Charlotte Hornets

Slimmed-down Al Jefferson on Hornets’ prospects, life without fried chicken

Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson (25) says he’s lost more than 20 pounds in the off-season to take wear off his knees.
Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson (25) says he’s lost more than 20 pounds in the off-season to take wear off his knees. AP

Fried chicken: Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson craves it and he knows it’s off his menu in the effort to lose as much as 25 pounds.

So when a certain commercial comes on the television, Big Al grabs for the remote.

“Every Popeye’s commercial I see, I have to turn the TV off,” Jefferson said Thursday.

Jefferson will again be a big factor in how the Hornets do in the upcoming season. He discussed his summer and the Hornets’ prospects with Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell:

Q: You said at last season’s conclusion it was important you lose 20 or more pounds in the off-season. How has that gone?

Great. 20-plus. One thing about losing weight: It becomes a lot easier once you become disciplined about what you’re eating. Cutting out the sugar and the starch. Taking care of your body. Once I got into a routine it became pretty easy. And I knew what I was doing it for – to take some of the weight off my knees and getting my body into better shape than last year.

Q: Your low-post scoring moves are becoming a lost art. It’s basically you, Memphis’ Zach Randolph and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. Why isn’t that a skill young players acquire?

The funny thing is it happened right in front of my eyes. When I came into the league it was still a big man’s game. I was a power forward. By my fourth year it was changing to the shooting business. I just stuck to what I do best. I’ve always been a back-to-the-basket, post moves (player). But everything was changing around me.

Q: Was Kevin Garnett’s success away from the basket a factor in this?

I think KG probably set the tone, but Dirk (Nowitzki) took it to a different level. Dirk made it OK to be that shooting (power foward) and then when (Andrea) Bargnani came into the league as the No. 1 pick, he became a poor man’s Dirk. General managers started looking for those guys.

Q: Is this cyclical? Will low-post scorers come back in vogue someday?

Life itself is a cycle. Old clothes come back into style. Once again I think the NBA will be run by big men on the block. It might be after I’m long retired, but I believe it will happen because this is a copy-cat league.

Q: Where did you develop your skill set?

It was on the playground playing with older guys. I come from a big family that played basketball non-stop. I had a cousin who had a full dirt court with lights. We stayed up sometimes until 3 in the morning playing ball. I played with a lot of older guys who played with their backs to the basket.

Three years ago I went home to do my camp and one of those taller, older guys from my hometown, he came and we played against each other. He did the same moves on me that I do in a game. He was doing the ball fakes, the spin moves, the step-throughs that I do. I said, “Ah, that’s where I got it!”

Q: You appropriate other players’ moves...

When I got to Boston I stole Paul Pierce’s ball fake. Tom Gugliotta used to kick my (butt) every day in practice my rookie year. It was always the same move – a turnaround jumper – so I stole that, (particularly) his footwork. Everyone I go against, if I like something they do, I steal it and put it in my own form.

Q: What did you think of the Hornets’ roster changes this off-season?

I think they did their job. They were motivated to do their jobs just like me. When we left our exit meetings we were all on the same page about what had to be done. And they held up their end of the deal. Now it’s my turn to hold up my end.

They got everything we needed to get to the next level. Getting to the playoffs is great, but now we have to make the playoffs and be one of the teams to advance. I’ve been a big fan of Nic Batum since I was in Utah. He’s a very skilled player who can pass, shoot, do it all. Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb are guys who can shoot the ball and move the ball. Spencer Hawes is one of my favorite guys in the world. Only time I don’t like him is when I have to play against him because I don’t want to guard anybody out to the 3-point line.

Q: What do you think of rookie Frank Kaminsky?

I don’t watch college basketball at all. I knew he had a good run in the (NCAA) tournament. He really surprised me when I went to Orlando and watched him in summer league. He’s highly skilled. He doesn’t just do one thing well, he does a bunch of things well. He’s got to get in the weight room (to get stronger), but we all went through that as rookies. I think it’s going to be easier for him because he got all four years of college and nobody does that anymore.

Q: Coach Steve Clifford has said you’ll continue to be a big part of the offense, but he wants to balance that with more ball movement, the way they played in your absence in January. Your thoughts on that?

I agree with coach that when I was out the ball moved. That’s part of the reason I needed to slim down, so that I wouldn’t slow it down when the ball was moving.

Q: You’ve often said how much you enjoy living in Charlotte. What’s so attractive about it?

My favorite thing about Charlotte is it gives me the best of both worlds. I’ve lived in Boston and Minnesota and Utah. Those were nothing like where I come from (Prentiss, Miss.). Charlotte gives me that country vibe, but also a city vibe, too – the best of both worlds. I’m looking to buy a house to live here even after my career.

Q: How does your “country boy” personality come out?

Fishing and being on dirt roads with four-wheelers. I love to be out in the woods. I can do that here just like at home.

Q: What will be the single biggest factor in how the Hornets do this season?

The thing that has made us whatever we were the past two years is defense. We’ve been an elite defensive team. Now we need to bring the offense up to the defense and be a balanced team. The teams that go deep into the playoffs are balanced teams: Golden State is balanced. The Clippers are balanced. Houston does it at both ends. And we’ve got to be that team.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell