CLEVELAND - On the outside, Carlos Boozer was contrite and humble every night during his rookie season.
His smooth, workmanlike style of play and his easygoing approach in the locker room made it appear as if he was taking it all in stride.
But in reality, his insides were churning. Sometimes he felt like beating his chest and screaming, reminding everyone who was right and who was wrong.
His story is well-worn now - the former Juneau-Douglas High School and Duke University star was passed over numerous times in the first round of last year's draft and fell to Cleveland in the second round with the 35th overall selection. He turned out to be one of the few bright spots for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, averaging 10 points and 7.5 rebounds on his way to being named to the all-rookie second team.
"Really, it was great," Boozer said after practice last week at Gund Arena as the Cavaliers prepared for last Monday's preseason home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.
"It was internally more than outwardly, but the draft was motivating - I felt I had to prove I belonged in this league."
That has been accomplished. Boozer has turned into a gold mine for the Cavaliers, developing into a solid starter at the power forward spot while being very salary-cap friendly, making just $563,000 this season. In an offense in which wing Ricky Davis, center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and rookie LeBron James will each require a certain amount of shots, Boozer's stabilizing and nondemanding style will likely be crucial for chemistry.
Boozer is used to it. When he was a freshman at Duke, the entire offense ran through star Shane Battier and later, Jason (now Jay) Williams. Yet, Boozer carved out a very successful career. When he did get shots he made them, shooting 63 percent from the floor during his college career.
It was much the same last year when he only averaged seven shots a game, but was third in the NBA in field-goal shooting percentage at 53.6.
"He has a mental and physical toughness you need and you can count on him, you can just about write it down," Coach Paul Silas said. "He gets tough rebounds, he makes shots when you get him the ball and he's a winner."
Silas was one of the coaches who passed over Boozer in the first round in 2002. While he was coach of the Hornets, Boozer came to New Orleans for a private pre-draft workout but he didn't jump out at Silas. Now, a year later, Silas feels like Boozer's a vital part of his team.
"Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, and the Cavs got plain lucky with him" Silas said. "He just works so hard on his game, he's invaluable for our team."
Boozer got married last summer. He and his wife, Cindy, make their home in Cleveland. He was working out at Gund Arena all summer, giving up an early chance to meet with his new coach and extending his comfort level in the NBA, something he didn't have a year ago.
"I'm five or tenfold more comfortable this year," he said. "We have a lot of things going on with this team and every guy is an option. I'm just going to keep playing hard, even if I don't get a lot of attention."
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