Kyle Kuzma has taken the NBA by storm. The little-heralded rookie from the University of Utah was an afterthought at pick No. 27 in the 2017 NBA Draft, but—thanks partially to the struggle of fellow rookie Lonzo Ball—has become a fan favorite among the Laker faithful after a highly successful Summer League showing translated well to the regular season.
While you can tune into any given Lakers game and here a cascade of “KUZ” descending from the crowd, Kuzma hasn’t let the hype go to his head and is focused on his game. Kuzma, whose Lakers host the Timberwolves on Christmas, certainly looked like he was in the holiday spirit at the NBA Store in New York City.
The Crossover sat down with Kuzma to talk about All-Star Weekend coming to L.A., his potential participation in the Rising Stars Challenge, adjusting to the NBA and his native Flint, Michigan—which has been fighting a tainted water crisis for years now.
(This article has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
Kellen Becoats: What was the biggest challenge moving from Utah to NBA, basketball-wise and lifestyle-wise?
Kyle Kuzma: Lifestyle-wise, like L.A. in general, Utah is very conservative, very laid back and L.A. is nothing like that. So I would definitely say that. And basketball-wise, the NBA is just a different game than college is. There’s multiple factors.
KB: You obviously got drafted by one of the biggest franchises in the NBA. What’s it been like to get acclimated to the Lakers fanbase and what’s it like being a fan favorite?
KK: It’s cool to be a Laker, that’s basketball royalty in a sense. The best franchise in basketball, so to be drafted by them is pretty cool, pretty special. They’ve had so many great players play for them and just that I can be mentioned as a Laker is pretty cool. And the fan favorite portion is pretty cool. It’s definitely always good to have fan support. NBA players don’t necessarily have the support that I have and I really appreciate it.
KB: You guys have the All-Star Game coming to L.A. this year. What’s it going to be like bringing all the All-Stars in and having them in your city? And do you think you’ll participate in the Rising Stars Challenge and how cool would it be if you did?
KK: It’d be very cool. Of course I would love to participate in it. It would definitely be one of those bucket-list goals, growing up always watching All-Star Weekend, the Rising Star Challenge was always big. It was the first event you would always see and it’d be really cool.
KB: I wanted to talk to you about Flint, how did growing up in Flint and being around it shape you into the person you are today?
KK: It shaped me a lot. Flint is a very tough place to live. The environment is definitely a different type of environment than anywhere else in the country, I feel like. But you know it made me who I am today. There’s a lot of temptation to be in the streets and get involved in a lot of the negative aspects of it, but I think it built a certain kind of toughness in me and I live with it every single day.
KB: I noticed that’s very much a part of your personality. You wrote ‘Flint’ on your Hyperdunks a few games ago and you have ‘Flintstones’ in your Twitter bio, just how proud are you to come from that community?
KK: Very proud. Being from Flint, especially in the basketball community is a big deal. Basketball in Flint, you’re pretty much like a God there if you play college basketball or are lucky enough to make it to the NBA. And I’m extremely proud, everybody from Flint has it tatted on them and it’s a really proud rich tradition to be from there.
KB: I was reading an article about you from the (University of) Utah newspaper and you were talking about your mom and just how proud you made her when you were at Utah and ultimately trying to get to the NBA. How much does family play a part in what you do?
KK: It plays a lot. Growing up, we didn’t really have a lot but we had each other. I try to do a lot of the things I do for them and try to support them as much as I can. My family and community really drive me to be something.
KB: What are your goals for this season and where do you ultimately want to be at the end of the season?
KK: My goal is to keep winning. It’s not really fun to lose, especially in this league when it can happen a lot to a young team. I just want to, as a team, just keep winning. And for myself, just have a healthy and consistent year and wherever that takes me, it takes me. I don’t really put goals like ‘I wanna get here.’ I just want to take it day by day and if that gets me somewhere high then it gets me somewhere high.
KB: My last question: Is there any added pressure being a rookie on the Lakers in such a large market? And do you think it will push you to be better by the end of the season?
KK: I think there’s a little pressure maybe but it’s a good pressure. L.A. is a big market and being a Laker is—you could be the 12th man on the Lakers and get more media and marketing than the third-best player anywhere in the NBA. So I definitely like it and it comes with a lot of responsibility.