SAN FRANCISCO — Brandin Podziemski isn’t like most first-round picks in the NBA draft. The Wisconsin native didn’t grow up dreaming about hearing his name called by the commissioner, and he didn’t envision playing in front of packed crowds in NBA arenas. Baseball was his sport his of choice growing up, and where he thought his future would be.
Until about seven years ago.
The game didn’t match the teenager’s energy level, so the lefty turned to something else: Basketball. But the game wasn’t love at first sight, or first shot, for the Warriors’ No. 19 overall pick in Thursday night’s draft.
“I picked up basketball and didn’t really like it at first,” Podziemski said Friday after his introductory press conference at Chase Center. “And then over time, I just kept loving it. The moment I knew is when I had to work for basketball every single day to be where I am.
“Baseball, I could just pick it up every so often and be good. My passion for basketball really stemmed from that.”
Podziemski, who turns 21 years old in late February, fell in love with the work. He wants to be challenged, something his parents taught him from the jump. They never let him win at anything, something he now thanks them for. Transitioning to basketball wasn’t an overnight epiphany, but the results show he made the right call.
His ascension turned into Podziemski being named Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball in a season where he averaged 35.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 4.0 steals per game for St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. Recruiting outlets dubbed him a four-star prospect, and the three-time All-State selection chose Illinois over his share of other big-name college programs.
Again, change was the right move for Podziemski. An expected challenge turned to a golden opportunity, and he sees him dealing with adversity in basketball as an advantage for him entering the NBA.
Illinois went 23-10 in Podziemski’s freshman year and tied for the regular-season Big Ten title. But Podziemski mostly was a spectator, appearing in 16 games and playing 4.3 minutes per game. Transferring to Santa Clara changed everything, giving an early basketball home here in the Bay Area.
“I think it was all about opportunity and the confidence that my coaches gave me,” Podziemski said. “I think I was the same player I was at Illinois, that was just in a different light because of the opportunity. But you know, going forward, I get to play alongside the two best shooters in the world, so I can’t wait.”
In his first game for the Broncos, Podziemski dropped 30 points, nine rebounds and five steals in a win against Eastern Washington. Three nights later, he followed that performance with 34 points, 11 rebounds and six 3-pointers to help beat Georgia Southern. Podziemski ended his one and only season in Santa Clara as the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year, WCC Co-Player of the Year by averaging 19.9 points, leading the conference with 8.8 rebounds per game and knocking down a deadly 43.8 percent of his shots from long range.
He was named WCC Player of the Week a school record four times.
Though Podziemski picked up the game less than a decade ago, he molds his game after Manu Ginobili, more for his winning mentality than skill set, and he wants Warriors fans to know what he brings to the court is more than a numbers game.
“I’m a competitor and I think I bring things that don’t show up in the box score,” Podziemski said. “It’s being able to take charges, being a great teammate, make the extra pass, diving for the ball – I think all that kind of stuff.
“Coach Kerr and his staff are looking for competitors that are willing to take the load off Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] and guys like that and I think that’s what I’m here to do, and I think that’s how I’m going to get off the floor as a rookie.”
Basketball still is relatively new to Podziemski. This isn’t a prospect who was groomed from the crib and given a ball to dribble up and down the street. That doesn’t mean he lacks confidence and faith in himself. He oozes it from his curls to his kicks.
Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek unlocked that for Podziemski, and Kerr might have to ease it back but never take the mentality away from his rookie.
The first order of business for Podziemski is summer league, which he intends to play as much as the staff allows him to, both in Sacramento and Las Vegas. Stats weren’t on his mind when asked about summer league. Winning was.
“Yeah, I want to go 8-0 in summer league – three in Sacramento and five in Vegas,” he said. “That’s big for us, just to experience winning, just to experience winning, because I think that’s what this program and culture is about.”
The final question I asked Podziemski was to choose one part of his game the outside doesn’t know about aside from his shooting and scoring ability. His answer wasn’t rebounding, passing or debunking doubters about his defense.
Instead, he looked within, a major part of his makeup the Warriors couldn’t ignore.
“My IQ, my feel, how I impact winning besides those areas,” Podziemski said. “That’s something that’s oftentimes overlooked. Whatever team I’ve been on, we win. I mean, the numbers don’t lie.
“And you can say whatever you want. If I’m not athletic, if I can’t play defense, whatever. My teams end up winning somehow, some way. I think that’s just a testament of my leadership skills, the way I play and I play the right way.”