Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver are bonded by basketball and brotherhood.
The former Creighton stars find themselves sharing a locker room as new members of the Atlanta Hawks. Korver opened his 10th NBA season Friday night but failed to score in a loss to the Houston Rockets. Tolliver, beginning his fourth season, also went scoreless.
The Hawks traded for Korver in July, ending his two-year stay with the Chicago Bulls. Tolliver, who played with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, signed with Atlanta as a free agent and made the team in training camp.
“It's great having Anthony on the team. I had never played with him, outside of maybe a couple of pickup games,” said Korver, whose final season at Creighton (2002-03) came just before Tolliver joined the program. “He's good. He's solid. He has more perimeter game than I thought he had. He's a guy that always seems to be in the right spot.”
Tolliver also is happy to have a familiar face on the team.
“Never in a million years did I think I'd be on the same team with him,” Tolliver said. “That's one of the things that excited me about coming here.”
Basketball is just part of what the 6-foot-8 Tolliver relishes about the connection. Tolliver and Korver both strongly embrace their Christian faith. They are active in the communities in which they play. They know the points they score on the court aren't as important as the ones they make in trying to provide examples for others.
“Kyle told me he's never been on a team where he's had another Christian teammate,” Tolliver said. “We both know how important that is, having someone around that shares the same lifestyle and values that you do. It's nice to have someone around to keep you accountable.”
Korver and Tolliver are the first former Creighton players to be NBA teammates since 1970, when Paul Silas and Neil Johnson played for the Phoenix Suns. Korver and Tolliver also are believed to be the first ex-Bluejays to start together as teammates, doing it twice during the exhibition season.
After the second time, Atlanta coach Larry Drew asked the two: When was the last time two Creighton guys were in the same starting lineup?
“I told him, 'Since you started us in the last game,'” Tolliver said. “We had a good laugh, but that was a lot of fun. It was really cool to hear Creighton twice when they announced our starters before the game.”
Still working hard
Creighton's version of Doug McDermott a decade ago, Korver hardly had long-term NBA success stamped on him when he left Omaha.
All he can do is shoot. Can't play defense. Too slow to play at the next level. Those were some of the all-too-familiar knocks on the 6-7 Korver.
He had heard them coming out of Pella (Iowa) High School regarding his ability to play at Creighton. All he did as a Bluejay was set just about every school record for shooting while leading Creighton to four straight NCAA tournament appearances. He was twice the Missouri Valley player of the year.
“A lot of the same people that didn't think I could play at the Division I level didn't think I could play in the NBA,” Korver said. “I think that's something that drove me early in my career, but that kind of motivation wears on you.
“Eventually, you have to try something different.”
What didn't change was Korver's work ethic.
“In the end, you just try to work really hard and prove people wrong,” Korver said. “And the Lord has shown that he's into this basketball thing for me. I'm just very, very grateful for everything.”
New Jersey picked Korver in the second round of the 2003 draft, then traded his rights to Philadelphia. He played 4½ seasons for the 76ers before being traded to Utah. Korver stuck with the Jazz for 2½ seasons before signing with the Bulls before the start of the 2010-11 season.
Along the way, Korver has developed the reputation for being one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history. He is one of only three players to make at least 1,000 3-point baskets (1,134) and shoot better than 41.0 percent from beyond the arc. Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers is the only other active player, while Wesley Person also achieved that level of marksmanship.
Korver set the league record for 3-point percentage in a season, making 53.6 percent of long-range shots in the 2009-10 season. He has averaged 9.5 points for his 665 games.
Asked what it means to him to be heading into his 10th season, Korver laughed and replied, “I feel old. Ten years is a long time. At the same time, I feel I still have a lot left. I'm still trying to get better.”
A good fit
Tolliver didn't expect to be relocating this season.
Even after an injury-plagued season ended last spring, Tolliver said, Minnesota's management told him it wanted to keep him around.
“The coaches praised me and management told me that I was going to be there long term,” Tolliver said. “But as the summer went on, the situation there got less and less attractive. What they were saying was just lip service, but that's how it goes. Guys say things all the time, but until they get written down on paper, they don't mean anything.”
The Timberwolves released Tolliver, and he set out late in the summer to find another team. He hooked up with the Hawks, signing a one-year contract for the veteran minimum salary of $915,000.
“I was looking for a system that allows me to do the things I do best,” Tolliver said. “I'm a stretch 4, and I needed a system that would allow me to use my versatility. ... Here, I can play both forward spots, and I'm definitely more comfortable.”
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Thus, Atlanta became the latest stop in Tolliver's basketball odyssey. After twice earning All-Valley honors and leading Creighton to NCAA tournament berths in 2005 and 2007, Tolliver went undrafted.
He signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent, made the opening-day roster but was released before playing a game. He split time during the 2007-08 season playing for Iowa of the NBA D-League and a German club.
After spending time early in the 2009-10 season with Idaho of the D-League and the Portland Trail Blazers, Tolliver caught a break when he signed a 10-day contract with Golden State in mid-January. Just before the contract was to expire, the Warriors signed him for the remainder of the year.
He played in 44 games, averaging a career-high 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. That set him up to sign a two-year, $4.5 million contract with Minnesota before the start of the 2010-11 season.
“I really liked Minnesota, but it is what it is,” Tolliver said. “I had to adjust on the fly, and (wife) Jessica and I made the decision together that Atlanta would be the best place for us.”
Like Tolliver, Korver has become accustomed to the here-today, gone-tomorrow business side of the NBA. Still, Korver's latest move from Chicago to Atlanta was definitely the more difficult for him.
“This is the first time I've changed cities since I got married,” he said.
Korver married singer Juliet Richardson in August 2011. They are expecting their first child any day now.
“There are a lot of new things going on in my life,” Korver said. “You worry about taking care of your wife and future baby. At the same time, there still is basketball to worry about. There are just a whole lot of responsibilities that weren't there before when I've had to move.”
In his previous stops, Korver and his foundation have been active in the community. He's collected coats for those in need and mentored elementary school children. He's raised money for worthy causes.
“I've always wanted to leave something behind in each city,” Korver said. “This isn't just about basketball. It's about trying to make the world a better place. I'll definitely stay involved here but at this point, I'm not actively pursuing anything here.”
Korver and his foundation started the Seer clothing line in 2008 in which all the profits go to charity. He said his wife and his brother, Klayton, will continue to head it up during the season. Korver also is trying to expand his work with the Omaha charity and ministry run by former Creighton player Josh Dotzler.
Tolliver, too, intends to expand his work in the community. While with Minnesota, Tolliver was active in the team's Fastbreak Foundation. He teamed with the Salvation Army last December to sponsor a Christmas party for needy children.
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“One of the things I've learned about Anthony,” Korver said, “is that he really cares about people.”
The move to Atlanta will provide Korver, who was born in Southern California, with something his previous basketball stops couldn't.
“I'm really looking forward to my first warm winter in 20 years,” he said, laughing.
Tolliver, who grew up in Springfield, Mo., also is excited about the move to Atlanta.
“The weather up North was getting to me,” Tolliver said. “A lot of my family's roots are from the South, and I love Southern cooking. Atlanta is a great city. My wife and I love it here.”
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