There is doing?

I’m not doing no 720! I can’t do the 360 through-the-legs; I never tried it. That’s two things I never tried.

CYE: That’s an ACL injury waiting to happen. If you fall awkwardly, that’s your career.

Springs: I’m not trying that, the 720! He’s the only that’s gonna be able to do that!

CYE: Who’s your favorite dunker currently in the league?

There’s so many of them. I really couldn’t say who’s my favourite because there’s a lot of dudes that won dunk contests that’s not coming back to fight for the title they won. Right now, I like LeBron. Amaré had a couple of nice dunks.

CYE: LeBron doesn’t have too much in his bag, though. He has the tomahawk and the double-pump reverse…

Springs: Yeah, but he looks good doing it!

CYE: Yeah, but he gets up so high he can’t help but look good! Who are your all-time favourite dunkers? Who inspired you as a kid?

Springs: Jordan and Dominique. I liked that because they really battled, and they didn’t care if they’d lose or win. I like the battle.

CYE: Who, besides yourself, would you say is the best dunker on the streetball circuit?

Springs: I’d say my man High Rizer. That’s my dude. I ain’t taking anything away from nobody, but High Rizer from Atlanta.

CYE: For those people who haven’t seen you except in the highlight reels, how would you describe your playing style? 

Kobe. Eighty-one. That’s all I gotta say.

CYE: Kobe?

Springs: I’m trying to tell you, man.

CYE: Is your goal for the summer to put up big points then?

Nah, that ain’t my goal for the summer. I ain’t trying to be no one-man show. We trying to win games, trying to show cats that it’s real. Everybody’s not out there doing their own thing. Everybody’s playing as a team this year, playing real ball, locking down on D.

CYE: Despite your exposure, you’re still one of streetball’s best-kept secrets. Who do you think that is?

Springs: I mean, on TV they see me doing dunks, so it’s like “All he do is dunk.” I don’t want them to think that. Sometimes they can think that. Let them think that when I come to play against them, like “He ain’t going to do nothing but dunk.” Then I go out there and mix their ass up, bust their ass and they’re gonna be like “Oh, shit!” Sometimes I do want them to think I can just dunk. I was on the internet the other day, and somebody was talking bad about me, like “Springs ain’t nothing. He gotta run real fast to dunk." I’m like “Come on, man! Don’t play me, you know?”

CYE: These dudes all talk, but you never see them on the tour. They’re only on the message boards.

Springs: Right, right. A lot of people be talking and can’t back it up, but I’m backing mines up. I be backing it up like Juvenile (laughs).

CYE: When did you start playing streetball?

Springs: I’ve been playing basketball all my life, but I started doing this little streetball stuff probably when I was sixteen, and I’m twenty-three now. I was sixteen and I was in high school, flying out and doing games. I’ve been doing this for a minute. Grandma was all on my case and I was like “Hey, you gotta get that money somewhere.”

CYE: You came up in Detroit, right? 

Springs: Yeah.

CYE: Every city has its own style. Do you think being from Detroit affected your game then?

Springs: I don’t know…Playing basketball is the same everywhere. If you got a lot of people at the gym you might get a good run or might get a bad run. I take moves from everybody. You got to, to add to your game, to make your game better. “Oh, he did that move. Let me practice on that and it might work.” I really can’t say what’s the difference. It’s probably just a different style of play. I mean, a couple of guards and a couple of big men are fancy in the NBA, but Tim Duncan’s not; he’s basic. He don’t care about the crossover. He’s just turn-around, off-the-glass or whatever.

CYE: Just get the job done and pick up the check.

Springs: If it goes through the bottom of the net and it counts, it’s good. At the end of the day, I’m trying to win.

CYE: Do you think the city affected your attitude as a person? Inner-city Detroit has a reputation for making tough characters.

I mean, I grew up in the ’hood and it didn’t affect me. I turned out fine. It’s just how you go through life, you know? You gotta have mind control. All that peer pressure, I had it, but I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was playing ball.

CYE: Do you think people make too much of the fact that the guys on the tours tend to be from tough neighbourhoods?

Springs: If you come from a tough neighbourhood and you can play ball, you good. You already know what’s going to happen when you get out there on the court and you playing against another guy from a different ’hood. You already know how they gon’ play.

CYE: Everybody knows about the split in the AND1 roster by now. What can you tell us about that and why it happened?

Springs: They chose what was best for them in their situation; that’s all I can say. God bless them. I hope they do good. I’ll never hate on them. Those are my dudes. If they hate on me and I don’t know, then so what? Those are my dudes, and I hope their tour do good. I mean, you can say it’s a competition but it’s really not. We just gon’ do our thing and we hope they do their thing. And I’m still cool with them, you know? I don’t think nothing bad about no-one; I just go out there and play.

CYE: How do you think it’s going to be now that most of the guys you came up with aren’t playing with AND1 any more?

Springs: It’s gonna be different, but we gotta move on. They want to do their own thing, so God bless them, like I said before. It’s gonna be different. We’re not gonna have A.O. running up and down the court, and we won’t have Main, you know? We just gotta step up, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

CYE: It’s gotta be kind of strange, though. Do you think it’s changed the outlook of the team? Is this summer’s tour going to be different from previous tours?

Springs: Of course it’s gonna be different. We lost a couple of big names, but we still good. I call us “The New Kids on the Block”. We the young ’uns now, so we gonna do our thing, hold it down and go ten-and-oh. We lockin’ up.

CYE: Is it Big Mike coaching you this year?

Springs: Big Mike, he’s doing a good job already. We done practised today.

CYE: I don’t think you’re going to have any problems with Big Mike on your side. Has he outlined any goals for this summer?

Springs: Defence. That’s what we playing. Defence creates offence.

CYE: Defence?

Springs: The offence is already there, so we gon’ get easy buckets off our defence.

CYE: Not many people pay defence the attention it deserves in streetball. Should we expect to see more guys blocking shots and stealing the ball then?

Springs: Yeah. When we go up about forty, then it’s time to play. Then we can play around. That starts off with the D, full-court.

CYE: What’s going on for you besides AND1?

I’m taking care of my kids. I got two beautiful kids, two sons. I can’t wait ’til they grow up and be able to play basketball or whatever they want to do in life. After basketball, I chill with my family.

CYE: That’s gotta be tough, right? Do you find it tough to be an athlete and a father at the same time?

Nah…Really, to be honest, I’ve been a father since I was young, taking care of my brother, helping my brother out, trying to show him…I didn’t have my mom and my dad. I can say I’d been a father then. I wasn’t saying I was ready for a kid, but…

CYE: If you ever had a chance to go against a five taken from the NBA, who would you have on your streetball team?

Springs: The AND1 team. We can go against anybody. We got guys that are known. We got Bad Santa of Georgetown; he’s an all-American. We got Assassin. Assassin played for the Lakers. We got Helicopter; he played college. We got Baby Shaq; nobody’s stopping him. We got Professor; nobody’s going to stop him. The jumper is crazy. And we got me. It’s a wrap.

CYE: Finally, do you have any messages for your fans out there?

Springs: I made it. It’s been a long time, hard work and I finally made it. I’ma show guys and prove to guys that I don’t just dunk, and that I got all-around game.