When the floor cleared and Michael Gbinije slinked out of Reliant Stadium, he couldn’t bear to look at a basketball. His Syracuse Orangemen’s run had been a thing of dreams and now it was over, ending in a 83-66 loss to North Carolina in the Final Four. Syracuse shouldn’t have even been there, not really, after losing 13 games in the regular season and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament. But they made March Madness as a 10 seed and didn’t stop winning until the Final Four.
Gbinije, a third-year starter, was a major part of that. A 6-foot-7, 200 pound guard out of Richrmond, Virginia, he averaged 17.5 points per game and shot almost 40 percent from deep. With his college season having abruptly come to an end, it was time for Gbinije to quickly turn his attention to preparing for the NBA Draft. We caught up with Gbinije to chat about what his life has been like since April, and how he’s gotten ready for one of the biggest nights of his life, the 2016 NBA Draft.
STACK: Take us through those first couple of days after the Final Four loss to North Carolina. Was it tough?
Michael Gbinije: I couldn’t get my mind off the game. It took me about four days to even process what was going on. I didn’t touch a basketball. I didn’t even come out of my apartment in Syracuse. I was just so devastated. After those four days were up, I started to come back to reality and realize I had to start getting ready for the Draft. At that time, I started working on my body and making sure I was patching up some bumps I had going throughout the season.
You didn’t have a ton of time to transition to getting ready for the NBA Combine. How long were you back at school before that process started?
I was in Syracuse for about two weeks.
So when you turned your focus toward Combine training, what were you honing in on?
We just tried to prep for the NBA style of play. A lot of mid-range and post play was added to my arsenal. You could say we got up a lot of 3-pointers, because that’s kind of what I do now. After going to the Combine, we had the idea that I was going to have a good time there, because we worked on vertical testing and sprint testing, so once we realized we were set there, we switched gears and tried to get ahead of working out for NBA teams.
Did you work out for any teams before the Combine? Did you have any idea what to expect?
I only had one NBA team workout before the Combine. It was the [San Antonio] Spurs, and then the rest of them were all after. I talked to my agent beforehand and he thought it would be a good idea to do this one before the Combine, just so after the Combine, when we get things rolling, we would have an idea of how things will be gauged and how the workouts would be ran. So going into the first one, I was very opened minded. I just tried to learn and see how the NBA workouts were run.
And how’d it go? Were you overwhelmed or surprised by anything?
Overall, the first workout went very well. We played a lot of one-on-one, we did a lot of three-on-three. We did our physical testing, like the vertical, 185-pound Bench Press, and then we had the team meetings with the front office people. So i got a good feel of how the whole process is going to go even going into the Combine with tests and that kind of stuff.
How many teams have you worked out for so far?
A total of 12.
That’s a lot. How do you even fit that into your schedule?
Ok, so say I’m in LA now and I just finished with the Combine. After the Combine I didn’t go back to LA. I got invited [to workout for] the Pacers. So I flew from Chicago to Indiana. I get in to Indiana the night before. They send somebody to pick you up from the airport. You go back to the hotel. You try your best to get some rest. I always bring my Xbox on the road. That’s how I kind of live stress-free on the road.
What’s your game of choice right now?
I’m a huge NBA 2K guy. A lot of times I’m studying the rosters on 2K which allows me to do a great job in the team meetings [laughs].
Have the various team workouts been similar?
Some teams like to work out early, some teams let you get some sleep. It all kind of varies on the timing, but you usually wake up, get breakfast, or a team gets you up to take you to the facility to get breakfast. When you’re done eating, that’s when you do your physical tests and they make sure you’re injury-free or test your vertical max. Some teams make you do it, some teams don’t, depending on if they like your testing from the Combine or they have any conspiracy thoughts about it. Which, surprisingly, most did, which is like the weirdest thing. After all that, some teams go straight into basketball, some go straight into meetings and that kind of flip flops.
What do you mean by “conspiracy thoughts”?
I was just at one team’s facility the other day and they said they didn’t believe I was the fastest guy (in the 3/4 sprint) at the Combine. So they made me rerun the sprint, and I broke my record from the Combine.
Ha! What’d you do? Mean mug them? Give them the evil eye?
It was one of those silent confidence that I had and I can hear them debating about my score, and it felt good, you know, that I could just prove myself again.
At a lot of team workouts, you end up running into another top prospect and working out against him. Has that happened to you?
Oh yeah, and it’s definitely very motivating, because you get a chance to see who your real competition is. Since I’ve had 12 workouts, I’ve seen a lot of guys that I’m basically competing against. Troy Williams is one, Damion Lee from Louisville is another. They’re all in my draft range, so you start to see the same faces over and over again, and in the workouts you try to get the upper hand.
Your performance at the Combine was all the buzz on social media. Do you pay attention to any of that stuff, or what the Draft pundits are saying about you?
No, and in fact, I’m like really unaware of it. I really only pay attention to what I can control and what I can do. People always come up and tell me things or I get a text from a friend every once in awhile saying, “Hey, they thought this of you or people are saying this.” I can’t ignore that, so I’m always listening to that. My focus is only on me specifically, not being projected by the media or anything like that.
What will be the biggest adjustment for you at the NBA level?
I think the biggest adjustment for me is pick and roll defense, and more off the ball help defense. I do a pretty good job on the ball man-to-man, because in the zone you have to guard the guy in your area. I think away from the ball defense is something I have to work on because I haven’t been used to it.
Finally, the most important question: Would you rock the Curry 2 Low “Chef” for your first NBA game?
I absolutely would. I was actually working out in those in my last three workouts. Just being a part of Roc Nation I was fortunate enough to have Nike and Under Armour send me shoes, and they sent me those. I’m a big Steph Curry fan, so whatever he has, I’m definitely going to give them a shot.
What’s the verdict? Were they comfortable?
Yeah definitely, they are very comfortable. They are all-white too, so they kind of look clean and I enjoyed playing in them. You can quote me on saying they are fire.