Former Bishop McGuinness star Daniel Orton signed with the Thunder on Aug. 4 and is vying for a backup center role alongside Cole Aldrich and Hasheem Thabeet.
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound Orton appeared in 16 games (two starts) with the Orlando Magic last season and averaged 2.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 11.7 minutes. The Magic selected Orton with the 29th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Orton spent one season at Kentucky and played behind fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins, now with the Sacramento Kings.
How many people have said you look like Russell Westbrook?
“Too many. I get mistaken for him all the time, pumping gas or going to the grocery store. It gets to the point where I don't even explain, ‘I'm not who you think I am.' OK, I'll take a picture (with you).”
So people think Russell is 6-foot-10?
“I guess they just really don't know. Oh, well.”
This could be a magical scenario for you. You're back home and on a good team.
“As far as this being 'Magical,' [smiling] I wouldn't put it that way, but it's a true blessing to come into a situation (like this), especially being in the situation I was in last year (with uncertainty involving teammate Dwight Howard), which most of you know about and heard about. But to come into a situation like this, talking to other players and just chatting it up with them, you understand how special this place is as far as the way they handle things and the way they approach pretty much everything. The time and care they put into everything they do.”
How much of your early struggles were health-related?
“Health was a problem that first year. I was sent to the D-League and got hurt the second game. But as far as the second year¸ I was 100-percent healthy. Health hasn't been a factor at all¸ really¸ except for the early beginning of it.”
Did you expect the Thunder to draft you two years ago?
“I didn't know what to expect. There were so many rumors going around as far as¸ ‘Daniel Orton could drop into the second round.' There was even talk about ‘Daniel Orton might turn out to be a lottery pick.' I shut down all that early on and said¸ ‘You know¸ wherever I end up¸ I know it's God's plan and I'll make the most of it.' ”
What did you learn from Dwight Howard in Orlando?
“Dwight taught me a lot of things. It was a combination of Dwight¸ (assistant coach) Pat Ewing and most of all (coach) Stan Van Gundy. Me going to Stan Van Gundy my first two years was a blessing. I learned how to play defense and help defense better than I had known before.”
A blessing? Even though Van Gundy didn't play you?
“Even though he didn't play me. His philosophy, the way he does everything. Stan is, by far, the best coach I've ever played for as far as X's and O's. I really appreciate what Stan did. … He shoots straight. He'll tell you the truth. He'll tell you the truth about everything. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He's going to tell you the full truth on everything.”