As the Phoenix Suns' 2010-2011 NBA season trudged towards its dismal conclusion, Marcin Gortat was already making promises.
"I know I'm going to work hard in the summer to improve my game, especially my post game with my back to the basket," the young Polish center claimed at the time. "I'm going to be ready."
It seems that Gortat is a man of his word. Less than a month removed from the official end of the basketball year, the 27-year old made minor waves within the desert upon announcing his, and fellow teammate Garrett Siler's, intentions to fly to Houston for a week of intense big-man training with Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon.
If you remember, Gortat's longtime Orlando compatriot, Dwight Howard, infamously sought a similar route during last year's offseason. While the results of the work became an endless source of controversy, "Superman" did manage to increase his scoring output to a career-high 22.9 points per game, despite a significant drop-off in the quality of his running-mates and a midseason team makeover. So obviously something was working.
Now it's Gortat's turn, and the Polish center couldn't be happier.
"They felt that they learned a lot down there," head coach Alvin Gentry said at Wednesday's team minicamps. "They spent a lot of time, at least three, three and a half hours, on the court with [Olajuwon]. He took them and showed them his workout. It was nothing but positive really."
Last year, aided by the gargantuan minute boost he received in Phoenix, "The Polish Hammer" scored a career-high 13 points a game. To extrapolate those numbers out, he achieved a True Shooting Percentage -- the advanced measure of a player's field goal efficiently -- of .598, and shot over 74% at the rim, both the highest totals of his career. All in all, after 55 games in the desert, Gortat's PER measured in at a sterling 18.8. Definitely nothing to sneeze at.
It remains to be seen whether Gortat (and Siler) will retain any of Dream's wisdom once the sun sets on what appears to be a long and painful lockout. Nonetheless, if the young big-man remains as dedicated as he appears to be, those numbers could easily improve.
Who knows, with hard work Gortat could become the first legitimate center the Suns have had in... well, forever. Perhaps, if anything, the inspiration he received from Olajuwon over those five days will serve as the catalyst to the growth the franchise so desperately needs from him.
"They thought that Hakeem is an unbelievable teacher," Gentry brightly explained. "They feel like it was one of the best things that ever happened to them in basketball."
Hopefully, it won't be too hard to see the results.