July 2, 2011 9:52:00 PM
It takes a village to support Travis Outlaw -- make that an older brother and two cousins.
For the past two seasons, John, Chris, and Derek have helped Travis navigate life as a professional basketball player in the NBA, from the highs and lows that are a natural part of an 82-game regular season to steering him away from people who only wish to take advantage of his financial success.
Personal assistant. Web master. Psychiatrist and personal trainer. Short-order cook. The do-everything-that-needs-to-be-done-guy. Earlier this week, they were counselors and coaches at Travis'' second annual basketball camp at the Starkville Sportsplex.
It''s a reality show without the cameras: Four kin folk who love each and motivate each other and live and share a dream, a journey that has taken them from Portland (Trail Blazers) to Los Angeles (Clippers) to New Jersey (Nets).
"It makes it real easy on him," said Chris, a cousin who among other things maintains www.outlaw25.com and arranges Travis'' public appearances. "I try to release the type of stress that comes with (playing in the NBA). I just want to keep his mind on basketball."
After home games, they sit in front the television in their four bedroom house in Saddle River, N.J., and watch that night''s game, critiquing his play.
Other times, one of the guys might drive Travis to New Jersey''s practice facility after lackluster performances to put up some shots, an effort to get the kinks out of his game or to shake off a personal setback in an attempt to use basketball as an avenue of clarity.
"Playing in the NBA can be a lonely experience," said Travis'' older brother, John, who has been with him since the beginning. He joked he''s the overseer, the father when their father, John Outlaw Sr., isn''t there. Sometimes that means pushing the household''s breadwinner further than he wants to go.
One of their challenges next season will be to find new ways to motivate a millionaire whose wealth appears not to be a major focus in his life. Last season, Chris said postgame shootarounds didn''t occur as often as hoped.
"A lot of times, he was so stressed out about the season and a lot of other things that were going on in his life he couldn''t get motivated to do those things sometimes. But sometimes, he did get in."
The trio also keeps Travis grounded.
"Sometimes when he goes on a long road trip, when he comes back to the house, you can tell he''s been catered to," said Derek, a cousin, the resident chef-in-training. "He''ll come back with a little swollen head. We have to poke him. It''s easy to get caught up in that lifestyle."
To them, he''s the same old just Travis they''ve always known. He loves video games (he plays Call of Duty: Black Opps with another cousin, T.J., and plays John in Madden NFL 12 ). He loves dogs (he has pit bulls, an English bulldog, and a Rottweiler ). And his entourage will tell him he loves talking.
All this and he just happens to be a millionaire, earning his riches playing a kid''s game that earns him the admiration of tens of thousands of fans in Portland and New Jersey.
Derek, who might have the most pronounced role in the foursome, learned to cook from his aunts. It''s one of his passions, so much so he plans to go back to school to study culinary arts.
Cooking for three hungry bachelors has given him plenty of time to practice.
His style is Southern, but with a healthy twist for Travis. Instead of fried chicken, he cooks it in the oven -- sometimes. He does the same with catfish. He grills streaks or venison when he can get family in Mississippi to ship fresh meat.
With vegetables, the greener the better. Broccoli and sweat peas are in the regular rotation, as are carrots. And Derek opts for olive oil instead of butter.
"You may lose some flavor, but its still good," he said.
He said Travis'' favorite dish at home is chicken and rice casserole.
"It''s pretty simple, but he likes it," Derek said.
On game nights, Derek will prepare a dish like chicken Alfredo pasta or something to give Travis complex carbohydrates to prepare him for the night''s work.
Don''t forget a side of vegetables.
In the future, Derek wants Travis to drink more water and to curve his cravings for juice. He also wants Travis to eat four to five times a day. At the moment, Travis is more of an eat-to-live kind of guy versus live-to-eat.
When Travis arrived in Portland in 2003, he was told he was going to sit on the bench. The Trail Blazers had plenty of veterans, so any contributions Travis would make would be an unexpected bonus.
Fast forward to July 8, 2010. He signed a five-year, $35 million contract with New Jersey.
"Portland was ''Just go out and do what you can do,'' " Chris said. "Here, ''We need you to do this, that and this. It created a whole lot of pressure.'' "
Travis appeared in all 82 games last season, starting 55, nearly double his career starts. Outlaw averaged 9.2 points, four rebounds and .4 blocked shots a game. He also shot a career-low 37 percent from the field.
His 3-point percentage (30.2 percent) was his lowest since 2006-07. His free-throw percentage (77 percent) was his lowest since 2005-06.
"I think his comfort level when he got to a new situation and new team was off due to the fact he wasn''t quite sure what his role was," John said. "Now I feel he''s more comfortable with the guys on the team, the coaches, what they want from him. That makes a difference when you know what they''re expecting or looking for versus trying to finagle your way into what you think they want."
If there is a 2011 season, the NBA is in the first days of a lockout, he still faces uncertainty about his role in New Jersey, where roughly half of the roster is still undecided. But at least Travis should be better off at handling it this season, John said.
They all know this is a big year for Travis.
"He just got that contract and the organization is really looking for him to perform way better than he performed last year," Chris said. "They''re really putting the burden on his shoulders that ''We need you to do more,'' and he understands that."
Those expectations have pushed Travis to spend this offseason preparing his body in ways he hasn''t in the past. He has a yoga instructor to help him with movement. A personal trainer who will attempt to help him add several more pounds of muscle. He also is working on his cardiovascular conditioning by running before a shooting drill or swimming in his lap pool in his offseason home in Starkville.
"He''s getting old (he''s only 26), his body is breaking down," Derek said, "so we said we needed to do something to prepare him for 82 (regular-season) games without his body wearing down."
Watch out NBA.
1. Malik Newman commits to Mississippi State COLLEGE SPORTS
2. New Hope wins baseball playoff opener in extra innings HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
4. MACJC softball playoffs will have local flavor COLLEGE SPORTS
5. MSU baseball looks to snap slide on the road at Arkansas COLLEGE SPORTS