By Frank Aimetti - STAFF WRITER
Craig “Speedy” Claxton graduated in 2000 as Hofstra’s all-time leader in steals and assists and scored over 2,000 career points as a member of the Pride. More than that, Speedy revitalized the Hofstra men’s basketball program and led the Pride to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in his senior year.
The recipient of numerous awards such as the Player of the Year Award in the, then, American East Conference as well as the Haggerty Award, given to the best player in the metropolitan New York area, it’s impossible to avoid talking about Claxton’s accomplishments when discussing Pride basketball.
After his career at Hofstra, Speedy was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2000 NBA draft. From there, he played with the 76ers, Spurs – with whom he won a title with in 2003 – Warriors, Hornets and Hawks.
Now he is an assistant coach on coach Joe Mihalich’s staff, and I was able to discuss his expectations for this season’s men’s basketball team, Speedy’s experiences in the NBA, and how he feels about his basketball career as a whole.
Hofstra Chronicle: To start off with your professional career, you played with a number of teams, most notably the champion San Antonio Spurs in 2003. With the Spurs also winning this past season, knowing what you know now about the core players on that team, the management and the organization, are you impressed with their longevity?
Speedy Claxton: No, they handle business. It’s a first-class organization, I’m happy for all the success they’ve had and will continue to have.
HC: What was it like playing alongside legends like Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Manu Ginobili, among others?
SC: It was great, I mean, to have a chance to experience playing with those guys, a bunch of them will be in the Hall of Fame, it was truly an honor.
HC: You were coached by [Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich, widely considered a top-five coach of all-time. What did you learn from him, both as a player and a coach?
SC: I mean, Pop was the best. He’s right up there, in my mind, with Larry Brown as one of my favorite coaches to have played for. Pop taught me how to come to work every day and, in the coaching aspect, treat every single player on your roster the same, no matter who he is. He could be the first man or the 15th man, if he’s messing up, Pop would get on him. He held everybody accountable for what they do.
HC: Out of all your stops in the NBA, did you have a favorite team you played with or locker room environment?
SC: My favorite place was probably San Antonio. We really had a family environment. All the guys hung out off the court and I think it really translated well on the court. It helped us to win the championship in 2003.
HC: What was it like to win a championship? Can you describe in words, what it was like to nearly reach the peak of basketball?
SC: Simply amazing. To grow up as a kid watching the [NBA] Finals, and to not only get to experience it but actually play in and make some plays in the Finals, I mean, you can’t ask for anything more.
HC: Despite accomplishing a childhood dream of winning a championship, do you feel your injuries took away the chance for you to do anything more with your NBA career?
SC: Oh yeah, definitely. I had so much more than I had actually shown. Injuries kind of ruined my career. In hindsight, if it wasn’t for any injuries, I’d probably still be playing. It’d probably be my 14th year so my career would definitely be winding down, but I think I definitely would have had at least a couple more years. I think I would have had more of an impact than I did.
HC: Despite the injuries, you still had a very accomplished career, winning a championship, scoring in double digits, among other accomplishments. Along the way, did you have a favorite teammate or any special mentor-type relationship with any players?
SC: My favorite teammate over the years would probably have to be Chris Paul. He was one of the guys I mentored, him and [Spurs point guard] Tony Parker. They were both younger than me, but even though they started, they both still looked up to me and you know, came to me and asked me questions. I helped them along the way and they both turned out to be great players so I guess I’m a great mentor.
HC: How tough was it with the injuries, where you worked so hard, and then had setbacks? Was there any point where you were just like, “I can’t do this anymore?”
SC: Oh, never. Never. You can never do that. I never said it was over until it was over. I had like four surgeries at that point and your body pretty much tells you when it’s over. Just like [Lakers point guard] Steve Nash’s body is telling him that it’s over now.
HC: With your great career here at Hofstra, what was it like to see your number get retired and put in the rafters?
SC: I was truly honored. I remember that day when they did put my number up there. I kind of shed a tear, you know, I had my family with me and it was a special moment. I mean, to be recognized and get your number retired, it’s special. Hofstra is my second home and it’ll always be home to me.
HC: You took this program to new heights when you played here and now you’re back as a coach. How do you feel you can help this team reach the heights you brought them to when you played here?
SC: I’m excited for what the future has. We have a very exciting team and we will get back to those days when I played, I promise you that. We have a great coaching staff, Coach Mihalich is a great coach, and we have some great kids so we really should win the conference this year.
HC: As a coach, do you prefer to work individually or with the team as a whole? What’s your specialty?
SC: I work a lot with the guards. I work with [guard] Eliel Gonzalez the closest probably, just to work on his jumper and his overall knowledge of how to play the point guard position and what we expect from him there.
HC: You, Charles Jenkins and a few other players have helped give this school a basketball pedigree. Do you feel that any of the players on this team could bring the same attention to Hofstra?
SC: Definitely. Juan’ya Green is a rising junior and he’s definitely got the keys to the car. He could be the next great Hofstra player.
HC: You said you expected the Pride to win the conference. Do you have any other goals for the team or individual goals for any player?
SC: I really think this team is really good. Once they figure out that they have to play the game the right way and play every possession like it’s their last one, I think the sky is the limit for this team. I look at our schedule and I don’t see one team that we shouldn’t beat. I know it’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to go 32-0 but I think that we can. We have that type of team. I don’t see us losing too many games.
HC: Did you have any relationship with Hofstra players prior to getting a coaching job here? For example, did you talk to Charles Jenkins when he was here?
SC: I speak to Charles every now and again. We don’t have a close relationship but in terms of who I talk to the most, it’s probably [former teammates] Norman Richardson and Jason Hernandez. I keep in contact with those guys.
HC: Going off of that, do you still keep in touch with any of your former teammates in the NBA and keep up with the NBA in general?
Oh yeah, I still talk to a number of those guys. I’m still connected to the NBA, I mean, I can’t wait to go home now and watch the Knicks-Cleveland game. It’s an exciting time. The start of the basketball season, both here and in the NBA, is always fun.