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"Gladiator" Hassan Whiteside focusing on becoming the best defender in the NBA

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With lessons learned from his first season with the Heat, Hassan Whiteside is coming back with a vengeance in a contract year.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When asked by reporters at Miami Heat Media Day about what he did for fun this summer, Hassan Whiteside answered them he enjoyed his trip to Italy with teammate Tyler Johnson, where he wanted to go the center of the Colosseum in Rome and utter Russell Crowe's memorable line, "Are you not entertained?"

Compared to 2014, where he was a "camp guy" with the Memphis Grizzlies, Whiteside said, "I got more of a peace of mind just knowing where I'm going go to go into the season."

Ravaged by the insecurities of being a basketball nomad after his college playing days at Marshall University, the reality of having a permanent basketball home has not sunk in yet: "I wonder what you all are going to be saying a year from now."

Despite having the top PER in the Eastern Conference last season, he said, "Being a rotation really big for me." Just the fact that "[Fans] really spent their hard earned money just to get a jersey," with his number both amazes and humbles him.

Looking ahead to this season, Whiteside will be Erik Spoelstra's gladiator: "Coach really wants to emphasize punishing people in the paint."

His aim, as outlined by two-time defensive player of the year Alonzo Mourning, is "... focus on being the Defensive Player of the Year. I think that's one of my big focuses right now, just being the best defender in the NBA."

The veteran leadership on the Heat carries a lot of weight with Whiteside. The presence of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and recently added Amar'e Stoudemire, ("I looked up to Amar'e a lot") gives Whiteside a sense of stability he lacked before his arrival in Miami.

Besides lessons learned from Mourning, Whiteside cited "[He] and Chris [Bosh] play one on one all the time." His emphasis this summer consisted of adding muscle and practicing shooting "just free throws," so players will pay if they they deliberately hack him.

Questioned about visiting his old stomping grounds at the YMCA, he replied he was too busy, "I didn't even get to go to the Charlotte Y."

And if you want that in Spanish, Whiteside is working on that skill set also.

When I learn this Spanish watch out ..I'm working on it... It's coming I want to talk to everyone in Miami

A video posted by Hassan whiteside (@hassanwhiteside) on