It was a Saturday night last November, and University of Hawaii Rainbows coach Gib Arnold was convinced he was right.
“He’s a first-round pick,” Arnold said of Canadian centre Robert Sacre.
He had just watched Sacre score 16 points and add 10 rebounds while leading the Gonzaga Bulldogs to a win over Hawaii in a non-conference game in Vancouver. As it turned out, Arnold was wrong.
Sacre, a 23-year-old seven-footer from North Vancouver, B.C., was not selected in the first round last June. In fact, he was the last pick (60th overall) in the two-round NBA draft.
But almost a year later, as he prepared to launch his career with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, Sacre had no complaints.
“It was a long day, especially with the 60th pick,” he recalled. “But I’m just fortunate to be here and to have this opportunity.”
The Lakers chose Sacre with a second-round pick they had acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Nets in 2010.
While Arnold was convinced of Sacre’s talent — likening his skills to that of an NBA veteran — most of the league’s general managers were not.
Many scouts and other prognosticators didn’t think he’d be drafted at all. Sacre’s selection also proved them wrong.
Now, he finds himself backing up superstar centre Dwight Howard on a star-laden franchise that is seeking its 17th NBA title.
“It’s a great honour,” Sacre said of playing for the Lakers. “Not a lot of people saw this coming. I’m fortunate enough that it did come true, and I’m just living the dream.”
However, Sacre’s job security is limited and he’ll have to work hard to keep his spot on a deep roster. Sacre only signed a one-year contract, which does not become guaranteed unless the Lakers keep him until January.
In other words, he can be released at any time and the club will not suffer any financial repercussions. But Sacre, a former college and high school standout who won a B.C. title with the Handsworth Royals in 2006, said the situation is nothing new to him.
“I went through this my freshman and sophomore years at Gonzaga, when I wasn’t the guy,” he said. “I didn’t take it personally. I know what I need to do. I just want to win.”
With Howard recovering from a back injury, Sacre started eight games in the pre-season. He averaged 6.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while converting 51.4 per cent of his shots from the floor.
His battles under the basket earned him two black eyes and a welt on his nose. He is impressing the person who can make the most accurate prediction on his future — at least in the short term.
“He’s tough, he’s not afraid, he knows his role and he’s a good centre, and he will be a good centre,” said Lakers coach Mike Brown. “I enjoy having him around.”
As a youngster, Sacre dreamed of playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies, who have since moved to Memphis. He expects to play primarily a defensive role during his rookie season, hoping to avoid mistakes as he spells off Howard.
If the Lakers do relive their past glory, Sacre will help another Canadian — Victoria’s Steve Nash — earn a title that has eluded him throughout his long NBA career.
Sacre has expressed a desire to play for Canada’s national team and Nash is now that squad’s general manager. While passing the ball to Sacre, Nash can scout him literally first-hand.
But Sacre is putting his professional aspirations at the forefront.
“We talked about [the possibility of playing for the national team] this summer,” said Sacre. “But really, that’s not our focus. It’s Lakers right now. That’s what I’m thinking about, and I think that’s what he’s focusing on right now as well.”
Sacre’s girlfriend Vinessa and their one-year-old son Quinton are due to arrive in about a week from Spokane.
They will move into an apartment in Manhattan Beach, Calif., a significant change from the hotel Sacre has called his temporary home over the last six weeks.
Sacre also plans to mark the beginning of his pro career by getting another tattoo. He quickly dismissed the idea of getting a Lakers logo, at least until he has logged a fair amount of time with the team.
In the meantime, Sacre is in survival mode.
“I’m Survivorman — for sure,” he said with a big grin. “But I’m just having fun with what I’m doing right now.”