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Cheers, Sales And Boos

At Suns’ Open Practice

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Since It Is The Phoenix Metro, Fans Are Always Most Active When Free T-Shirts Are Being Passed Out, But From The Tenor Of The Play On The Court In The Preseason, This Year’s Team Remains Focused On Playing Hard — Even When It Supposedly Doesn’t Matter


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 21, 2014 — Phoenix Suns fans got a rare look behind the curtain last weekend when the team held an open practice for the public. Several hundred fans flocked to US Airways Center to see the team up close and personal.

“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of people who don’t normally get to see the players up close,” said long time fan Jim Schonaerts.

The event opened with the usual throng of activities associated with fan events. The Suns dancers entertained the crowd and the Gorilla came out to toss t-shirts. Honestly, nothing riled up the fans more than a chance at a free shirt, including the player introductions that occurred a few moments later.

While the arena wasn’t nearly full to capacity, the event did draw a large crowd from the usually sparse downtown Phoenix crowd — even attracting some walk-ins.

“We were just checking out the sights and sounds of downtown Phoenix,” said Philadelphia native Ryan Feehery. “So far, it’s going good. It’s a free event and I like the team. They’re an up and coming team.”

One large adult fan in the front row even drew the Gorilla’s ire when he boxed out a child in an effort to grab a shirt. The Gorilla wagged his finger in the schmuck’s face and hand delivered a shirt to the victimized youngster.

But, the biggest excitement for fans probably occurred after the practice when each member of the roster was paired with a lucky fan. If the Suns player could make a half court shot, then the fan would go home with a signed jersey from the that player. Two fans left happy after Marcus Morris and Goran Dragic sank their attempts.

As far as the players were concerned, the only thing that set the practice apart from any other day was the player introductions before the practice. Each player jogged out to the court and  gave a courteous nod to the fans before proceeding with pre-practice warm-ups. As expected, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe drew the most noise from the crowd, though Bledsoe received a few boos — likely due to his long contract hold out. Shooting guard Gerald Green also received a loud reception from the fans.

Head coach Jeff Hornacek, ever the fan favorite, also received a resounding ovation from the crowd.

From that point on, it was as if the fans didn’t exist — but not in a bad way. The team went after it like they would in any practice, fighting for balls and looking to make themselves known in front of the coaching staff. After a little perimeter defensive drills, the team split up to scrimmage for the remainder of practice.

“There’s no difference for us. The competitive nature just spills over — it doesn’t matter when we’re playing,” said veteran forward PJ Tucker. “Once the ball goes up, guys get to talking and moving and we play hard.”

But, playing in front of the fans did add an extra dynamic that reminded the players who had their backs.

“I always like these days,” Tucker added. “It’s cool to let the fans come out and see what we do every day and all the time and effort we put in to be a good team. We appreciate our fans and we appreciate them coming out.”

Dragic looked sharp and Bledsoe looked especially nasty on the dribble, showing exceptional ball handling skills under the hoop. Newly added guard Isaiah Thomas also showed the fans exactly why the team traded for him, displaying quickness at both sides of the court. He was especially impressive driving to the basket with only seconds left on the clock and slicing through the defense for two points.

Center Miles Plumlee and Green also showed the fans they’re ready to build off of breakout years last season. Plumlee cleaned up around the rim on both sides of the court and even finished with authority on a few occasions.

Green also looked sharp from outside, showcasing the three-point shot that kept the team afloat for stretches last year and made him popular with fans last season.

“Closed practices are always a little more X-rated, I would say,” said Green. “It’s good to engage with the fans, and the fans get to see what we really do. We didn’t plan anything special for them. This is what we do every day. Get up and down the court.”

One of the practices biggest surprises for many fans was Marcus Morris. Both Morris twins made huge strides last season, but Markieff is generally regarded as the more valuable of the two after averaging 13.8 points and 6 rebounds per game last season. Well, Marcus took those assessments to heart and appeared unstoppable from mid to long range.

“It was great,” Markieff Morris said. “We just went at it like another game. We had a great time.”

There was a little scare when Dragic caught an elbow to the face from Green late in practice, but he was okay. Tucker made sure to play the incident up for the fans, but all was well.

After practice wrapped up, the players took off their game faces and lined up for the half court shot contest. After that, the fans really lost their minds when the players joined the Gorilla and Suns dancers to toss, what else, free shirts.

“It was very cool, incredible,” said attendee Mark Fisher. “We’ve got pretty good seats during the season, but being in the first row was a whole new perspective.”

And, for the fans not distracted by the free swag, that up close and personal perspective should provide a lot of hope for next year. The team expects to build on last year’s 48-34 record push over the hump into a playoff spot.

“Our team has a goal and that’s to make the playoffs,” said Green. “I think we all learned not to take one game for granted last season. You’ll see us play every game the same, whether we’re against the San Antonio Spurs or the worst team in the league.”

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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