The genesis for Kevin Durant’s record-breaking, $3-million donation to the University of Texas actually happened in April 2015.
Another Texas legend, T.J. Ford, called Durant, who was then still playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and broke the news that the Longhorns were about to hire Shaka Smart away from Virginia Commonwealth.
“I’m on my couch in OKC watching TV, and T.J. called me and said, ‘Shaka’s about to get the job. He wants to talk to you, LaMarcus (Aldridge), D.J. (Augustin) and he wants to talk to alumni,’” Durant recalled on Friday.
Just over one decade ago, Durant was sitting in the film room getting yelled at about his defense. On Friday, he was giving an interview in a room with every Nike shoe he’s ever worn displayed on the wall in a building with his name on it.
“We were coach (Rick) Barnes’ guys. We swore by Coach. But we also love the university,” Durant said. “So when (Smart) called me, I was like, ‘Man, I like the start. I like what you’re thinking. I like that you want to involve us all, because we’re a huge family and it’s only going to elevate if we stick together.’”
Durant and Smart, two people keen on interpersonal relationships, got to know each other over time. About a year ago, Durant essentially asked Smart a simple question: What do you need? Well, truth be told, UT’s practice facility needed some upgrades, Smart told him. Done.
“If I didn’t have a relationship with coach Smart and the program here,” the 2017 NBA Finals MVP said, “I don’t think this would have happened.”
The Longhorns installed two new practice courts inside Cooley Pavilion and ordered a third playing surface for the Erwin Center. They had new men’s and women’s lockers installed, wall graphics were put up to highlight UT’s past and formal office space was built just off the main practice floor.
On Friday, the main entrance was christened the Kevin Durant Texas Basketball Center. During a ceremony, UT President Gregory L. Fenves said the upgraded facility was “a place they can transform themselves from good to great to elite.”
Outgoing UT athletic director Mike Perrin said he answered the call to become AD when Fenves dialed him up in September 2015. “That’s what Longhorns do,” he said. “We’re here today because a special man answered the call.”
New athletic director Chris Del Conte now has a Texas Bowl victory on his ledger and a $3-million donation in the bag, too. “Holy cow, my man!,” Del Conte said. “KD, I just want to shake your hand.”
Del Conte may not let it go until Durant finishes his degree and earns his T-Ring, something given to all former athletes who graduate. “Well, good luck with that,” Durant said with a laugh.
Barnes, former Longhorns assistant Rob Lanier and the entire previous coaching staff all were invited Friday, UT officials said. Barnes, now coaching at Tennessee, could not make it due to scheduling conflicts; Tennessee hosts No. 17 Kentucky on Saturday.
Durant was the 2007 national player of the year during his one season at Texas under Barnes. Why did this skinny kid from Suitland, Md., just outside Washington come to Austin in the first place? “Coach Barnes told me I could shoot whenever I wanted to,” he said. But Durant’s always considered himself a lifelong Longhorn. It’s a place that “taught me how to be a man,” he said.
Most people who give major gifts always have this indescribable feeling of euphoria afterward. After a ceremony and unveiling of the new entrance, Durant just shook his head. “I don’t even know how to explain that,” he said.
“You see that with players and you see just with people in general who leave their mark on a place that they felt helped mold them,” Durant said. “I felt like this place helped mold me, helped me think about other stuff.
“I was always just thinking about basketball, but I started thinking about life, relationships, friendships, culture, brotherhood. I learned the game here on a different level. That’s why I feel like I’m so tight with the program. I may have played basketball here for one year, but I’ve been here every year since — for 10 years. It’s much more than basketball.”
Durant’s donation is the largest ever given by a Texas-ex playing professional sports. About $2.5 million went straight into men’s basketball improvements. The remaining $500,000 will go toward the school’s Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation.
“I just remember staying in the dorm and putting our per diem together to go downstairs to Wendy’s and buy cheeseburgers and stuff,” said former teammate Justin Mason, who introduced Durant during the 30-minute ceremony. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around.”
Durant said players want to walk into a facility and have a warm, welcoming feeling. But it also has an impact when, for example, recruits walk in and see Augustin’s photo and jersey after winning the 2008 Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard.
“That’s telling Matt Coleman, ‘Damn, I can do the same thing,’” Durant said. “You’ve got LaMarcus Aldridge, Myles Turner and Jarrett Allen here. What’s that telling Mo Bamba? ‘Man, if I play well and work hard, I can be right on the wall with these guys.’
“We’re building a nice legacy of guys that come from Texas,” he added. “You see it when you’re walking around here. That small, subtle thing is what’s going to build the next great player.”
Bamba, a standout freshman who is likely a one-and-done player like Durant, came to Texas in hopes of following in KD’s footsteps. “Now, it’s just like, damn, I’ve got to one-up him,” Bamba said. “But I’ve got a lot of work to do before I even get in the conversation to one-up this guy.”
Said Durant, “I’m looking forward to that, too.”
UT officials hope Durant’s generosity will spread far and wide. Fundraisers will need millions to build a new arena and practice facility. The Erwin Center and Cooley Pavilion will be razed in 4-5 years to make way for the Dell Medical School expansion.
Amy Folan, who oversees the Longhorn Foundation, will gladly take anyone’s phone call. Durant’s donation “helps us tell the story about the impact philanthropic giving has on the athletics program, and it’s essential to be a leader in intercollegiate athletics,” Folan said.
It takes someone who wants to leave a lasting legacy first, though.
“Just the energy in the universe is going to create whatever you want for you if you do it the right way,” Durant said. “It may not be a name on the building or a jersey retired, but I guarantee you’re going to impact somebody in a positive way.
“You might not see it in 10 years or 15 years, but you’ll see it somewhere down the line,” he added. “Stay true, be yourself, work hard, think about others, it’s a good start.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The post Kevin Durant on his $3-million donation, legacy: ‘It’s hard for me to wrap my head around’ appeared first on Hook ‘Em.
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