INDEPENDENCE — Cedi Osman left the court at UCLA on Aug. 21 blown away by the fact that the three best small forwards in the world had actually talked to him.
A 23-year-old going into his second year with the Cavaliers, Osman practiced with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. He couldn’t believe they encouraged him and made him feel like he belonged even though he’d started only 12 NBA games.
Paired with Durant, Osman said his shots repeatedly came up short, but nine-time All-Star and two-time Finals Most Valuable Player Durant kept encouraging him to “shoot up.”
“That was a pretty good moment for me, even if it was something simple,” Osman said during Cavs media day Monday. “Bron and Kawhi were always talking to me. It was an unbelievable experience.
“Even that was enough, just talking to me. It was a simple workout, but for me it was the best workout of my life. That’s something that I’ll not forget, ever. I was always watching them on TV when I was a kid or playing the games with them.”
The friendship Osman developed during his one season with James made that special session possible.
During Osman’s rookie year, James became Osman’s mentor. He respected the work Osman had put in playing professionally in Turkey and in the EuroLeague. But they also had fun together. After James’ game-winning buzzer beaters, Osman tried to be the first one there for James to chest-bump.
Now James is gone to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Osman vows he’s ready for what could be a featured role in the Cavs’ fast-paced offense.
“We were good friends. I actually think our energy made us better friends,” Osman said of James. “He helped me a lot during the season. He took me under his wings and he was always there supporting me no matter what. I remember a couple games I played bad, and he was the first one telling me to keep my head up.
“Of course, I’m sad. But right now it’s time to show the people what I learned from him and I’m ready for this challenge.”
Osman said James’ leadership skills made the biggest impression on him.
“Off the court he’s an amazing leader. He was trying always to keep us together as a team, we were always going to dinner as a team,” Osman said. “Especially when the playoffs start, he changed in the playoffs. He cared about everybody. It didn’t matter if it was me as a rookie, or Kyle [Korver], he was acting towards everybody the same. So for me the most important part to learn from him was ‘As a leader, what can I do?’ Or on the floor, when things are going bad, how to act.”
Osman averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds in 61 regular-season games for the Cavs last season. But in summer league Osman showed his promise, averaging 20 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists. He also spent time playing for the Turkish national team. That coupled with the infamous workout has Osman ready to “show the world” what he’s capable of.
“He has great potential,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said of Osman Monday. “I think you saw that last year when he had his chance to play consistent minutes. Being a rookie and stepping into a pressure environment the way he did and played so well, that speaks volumes about who Cedi is. He’s not scared, he’s not afraid of the moment. I’m very excited for his season. He’s ready for it, and we’re ready to see what he can do with consistent minutes.”
Osman envisions himself becoming part of a strong tandem with rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the Cavs’ eighth overall pick, after the two clicked in Las Vegas.
“I like playing with Collin because he likes to play fast and he’s playing with high energy,” Osman said. “We’re the same type of players. Hopefully during the season we have a good [relationship]. I think on offense and defense we’re going to have a lot of opportunities to show we’re going to be a good duo.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.