OKLAHOMA CITY — Shaivonte Aician Gilgeous-Alexander is not Russell Westbrook.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Westbrook is gone. Gilgeous-Alexander is now the man for whom Oklahoma City Thunder fans will crusade at a moment’s notice. The 21-year old Toronto native represents so many things for this new era of Thunder basketball.
It will be easy to like him, too. He prides himself on all the things a typical sports fan in Oklahoma appreciates: Hard work, commitment, being humble and learning from his mistakes.
“I just think I’m a basketball player,” Gilgeous-Alexander said Thursday. “Regardless of the situation, I’ll continue to work hard and play my game.”
Oklahoma City’s point guard of the future made his first public appearance in Oklahoma City during a Thunder Cares charity event at Eugene Field Elementary School. While the Thunder and Sam Presti will tell you that the franchise is still reposition and replenish mode, Gilgeous-Alexander provides a sign of things to come. No doubt the memories of the 2008-09 squad will frequent the dreams of many OKC fans.
“Absolutely,” Gilgeous-Alexander said when asked if he embraces being the face of the franchise. “As far as mentally, I don’t really focus on that. I just try to be the best man I can be and stay true to myself.”
“Regardless of the situation, I’ll continue to work hard and play my game. I just work hard and keep my head down and be true to who I am.”
Gilgeous-Alexander stands at a good 6’6”. His frame and body type screams “Presti-draft pick.” Within that near seven-foot wingspan lies a cool, level headed young man who both understands the situation he’s been dealt over the last few months as well as the path ahead.
“It’s been fun for me,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “At the end of the day I get to play basketball for a living, and I get to do it every day so it’s been fun. I’m excited for the new opportunity. I went to school in Lexington (Kentucky), also a smaller city and it has a homey feel, and I get the same feeling here so I’m excited.”
“It was shocking [to be traded]. Obviously I can imagine for any player to be traded is shocking. I’ve heard a lot about this organization and how great it was. I’m just excited for this opportunity.”
But the situation before him remains. How can a second-year player — who the basketball world has lauded since he came on last season as a rookie — develop in a secondary role behind a veteran like Chris Paul, or a proven guard in Dennis Schröder.
It doesn’t seem to bother the new face of the franchise one bit.
“I know it will eventually it will come out but I don’t worry about starting,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “As time goes on, I just get better and learn from my mistakes and things like that. That’s the same thing I want to do with this team.”
Say hello to your new hero, Thunder fans. As for your old hero, remember this:
“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with a smile. “We do not have the same name or the same body type, nothing like that. So I’m just going to try and be myself and let the rest take care of itself.”
.@shaiglalex brought the Rolling Thunder Book Bus to students at Eugene Field Elementary School today helping kids pick out a new book and enjoy an afternoon of reading! #ThunderCares pic.twitter.com/E5FW3RLKCF
— Madysson Hope Morris (@MadyssonMorris) August 22, 2019
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12, in addition to weekly guest spots on “The Franchise Drive” on Tuesdays and “The Franchise Morning Show” on Wednesdays. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports