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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Dion Waiters is proud of where he’s from, and where he’s at.
“I grew up in South Philadelphia, born and raised. 18th and Carpenter,” Waiters says with a proud smile, evoking the memory of a certain theme song from a certain TV show about a Philly boy who went on to bigger and better things. Waiters spent two years at the University Of Syracuse, and then was the fourth pick in last year’s NBA Draft, landing him with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Waiters grew up across the street from a playground, where he went to every day to play basketball. Waiters was a Sixers fan, and he shared a favorite player with most other kids who grew up when he did in Philly.
“Allen Iverson is my favorite player of all time, to this day,” Waiters said. “Allen Iverson is the reason I wanted to play football and basketball, because he did too. Growing up, what he did for this city, Phialdelphia, he was everybody’s role model. The passion that he brought to the game. The heart that he played with. To be that small on the court. He embraced young Philly guys like myself to go out there and chase their dreams.”
Waiters will try to inspire kids the way Allen Iverson did for him in July at the Dion Waiters Life Skills Academy in Burlington NJ from July 1st until July 3rd. Waiters basketball camp won’t just be named after him, he’s planning on getting on the court as well. (SIGN UP FOR DION’S CAMP HERE)
“I’m going to get out there and play five on five with them. We’re going to get better and then we can play. I’m going to give the kids a chance to come at me,” Waiters said.
His message to kids is similar to what he learned from Iverson.
“Never give up. Man, just. I wasn’t a perfect kid growing up. I’ve been through a lot in my life where I didn’t really trust people. I’ve been told I’m not going to be nothing in life. I’ve been told that a million times. I think that’s what really motivated me and drove me. Just never give up. Just chase your dreams.”
Waiters was at the Lebron James Skills Academy when James got dunked on by one of the campers, he even got the dunk on tape. Does Waiters fear the same will happen to him?
“You’re going to get dunked on, you’re going to get crossed over, you’re going to get your shot blocked, that’s life,” he said.
Waiters is in town this weekend to help the community as well. Friday night is the first annual Skating For Success event hosted by Waiters, at Millenium Skate World in Camden from 10pm until 2am “Just trying to give back, give back to the community. I’m just trying to build them a gym, do something. I’m trying to do something big,” Waiters said. (PURCHASE TICKETS HERE)
He’s also there to skate.
“I always skate. I’m one of the best skaters too, I grew up on that. Basketball, football skaingting. I’m multitalented just a little bit.”
Saturday is the second day of Waiters Weekend, where he’ll appear at Sole Control at the Piazza in Northern Liberties from 3pm until 6pm. There will be autographed Waiters items for all guests, as well as photo opportunities. (PURCHASE TICKETS HERE)
When Waiters went to Cleveland with the fourth pick, it was a bit of a surprise he went as high as he did.
“I didn’t work out for nobody, my buzz grew bigger and bigger,” he said. “Somebody gave me a promise, so I think that took my buzz to the next level. I didn’t know until until the day of the draft, I honestly didn’t know. Iknew I was going from one to eight, like in that range.”
When he landed with the Cavs, it meant he’d be playing in the city where another idol of his played, Lebron James.
“It was crazy because, growing up watching Lebron, that’s my favorite player. That was my favorite player. It’s just crazy that I’m playing in the city that he played in. I used to watch every game, just the passion he had with the fans and things like that. It was surreal, it was unbelievable,” he said.
“It’s a love hate thing with [Lebron and Cleveland], because what he did for the city. You can’t forget what he did, he didn’t win a championship but he brought life back into the city as far as fun, entertainment, and they were winning. And when he left, you know, you know how it is. So we’re the young kids on the block trying to bring it back. We know it takes hard work to bring it back again.”
Waiters will have a big hand in bringing it back, and he’ll be doing it with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Waiters thinks they bring different things to to the table.
“He’s a great player, he can do a lot with the ball. Ther’es only a few people who can dribble the ball like he can. He does a lot of special things for the team,” he said. “My aggressiveness, I give you the play and the dunks and the scream and the aggressiveness.”
One of his most recent dunks, over the Heat’s Chris Andersen, was a YouTube hit instantly.
“Wrong place, wrong time,” Waiters said of Andersen.
Though NBA players fly in private jets, and are paid well, the grind of an 82 game season is something that Waiters says college can’t prepared you for.
“It’s a lot of basketball. It’s a grind, it’s really a grind. Different city every night. Four games in five nights. You’ve got a game in LA, you’ve got to get right on a plane and go back to Cleveland. That’s probably three or four hours on a plane, and then you have a game the next night. It’s a lot of basketball. You learn how to take care of your body,” he said. “You still may have problems off the court as far as family, distractions. You have to balance that out. You have to be able to say no.”
Waiters said the toughest player he had to guard this year in the NBA is Monta Ellis. “Especially if he’s on, if he’s on fire. So fast.” Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams were on the list too.
As for predictions for this year’s NBA Playoffs? “You’ve got to go with Miami. Gotta go with the Heat.”
Follow Spike on Twitter @SpikeEskin