Interview: Festus Ezeli

Festus Ezeli was born in Benin City, Nigeria on Oct. 21, 1989. He is a former NBA champion and a current free-agent. He was selected out of Vanderbilt with the 30th overall back in 2012, by the Golden State Warriors. He was thrown into the deep end early on his career because of an injury to Andrew Bogut, who was the usual starter for the young Warriors back in the 2012-13 season. In his first season in the NBA, he was able to score 2.4 points a game, grab 4 rebounds a game, and block 0.9 shots a game. He would average around 14.4 minutes a game and also start in 41 games as a rookie.

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Ezeli was in the NBA for four seasons but he only played in three. He last appeared in the 2016 NBA finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when they made their historic 3-1 comeback to win it all. He was injured during the NBA Finals but he fought on through the pain to help his team as much as he could since Bogut had suffered an injury as well. His best statistical season was in 2015-16, where he had career highs in almost every category. He scored 7 points a game on 54.8% from the field, he grabbed 5.6 rebounds a game and he blocked 1.1 shots a game.

In his fourth season, Ezeli signed with the Portland Trail Blazers. He was unable to ever suit for them unfortunately. He suffered setbacks on his injured knee and eventually it would lead to a season-ending surgery. That was the last time Ezeli was on an NBA team and he has been a free-agent ever since.

Since then, he has been working tirelessly. If you follow him on Instagram you will always see his hashtag, #rebuildingthebeast. He wants to make a comeback and at the age of 30, his window is still open.

I got a chance to talk to Ezeli and I was able to interview him for this article.

Q: What was your reaction to the NBA season coming to a pause?

A: I was following the news of how the pandemic was moving and it was already a source of concern. When the NBA was shut down and also March Madness which is also a huge source of entertainment was cancelled, that was when the harsh reality of the moment dawned on me.

Q: What was your initial feeling when you were drafted?

A: I was overwhelmed with Joy. I was with my family so we celebrated together. It was such a happy moment. We were all crying happy tears.

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Q: What was your “welcome to the NBA moment”?

A: Having to play against the legendary Kobe Bryant.. He was my hero growing up. I had only seen him from afar until then. Seeing him come out with his team to play against my team… That’s when I realized I had finally made it to the NBA.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Q: Who was your favorite teammate to play with?

A: I’ve always gotten along with all my teammates. Hard to measure all the diff relationships. But the person who I’ve gotten closest to was Harrison Barnes. We were the same draft class, lived across each other during our years in the Bay Area and we spent the most time together. He’s been around through all the highs and lows so our relationship has gotten stronger through the years.

Q: Who was the toughest big man to guard?

A: Demarcus Cousins in his heyday was a problem. Always had to bring my A+ defense against him.

December 22, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli (31) shoots the basketball against Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Kings 128-108. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Q: What was your biggest obstacle that you had to overcome thus far in your career?

A: I’d say being injured and having to play through the pain in the 2016 NBA Finals. That moment was special to me and I’m happy I did it. But it was a tough battle for me.

Q: As a free agent now, what are you doing to improve as a player?

A: Working on my offense. Ball handling and shooting. The game is gravitating towards 3pt shooting so I’m working on that so I can contribute to an NBA team.

Q: Who would you consider top 5 all-time for Centers?

A: Hakeem Olajuwon

Shaquille O’Neal

Bill Russell

Kareem Wilt

Q: What is your favorite story from your time with the Warriors?

A: My rookie year. I Parked my car one day and went to practice. Came out of practice and found my car missing all its tires, sitting on wheels. I was shocked. I honestly didn’t think it was my car till I saw the plates. The older guys on the team had taken my tires off and hidden them all around the practice facility as a rookie hazing prank. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to think at that point. I looked for my tires everywhere and couldn’t find them. Now that i look back at it, that was really funny.

Q: Who was your favorite coach to play for?

A: I’ve had great coaches my whole career It’s hard to pick.

I’d say my college coach Kevin Stallings because I played for him the longest. He emphasized discipline and mental toughness to a young Festus and that was really vital in my career

Q: What was your favorite stage of your career?

Getty Images

A: Winning an NBA Championship. Nothing is better than that in the game of basketball.

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