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Miami natives Udonis Haslem, James Jones sit down with Hot Hot Hoops

In the first part of what will be an ongoing series about the basketball scene here in the city of Miami, Hot Hot Hoops sat down with Miami natives Udonis Haslem and James Jones separately to discuss their Miami roots and how it made them who they are today. [gallery link="file"] What does it mean to you being from Miami and playing for the Miami Heat? UH: Oh man, it means a lot. When I play this game every night and when I step on the floor. Obviously I play for my team and for us to win. But my family, my friends are there in the stands and other people who have invested so much time in getting me to this point. A lot of those people are here watching me play and I feel like I owe so much to those people and to this city, that have made me who I am today, to at least give my best effort and help this team win. JJ: Well for me, you know, this is home for me. I come from a city in Miami where basketball has always been underrated. We have tremendous football talent so the basketball players tend to get overlooked. So growing up the only basketball I really knew was Miami Heat basketball. Not just for me but my friends and my teammates, coming up through the years, the Heat organization exemplified basketball for us and so every guy’s dream was to play for the Heat. I mean, that’s the hometown team. So for me, it’s like a dream come true because being able to observe these guys close up gave me something to strive for and set the bar for me. Every day I dreamed and I imagined putting on this Heat red and black and my dream came true. Where in Miami would you play hoops when you were growing up? UH: I played ball at a lot of different places. We used to travel around to play ball. We played in Liberty City, we played in Opa Locka, we played in North Miami. We played on a lot of different basketball courts. It was just wherever we could get a good game. JJ: I grew up in Carol City. I played at Carol City High School and at North County Elementary, Bunche Park. I played at Lake Shore in Miramar. I played everywhere. I played down in Miami High. I played at Pace, Norland. I mean, every gym and every court in the Carol City area I pretty much left my footprints there. You’re only a few months younger than Haslem. Did you ever play against him? JJ: Yeah, we played against each other in high school and growing up we competed against each other. So it was one of those things where we weren’t enemies but we weren’t friends, we were competitors. And as we grew up and started to excel on the college level and then the professional level that mutual respect really kicked in and we’ve been good friends ever since those days when we were best enemies. Did you consider other colleges or did you just want to stay home? JJ: I always knew I would stay home. My family, my aunt and my cousin, they attended the University of Miami and played basketball there so I had a chance to go watch them play. I had a chance to watch the Edward brothers, Steve Edwards (Miami Senior High), play. I had a chance to watch Tim James (Northwestern High) play. And so I wanted to be the next guy to step in there and leave a legacy. So staying here in Miami was my only option. I considered other places just for the sake of saying I considered other places but I knew all along I was going to live and die a Hurricane. You were drafted by the Indiana Pacers and then went on to play for the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers. What was it like being away from home and what’s the contrast now that you’re back? JJ: It was an adjustment. I mean, I had spent my first 23 years of my life in Miami and never leaving for more than a couple of weeks at a time. And then I had a chance to go to Indiana, in the brutal cold, and play. I had a chance to go out to Phoenix, with the sweltering heat, and play. And then I had a chance to go to Portland and play where it rains all the time. So I’ve come back to sunny Miami and I’ve had a great time playing with some great players on a great team for a great organization. So I have to say my career prepared me to come back home and enjoy everything Miami has. Did you experience any culture shock when you went to play professionally in France for a year? UH: Yeah, it was a lot different. The biggest thing was the communication barrier that I had to break as far as learning just a little bit of French in order to communicate as much as I possibly could. But you know at the University of Florida I experienced all different kinds of cultures and colors so it wasn’t that bad. Sport clubs worldwide have their own lower divisions where younger players from the area can learn and develop their game with the goal of rising up to the pro level. Would it benefit the Heat and the city to have a similar system in place or to have a D-League team? UH: They would probably benefit from it but Miami and the state of Florida overall is more of a football environment where most of the kids get out at the parks because of the good weather and play football. That’s more emphasized here in South Florida than any other sport. That’s why you see so many professional football players coming out of Miami and the South Florida area. But definitely if you have a basketball situation where it’s similar to the football situation that we have down here where the kids start early and it’s a farm system and they continue to build up. It definitely would help the city athletically and also keep a lot of kids out of trouble. JJ: I think it would be great. All the external factors are here. And then you mix that in with all the talent that comes out of this place. The possibilities are unlimited. I know that there’s a lot of talent to be harvested down here. If the avenues and opportunities were there then Miami would be recognized as one of the best cities for athletes of every sport: soccer, basketball, baseball, football. You name it.