Just a couple of months removed from winning the 2016 NBA G League Championship, Rodney McGruder found himself competing against his former Skyforce teammate, Briante Weber, for the 15th and final spot on the 2016-17 Miami HEAT roster. McGruder, once thought of as a “long shot” by media, not only made the roster, but went on to start 65 games for the HEAT in his debut season in the NBA.
We caught up with McGruder during the offseason to reflect back on his experience as a first-time training camp invitee. He shared his thoughts on competing against his former teammate, the expectations the HEAT have for each player in their organization, and how his own personal work ethic grew and influenced his teammates. Responses are below.
What was it like competing for that 15th roster spot, going up against your former teammate Briante Weber?
He’s my brother, man. We knew we were going to be happy for whoever made it. You can’t have any negative energy. You got to stay positive all the time. Obviously we both wanted a shot, but at the same time we recognized how hard it was to make it. I just thought, ‘whoever does make it deserves it.’
Was there a time when you realized that probably only one of you would be able to stay, and the other would be sent back to Sioux Falls or be signed by another team?
I tried to never think about that. I tried not to have any doubts or negative thoughts. As soon as you start letting those thoughts creep in its harder to show up and work like you belong there. I just went out and competed each day and just had faith that everything would fall into place.
Do you feel like you’re in the best shape of your life right now? How much of that is due to the Miami HEAT system and how much of that is due to your own, personal work ethic?
Absolutely. I think it’s been a perfect combination of both. The HEAT have an amazing training staff and culture here, so they push us hard each and every day, but there’s still that personal drive to go out there and out-do yourself every day. To be a little bit better than you were before. So it’s been both of those things.
Was that demand of excellence and hard work present immediately, or did you notice things start to pick up when training camp rolled around?
It starts even before training camp. When you first come here. I signed in July, but I came here in August. We started running and conditioning already, you know? We have a conditioning test that we have to take, so they started preparing us for that before training camp even started. They take our BMI and check our body weight almost once a week, so they hold you accountable. We really are different. They really care about you here.
Do you think some of your work ethic rubbed off on some of your teammates throughout the year?
Oh man, I hope so. I was driven to get better by a lot of my teammates, so I can only hope I drove some of them to get better as well. We had a great group of guys that held each other accountable, so I can only hope I had an impact on some of the guys around me as well.