Haslem closing in on Heat rebound record
MIAMI (AP) -- When Udonis Haslem was trying to make the Miami Heat take notice of him a decade ago, assistant coach Keith Askins gave him one piece of advice.
He told Haslem every NBA player can score, but not everyone rebounds.
Haslem remembers that conversation so well that he's about to become the most prolific rebounder in Heat history.
Odds are, he'll have that title sometime Wednesday night, when the reigning NBA champion Heat start a homestand against the Milwaukee Bucks. Haslem will come into that game needing only two rebounds to pass Alonzo Mourning for Miami's all-time lead in that department -- Mourning grabbed 4,807 rebounds in 593 regular-season Heat games, while Haslem is at 4,806 rebounds after 605 games.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he knows that moment will be "pretty special," especially considering that Haslem is a Miami native who practically had to fight his way into the arena to make the team after being undrafted out of Florida.
"It's a great story, coming from Liberty City, not being drafted and absolutely earning everything he's gotten in this league and for this organization," Spoelstra said. "I've said this time and time again: We have core values for this organization. We can list them for you, we can define them for you, or we can just give a picture of UD. That will tell the whole story.
"He embodies all that we want in a Miami Heat basketball player."
Miami is opening a stretch where it will play 10 of its next 11 (and 12 of its next 14) games at home. The Heat just went 4-2 on a Western road swing, playing three of those games without Dwyane Wade and winning the trip's finale even with LeBron James ailing with a bug that made its way around parts of the Miami locker room.
Haslem, if all goes to plan, won't be starting any of those games. He ceded that role in 2009, saying at the time it was best for the team. A year earlier as a starter, he grabbed 618 rebounds. That next season, playing exclusively as a reserve, he grabbed 629 rebounds -- despite playing six fewer minutes a night.
And if becoming Miami's top rebounder wasn't enough, the chance to earn that title at home -- the Heat play their next four games on their home floor, so the odds are pretty high that even if it doesn't happen Wednesday, Haslem will find those two boards before the team hits the road again -- adds plenty more significance to the hometown guy.
"To do it in front of my family, in front of my friends, so many people that I love and care about, in front of my home fans that have supported me for so long, it's going to be a great accomplishment," Haslem said.
Haslem and Wade are the only Heat players to be part of both Miami championship teams, and they're 1-2 on the team's all-time list in games played, with Haslem ahead of his fellow co-captain by a single appearance.
He's been one of Miami's favorite basketball sons for going on two decades now. Best known, perhaps, for his much-bigger size when he played college ball with the Gators, it's often forgotten that Haslem scored a game-high 27 points when Florida lost the 2000 national championship game to Michigan State. Haslem's 10-for-12 shooting that night is still the third-best field-goal effort in NCAA title game history.
"UD always rises to the occasion," Wade said.
Imagine if he was taller. At Florida, he was listed at 6-foot-9. These days, the Heat say he's 6-foot-8.
Both, it turns out, are slightly generous. ("Ehhhh, 6-7. And a half. Three-quarters. With my shoes on," Haslem said.)
"We always talk about height not mattering," James said. "It's about willpower and about strength and determination. I'll be happy for him when it happens. Wednesday can't get here fast enough."
Haslem defends centers who are half-a-foot taller and in some cases half-a-foot wider, he plays through injuries whenever possible, and one of the iconic images of last season's playoff run came when he was bloodied in a game against the Indiana Pacers.
The Heat later handed out bandages that said UD-40, his moniker and jersey number, to fans as a tribute.
Soon, there will be another tribute: The team is already planning to collect the ball that will soon become rebound No. 4,808, ensuring the little piece of history gets to stay in Haslem's hands permanently.
"It's pride," Haslem said. "It's just mental toughness. ... The way I was going to make my niche to make this team was to hit the boards and rebound. It's just a tribute to my mindset. If you put your mind to it, and I know people say it a lot, but if you put your mind to it, you can do it. I wasn't a great rebounder in college. Not nearly what I am now. I just really focused in and put my mind on chasing the boards."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)