The thrill of being drafted hasn’t quite worn off for Josh Huestis. A week later, the former Great Falls CMR and Stanford stalwart is soaking it in.
But it’s not like he’s all wide-eyed and naïve. Huestis is ready to take on a heavy preseason workload in order to stick with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that picked him in the first round (29th overall) during the NBA draft last Thursday.
“It’ s going to take more work than I’ve ever done in my life,” Huestis said by phone from Oklahoma City. “The draft happened and 60 new players are entering the league, so that means 60 players have to leave. It’s tough, and you have to be able to work.
“I’ve got great role models like (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant, guys who show up at practice two hours early. I’m just going to follow them and be a shadow to them. You have to learn from the best to be the best, so I’m going to do all I can to follow in their footsteps.”
Huestis said his first professional contract is still being negotiated. This weekend he heads to Orlando, Fla., for the NBA Summer League, which runs until July 11.
It’s the start of what Huestis calls his quest to “find a place” with the Thunder.
Led by Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder are a perennial NBA title contender. Durant led the league in scoring at 32.0 points per game and won his first MVP award in 2013-14. Westbrook averaged nearly 27 points in 19 playoff games.
Scoring is not a problem in Oklahoma City. The Thunder had this in mind when drafting Huestis, who brings a blue-collar presence to the floor.
“One of the things that we identified after watching him is that he’s a low-mistake player on the defensive end,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said during a press conference last week. “His ability to be in schemes, not only as a young player, but as an elite athlete, is really impressive.
“This is a guy who, as we look out and we look forward, has the size but also the speed to deal with a lot of different situations on the floor.”
This past season at Stanford, Huestis averaged 11.2 points on 63 percent shooting, and pulled down 8.2 rebounds per game. But the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder also set the school’s all-time record for blocked shots and again was an All-Pac-12 Defensive Team selection.
Huestis will earn his keep on the defensive side of the floor.
“I’m coming to a team that has some established scorers already,” Huestis said. “The offensive side of my game isn’t something I’ll be worrying too much about. My role is going to have to be as a defensive stopper, and a rebounder too. I want to be a dirty-work guy, and that’s what’s going to get me on the floor.
“It’s a perfect fit for me. Ideally, I want to come in and contribute and help take this team as far as we can go. I think we can be in the running for a championship, and if I can contribute to that it would be a dream come true.”