Three New Orleans Pelicans joined students from Lycee Francais de la Nouvelle Orleans for a class project at the Audubon Park Zoo on Wednesday evening.
That it was about restoration could not have been more appropriate. The students, who are enrolled in a French immersion elementary school, are in involved in marsh grass planting to help restore Louisiana’s wetlands and help slow down the erosion that has plagued the state’s coast.
Guard Jimmer Fredette, forward Ryan and center Alexis Ajincia are involved in projects of their own to help restore their NBA careers.
Fredette played last season with the Chicago Bulls after being traded by the Sacramento Kings, the team that drafted him.
“I treat this as a new beginning,” he said. “One thing that’s great about it is that (the Pelicans) wanted me to be here, so it feels great to be wanted and to be on a team that thinks you can help ’em out.”
The Pelicans this summer signed Fredette, an outstanding 3-point shooter in college at BYU, to help offset the loss of Anthony Morrow, who finished fourth in the league last season in 3-point percentage. However, Fredette often has had to play in a shooting guard role, and at 6-foot-2 has found it challenging to score against taller, more athletic players and also guard them.
The latter could be a particular problem regarding making the Pelicans’ roster, because defense is coach Monty Williams’ top priority.
“You have to take it personal and work as hard as you can on that end of the floor,” he said. “It’s something I’ve worked on and continued to get better at. I think when I get out there and play, everyone will see that I’m not a defensive liability.
“(General Manager Dell Demps and Williams) just told me they want me to score the basketball. They said they need a guy to shoot the ball from the outside but be able to score coming off the bench. I thought I could shoot pretty well from the mid-range. I don’t think people saw that that much because when I was in college, everybody saw the 3s.”
When training camp begins on Sept. 30, however, the Pelicans also have guards Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Austin Rivers and Russ Smith, a rookie from Louisville.
Ajinca, 7 foot 2, came to the Pelicans in January to help try to fill a bottomless pit of a hole at center for the team. He had his good moments, but foul trouble often limited his effectiveness. So, he was not surprised, he said, when the Pelicans obtained center Omer Asik in a trade with the Houston Rockets. Still, Ajinca said, he expects to be on the team, even though the Pelicans are grooming second-year center Jeff Withey for the backup role.
“I think having three centers would be good,” said Ajinca, who is from France and served as an interpreter for his teammates when the young students spoke French. “I play different than Asik. He plays down low more, and I have more of a mid-range game.”
To increase his chances of making the roster, Ajinca has been working on getting bigger and stronger since last season ended. It appears to have worked. He is 278 pounds, up from 255 last season, and his chest and shoulders are noticeably broader. He worked with All-Star power forward Anthony Davis in Las Vegas while he was there taking part in Team USA preparations, and Ajinca said the added weight hasn’t slowed him down.
Aside from the three centers, the Pelicans also will have power forwards Davis, Patric Young and Anderson, a “stretch four” who is one of the best in the NBA.
Anderson, who had surgery April 8 to repair two herniated discs in his neck, was cleared by doctors Tuesday to have full contact in games and practices. Having flown to Los Angeles to see doctors, he has not played in pick-up game with teammates, yet he said.
“I’ve been craving that contact for a while,” he said. “I’m really eager about that, but I’m really confident in my strength. My neck feels strong, but the real test will be playing and feeling that contact.”
Anderson said he hasn’t had any issues with his neck since recovering.
“The only time I feel anything is when I sleep wrong, I feel a little bit of tingling in my fingers, and I feel like I have to work some kinks out when I get up,” he said.
He said he was impressed with the students’ knowledge, interest and efforts concerning the environment. He learned something about the bird for which his team is nicknamed when a student, explained that a pelican —– at least the Louisiana brown variety — can carry more than two gallons of water in its beak.
And, it brought to mind environmental issues in his native California, particularly his hometown, Sacramento.
“In Sacramento, there’s a big drought going on,” he said. “If you go to a restaurant, for instance, a waiter will not bring you water unless you ask for it. And there was a big earthquake there and there was just a big fire.”
Fredette, who is from New York, said the environmental issue there involves a squabble between those who want to take beautiful national parks and forests and build homes there and those who want to keep the land undeveloped and natural.
Individual tickets for all Pelicans games will go on sale to the public on Wednesday at 8 a.m. at all Ticketmaster outlets, on Pelicans.com, by calling 1-800-4NBATIX or by visiting the box office at the Pelicans’ practice facility at 5800 Airline Drive in Metairie.