PHILADELPHIA -- On the eve of the election, Spencer Hawes remained stubbornly devout.
"Never, never believe the polls,'' said the Kings' second-year center, a hard-right Republican. "I've got hope.''
What if the polls happen to be right this time -- which they turned out to be -- and the Democrats win a landslide victory?
"The fact that this election is even in question right now, that we're even in the ballpark, says a lot about the party,'' Hawes was saying Monday at the Kings' game-day shootaround. "After the way most of America views the last eight years? I think it says a lot that we're even in consideration right now.''
Hawes' confidence as a 20-year-old says much about his potential as a player. In a Sacramento locker room filled with supporters of Barack Obama, he takes pride in his beliefs and enjoys inciting his teammates. He is certain that his attitude helps him on the court.
"It translates over,'' he said. "A lot of it's a competitive thing, that you like being in the middle of things and you like mixing it up on the court and off it.''
Over four starts, the 7-foot-1 Hawes is leading the Kings with 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while averaging 12.5 points. Hawes has perimeter range, but instead of settling for jumpers, he prefers to up-fake and drive it inside; yet he's happiest of all posting up and applying his abundant footwork and ball skills to outwit his more experienced opponents around the basket. Of course, he gets carried away sometimes.
"Spence has all the tools. He just hasn't learned how to use them all yet,'' Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "We're right now trying to teach Spence how to stay with his power hand. Spence has exceptional skills, but he wants to use his right or left hand all the time and make two or three different fakes, and he looks like an AAU player when he does that.
"We're making the analogy that Tim Duncan likes to use his left hand, too, but he doesn't use it when he needs a basket. He goes to his power hand. So I'm trying to get into Spence's head that he has to have one or two shots that he can go to at all times. Let all the other skills happen off those one or two things.''
Theus provides excellent perspective on Hawes' assertiveness.
"I mean this with great affection, because I was a strong-personality child and I was handled: My dad grabbed me by the chest and shook me a few times, too,'' said Theus, a former All-Star guard. "Spence has to remain humble until he earns the right to be whoever he turns out to be. Not humble in the sense of not wanting to get it done or not feeling that you can get it done, but humble enough to know that you don't know it all yet. That you have not arrived.
"I like that little thing he has on the inside that makes him like that. That's what is ultimately going to make him a great player. It's very uncommon, so it will set him apart. But he has to handle it. He's playing a position where he doesn't match up yet, and he doesn't want to [anger] people either.''
Hawes must make sure to not antagonize the larger, more experienced centers around the league. Not only is Hawes learning to develop his skills after entering the league as a freshman from Washington, but he is also growing into his body. He weighs 240 pounds after a summer of dieting and lifting that transformed fat into muscle.
"I don't think I'm ever going to be a guy who's 265 or 270,'' Hawes said. "The way I play is running up and down the court and trying to be a shot-blocker. It's not a power game, and that's the way the game is going. Guys aren't as big as they were 10 years ago, and the game's not called the way it was. At the end of the day it's a skill game, and that's what the league is emphasizing.''
There's no doubting Hawes' certainty that he's on the right track.
"I think the general public hears the word 'cocky,' and they automatically think of it as a negative,'' Theus said. To succeed in this league, however, "It takes great self-assurance, a little bit of cockiness and self-confidence,'' Theus added. "Those are very positive things in sports, and they're very positive in the business world.''
It doesn't hurt in politics either.
Once Antonio McDyess buys himself out of his contract with the Nuggets -- who acquired him Monday with Chauncey Billups and Cheikh Samb in the trade that sent Allen Iverson to Detroit -- there is widespread speculation that McDyess will re-sign with the Pistons after 30 days, which is his right.
But it is also his right to sign with any team that tries to recruit him. So why shouldn't McDyess look around the league to try to find an even better fit?
One of his closest friends on the Pistons was Billups, so that relationship is gone. McDyess is a 34-year-old who wants to win a championship. Don't you think the Spurs might be interested in signing a wise player who is a good mid-range shooter and has the agility, strength and smarts to defend the power forward and center positions?
I'm not saying that he won't return to Detroit. I just wonder why he wouldn't explore all of his options.
At 35, Donyell Marshall has found his niche as a 6-9 shooter with three-point range. In 13 minutes this season with the 76ers (his eighth team in 15 years), he has made 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. Over his career, he has converted 35 percent of 2,526 threes attempted.
The long ball has extended his career, but it isn't for every NBA big man. A diverse background is mandatory.
"I didn't grow until ninth grade,'' Marshall explained. "So I would play every position. Then once I grew I was able to shoot still, and the coach never wanted to mess with that.''
"That's why, when I have my [summer youth] basketball camp, I never put kids in one position. Just because you're tall as a kid doesn't mean you're going to continue to grow as you get older, and just because you're short doesn't mean you're always going to be short. That's where a lot of people mess their games up. You've got guys who were big as kids and they were playing inside as a power forward, and next thing you know when they're 17 or 18, they're regular-sized and they're forced to play the 2-guard spot and they've never played it.''
Marshall credits his former assistant coach Karl Hobbs (now the head coach at George Washington) with improving his jump shot during Marshall's final year at UConn.
"My hand used to be in front of the ball -- my guide hand -- and he took it and put it on the side,'' Marshall said. "He said I was blocking my own shot.''
He is a sophisticated shooter now.
"I I relied too much on the three earlier in my career,'' Marshall said. "I took a lot of them just to get a three instead of a two, or to break the game open. Now they're smarter and better threes because they're out of the double team.
"My mind realized I wanted to play this game a long time. A big man who can shoot is valuable. You can play this game a long time if you can shoot.''