Editor’s Note: This is part one of a three-part series on former Lobo basketball star and NBA player J.R. Giddens and his unique relationship with Paul Weir and the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team.
TODAY: Giddens’ past is past, his present is with Paul Weir and his future is bright
SATURDAY: There is no room for sensitivity in big-time basketball – Read here
SUNDAY: Visit EnchantmentSports.com and find out – Read here
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Copyright Enchantment Sports
J.R. Giddens wants Paul Weir’s job.
He wants it as much as anything in his hoop career.
Someday, that is. It’s not that Giddens wants to replace or even succeed New Mexico men’s basketball coach Weir, a guy Giddens says is “one of the best coaches in the country.”
But Justin Ray Giddens, a former Lobo basketball superstar and first-round NBA draft pick, said his dream is to one day lead the Lobo men’s program – the program that helped launch his professional basketball career.
“This is my home. I was a Lobo, I am a Lobo and I will always be a Lobo,” Giddens told Enchantment Sports. “My goal is to be the head coach of the Lobos someday. That is my ultimate goal.
“I know that it will take a lot of work, but I think my calling is to be a coach. Albuquerque has been my home for the past 13 years, and I always want it to be home.”
The best part for Giddens – the Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year and the Boston Celtics’ first-round pick in 2008 – is Weir wants to help him on the path to his new goals.
“Absolutely,” Weir says. “He still has some playing aspirations, but we’ve really gotten to know each other a lot this summer. J.R. has been really important to us, and hopefully, we’ve been important to him.”
Giddens, 33, is enrolled at UNM and is “busting my ass” to finally snatch that degree he has so desperately craved.
Last week, he finished biology and said he has just a couple of courses remaining to graduate with a degree in liberal arts. He has a Spanish final this week, a course that “is really important to me for my son, and playing in Mexico and Argentina.”
Giddens’ 16-month old son, Justin Giddens, and his son’s mother live in the Dominican Republic.
“That is awesome for J.R.,” said Daniel Faris, a former UNM teammate and longtime friend of Giddens’ who currently plays professionally in Lebanon. “I know how much it meant to him to get that degree. After he got his academics in order his senior year, he worked so hard in the classroom to make that happen. I am really, really happy it’s going to happen for him.”
Giddens plays in the Liga Nacional de Basquet (LBN), the top level of the Argentine basketball league system. He says his plan is to grab that degree within the next few weeks before he takes off to resume his playing career this season.
“I’ll start the season after I visit my son for a couple of weeks in the Santo Domingo,” Giddens says. “Being a father is just crazy-amazing; I love it. And I’m always going to be a man and take care of him and provide for both my son’s mother and my son.
“You have to be a man in life.”
Giddens said he and his son’s mother are friends but are not in a romantic relationship.
Inspired by Weir
Lobo coach Weir is a big reason that Giddens is finishing his UNM studies. Giddens said the coach has also been a major motivator in his eventual dream of trading in his uniform for a suit and tie during basketball games.
But there are things very deep down inside Giddens that have spurred him on. Things he promised others, and things he promised himself during his college days.
“It’s always meant so much to my parents (Charles and Dianna) for me to have a degree,” he says. “That’s something that’s always been very important to them, and important to me.
“I made a lot of mistakes, a whole lot of mistakes, when I was in college and when I was a young man,” he says, with a look on his face like he’s stepping to the foul line for a game-winning free throw.
“I don’t hide that. But you grow up in life. You learn from mistakes, and I want to help these young men that Paul has now to try and learn something from my story.”
Giddens’ was a nationwide name in hoop circles since high school. The silky-smooth, flamboyant and high-leaping 6-foot-5 shooting guard was a prep all-American and was recruited by nearly every major school in the country.
He chose Kansas, then transferred to UNM after two stellar seasons with the Jayhawks.
Problem was, Giddens made nearly as much news for his behavior off the court as on it during his college days – both in Kansas and UNM – and his star-studded high school days in Oklahoma City.
“I got into legal trouble at 17, I got stabbed at 20 and I just made a lot of mistakes as a young guy,” he says. But I grew up. I haven’t had any trouble since way back.”
The smile is back on Giddens’ face.
“Knock on wood,” he says. “But I just know much more now than I did then.”
Giddens’ ties with Weir started during the past offseason. Giddens and Lobo assistant basketball coach Brandon Mason are close friends, and Giddens start spending time with Mason at UNM workouts.
Weir, who makes it a point to get former New Mexico players close to the program, took a liking to Giddens.
“Within the first week J.R. was here, I had him speak to the team,” Weir told Enchantment Sports. “I asked him to help with our summer camps, and I just tried to make him feel welcome.
“During that time, I found out how close he was to getting his degree. And I’ve been trying to keep him motivated in getting his degree. In the process, he just really enjoyed being around here.
“It was a real win-win for J.R. and the team.”
Weir has allowed Giddens to help motivate and guide many of the Lobo players off the court – especially many of the new ones, who can most relate to issues Giddens has had in his life.
They are issues that a former prep All-American and first-round NBA pick can best relay.
“Everyone’s not going to be Mountain West player of the year and a first-round NBA pick,” Mason, a former star player at New Mexico State, told Enchantment Sports. “And to hear everything J.R.’s been through is definitely eye-opening because everyone believes they’re going to play professional basketball. At the end of the day, that’s not the case, especially not in the NBA.”
Giddens, of course, has done both.
He currently plays for Club Ferro Carril Oeste Basquet, which is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And he has spanned much of the globe during his pro days.
“Oh yeah, I have been around the world; that’s for sure,” Giddens says, flashing his trademark smile. “Poland, Spain, Greece, Italy, Israel, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.”
He also played for the New Mexico Thunderbirds in 2011, as well as the Utah Flash and Maine Red Claws before that.
His pro career, of course, started at a much higher level – the highest in the world, in fact.
He was the Boston Celtics’ first-round NBA pick in 2008 (30th overall in the draft), making him an instant millionaire. He played 27 games with the Celts during the next two seasons and was traded to the New York Knicks in 2009. He played 11 games with the Knicks.
Giddens, a shooting guard, averaged 12.7 minutes and 4.1 points per game that 2009-10 season with the Knicks, but that was his last in the NBA. For his career, he played 38 NBA games and shot a solid 47.6 percent during his 38 games, but averaged just 6.5 minutes and 1.9 points per game.
The globe-trotting then began.
COMING SATURDAY: In a nation that seems to be more divided daily, J.R. Giddens doesn’t shy away from racial topics or any other controversies. He knows that his road to being a coach – a black coach from the inner-city – can only help him to help others understand life’s most sensitive issues.