North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks has been looking up to Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside since he was 15. … figuratively and literally.
Meeks met Whiteside while playing AAU basketball in Charlotte and the two have become close enough that they spoke on the phone before Meeks traveled to Chicago for last week’s NBA Draft Combine.
The 6-foot-9 Meeks has become an understudy to 7-foot Whiteside. He said he does not focus on all aspects of Whiteside’s game because of their size difference, but there is one area he would like to learn more about from his friend.
“He’s a rebounding machine for sure,” said Meeks, 22, who added he never played on the same team as Whiteside, who turns 28 next month, but still got to know him.
“He’s definitely taller than I am so that’s the advantage he has. But definitely his rebounding ability is something you can take away. He’s one of the best rebounders in the NBA and helps his team out anyway he can.”
Actually, Whiteside was the best in the league this season, leading the NBA with 14.1 rebounds per game. Whiteside also has been among the top four shot blockers in the league each of the last two seasons, leading the league in 2015-16.
But Meeks’ frame – he was the heaviest player at the combine, weighing in at 276.6 pounds – has him studying the overall game of players like Memphis’ 6-9, 260-pound Zach Randolph.
Meeks, a rare four-year player in college, averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds for the NCAA champion Tar Heels last season.
“The first thing I take pride in is my passing ability and also my back to the basket,” Meeks said. “I’m working hard on my jump shot because in college I really didn’t get a chance to do that. In high school I did.”
That jump shot was a focus for Meeks last week, hoping to show teams that he can expand his game to the perimeter.
Although Meeks is rated as the 32nd best prospect by CBS Sports, several of the mock drafts do not have him being selected. And Meeks is very aware Whiteside was the 33rd player selected in the 2010 draft, was cut by the Kings, played overseas and in the D-League before signing a $98 million max contract last summer.
“It’s all about getting in the right position, getting the right opportunity and he definitely got that,” Meeks said. “He showed his ability. He was the leading shot blocker in college so he definitely has that ability. His rebounding and scoring ability he got better at as he went onto the league so he was definitely rewarded for that.”