The Toronto Raptors signed 29-year-old center Greg Stiemsma to be the 17th man heading into training camp and there is definitely an element of competition between guard Will Cherry, forward Jordan Hamilton and Stiemsma for the final roster spot. The big defensive center is trying win this job as a needed shot blocker, mentor or even just a rah-rah towel waver and he looks to a former Raptors reserve center Aaron Gray as the model to follow.
“Aaron (Gray) has been in the league for quite a while now, so he has always been able to find a job, find a fit and those are the kind of guys I looked to even before I got here,” Stiemsma said. “What are they doing to stick around? What are they doing to keep getting these jobs? It’s find a niche, do something well and stick with that. Don’t try and play outside of what you do real well. For myself, it’s stick to my defense. Try to do some of the little things that help guys win. Be the first guy on the floor, help guys up, all the little stuff that doesn’t always show up on the stats sheet, but the guys the understand the game, know the game really well appreciate those things.”
Stiemsma knows he is competing for a backup role and likely will not be playing every day, however, he has figured out how he can help his teammates whether he will in be in the rotation that night or not.
“You definitely look at matchups, especially being in a backup role,” Stiemsma said. “Some nights your job isn’t to be on the floor to play. Its pick guys up. Whisper little things here or there and if you see something – maybe someone isn’t doing things top to bottom – mention (they) should try to do something different. This league is a matchup game. You try to make mismatches throughout a possession, so definitely certain night you know you are not going to play as many minutes, but that doesn’t take away from your role of how important you can be on the sideline, on the bench. Feel that energy from the bench. Certain nights your bench can pick you up. If the guys on the floor need a little energy, maybe it’s just getting up and waving a towel some nights where you get things going, you get the crowd involved. There are a lot more things a backup guy can do than just come on the floor and play.”
A undrafted senior out of college in 2008 who played all around the world and the NBA D-League before finally landing a contract with the Celtics three years ago, Stiemsma a lot of experience and perspective about being a professional basketball player. Like Gray before him, it’s experience that he is willing to share with his younger teammates.
“I hope so. I think that was part of the reason that drew me here,” Stiemsma. “I think the experience I’ve had is unlike a lot of the guys that have been in the league. Some guys don’t realize how fortunate they are to have this opportunity to be in this league and be a part of this world, this life. I’ll try to share my knowledge when I can about certain things and definitely want to help these young guys Lucas (Nogueira) and Bruno (Caboclo). To be 18-years-old and thrown into this world, my head is spinning for him at times. It is just like, I don’t know if he has any idea about what he is getting himself into. I think he is going to be a great player. He’s got a ton of potential, but it is almost just fun to see or think back – man – that was 10 plus years ago for me. God only knows if I had been in this mix, I don’t know if I (could) handle it at all.”
Stiemsma is the second oldest player in camp and this is not an unfamiliar situation for him. He was the oldest player with the Pelicans, so he’s had a trial run at this mentorship business before.
“Just turned 29,” Stiemsma said. “Last year in New Orleans I was the oldest guy on the roster for a while – for most of the season – so, it kind of happened overnight where all of a sudden I got cast in this old guy role, but it’s nice to be treated like a vet too. I know my game. I know what I can bring. I know where my role is and if they want me to do certain things on certain nights, whatever it is I am going to try whatever I can to get on the floor too.”
Now that is precisely the example a team wants a veteran player to present to the rookies. Stiemsma is someone that will share knowledge, stay within their role and fight to get playing time. Stiemsma has the experience to be a shot blocker, mentor and when needed, a willing towel waver and those are the skills that give him a big advantage in securing the 15th and final spot on the Raptors roster.