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Behind the Ponytail: The Lou Amundson Story

Lou Amundson, after years of trying to find his spot in the NBA, has finally found his niche with the Phoenix Suns.
Lou Amundson, after years of trying to find his spot in the NBA, has finally found his niche with the Phoenix Suns.

Let's have a flash back in time, shall we? Try to remember what you were doing on August 14th, 2008. Were you at home, lying on the couch, trying to prepare yourself for the imminent start of the next semester of school? Perhaps you were at work, staring at a computer screen, wishing you could get into your car and drive home. Maybe you were even on an airplane, flying overseas for your 15th wedding anniversary. Do you remember now?

If you did, kudos to you. I struggle to remember what I ate for dinner two nights ago, let alone on a random Thursday afternoon two years ago. However, for one man, August 14th, 2008 was a big day. This man goes by the name of Louis Amundson, and this was the day that the Phoenix Suns announced that they had signed the 6'9" power forward to a two-year contract.

At first, you might have thought, "So what? He's just another minimum salaried player who will sit the end of our bench, so we can fill out our roster with 13 players." Well, dear surprisingly-well-informed basketball fan, the Phoenix Suns saw in Amundson something they had needed for a long time: hustle, defense and a work ethic that could put any self-respecting construction worker to shame.

Lou Amundson was the definition of energy, and for a Phoenix Suns team who had discussions like this popping up all over the internet, he couldn't have come at a better time.

The College Story

Louis Amundson, born on Pearl Harbor Day, 1982 (that's December 7th, for those of you readers outside the States), has had quite the path to his current spot in the NBA. He grew up in Boulder, Colo., where he was a star at the high school level. He then went on to play for the UNLV Rebels for four years in a five-year span, sitting out the 2002-2003 season with a medical redshirt. He graduated Cum Laude with degree in University Studies, with areas of emphasis being English and Philosophy. As a senior, Lou was honored by being named to the All-Mountain West Second Team and was the first player in Mountain West history to record multiple career games of 20+ points and 20+ rebounds.

Of his college experience, he said that he felt that UNLV was a good fit since they had a lack of big men. This meant that he would receive significant playing time during his freshman year.

"It really helped, getting that experience. You know, just learning all the different facets of the game and learning how to play at that level," Amundson said.

When asked about his views on what he thinks about staying all four years as opposed to playing the NBA-required one year minimum, Amundson had a fairly well-rounded answer.

"If you're ready, I think you're ready. I think I definitely have a good understanding of the game. And you do see, at times, the guys who leave early, they maybe don't have a good understanding of team defense and some of those concepts. But, you know, I think if your skills are ready and if you're up to par, then you're ready. I would say that defensively, you know, team defense, is where you learn a lot. Just day in and day out, you're running through drills and stuff, so you know, that really helps," said Amundson.

The Road to the NBA

After playing college hoops for all four years, Amundson found himself undrafted in the 2006 NBA draft. Unsure of his chance at the NBA and life after collegiate basketball, Lou received a call from the Sacramento Kings. They paid him to come to training camp, and after playing well, they kept him on board for the entirety of the preseason. However, right before final cuts, Amundson once again found himself without a spot in the NBA.

Lou then elected to play in the NBA's Developmental League, which was one of the best decisions of his career. He played in 25 games for the Colorado 14ers, averaging 11.1 points on 56.3 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds and just a shade under 2.5 blocks per game, all in 25 minutes per game.

Due to his success, he was named D-League Rookie of the Year, appeared in the D-League All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA D-League First Team. However, most importantly, his play earned himself another ticket to the NBA. Amundson had received a second chance.

Amundson was called up by Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz where he was signed to two 10-day contracts, but again found himself out of a job. However, the front office for the Philadelphia 76ers saw something special in him during his short stint with the Jazz and signed him for the remainder of the season.

Amundson then landed another year with the Sixers, where he appeared in 18 games. However, his playing time had been cut to 4 minutes per game, and his newfound role with the team began to diminish. In despite of his lack of playing time, Lou remained upbeat.

"I've always tried to be a sponge, and just kind of learn from other players. I think more than anything, you learn from the guys around you. The veterans, you know, the guys that have been doing it for awhile. So, just being around guys like that in both places, you kind of learn what it is to be a professional, what it means to work on your shot and what it takes to make it. For me, that was the thing I took from it.

"I just kept working on my game every day, regardless of if I played or not. I was always staying positive and trying to get better every day," Amundson said.

This attitude, coupled with a determination and grit seldom found in many NBA players, helped him earn an invite to the Phoenix Suns training camp. Many people considered it a long shot that Lou would make the team, and if he did, even more of a long shot that he would make a splash. However, the doubters were soon silenced. Amundson stepped into his role — limited, yet necessary — like a natural.

The Rebirth of Amundson

As a refresher, at this point in Suns history, we're in the 2008-2009 Year of the Shaq experiment. This was the year, as millions have pointed out, that after being viewed as a perennial contender for the Larry O'Brien trophy, that the window of opportunity had been slammed shut.

The sun had set for the Suns. They were one of the oldest teams in the league, struggling to find their identity under new head coach Terry Porter. They were adjusting to new players in Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley after longtime Suns Raja Bell and Boris Diaw were shipped out.

It was a tumultuous season, and one would think that a likely low-impact player like Amundson would get lost in the clamor. Instead, Lou took his game to a new level and stood out, quickly becoming a fan favorite. He had a motor that wouldn't stop and his limited minutes were meaningful. To use a cliché seen all too often in Phoenix sports, Louis Amundson had risen like a phoenix and finally found his spot in the NBA.

When asked about his trademark long hair, Amundson said that it's just a style he's always enjoyed. In college, his head coach wouldn't let him wear his hair long and it was the same story in Utah under Jerry Sloan. So, with a laugh, he said that since he has the opportunity to, he's taking advantage of it.

"I figure, you know, if I'm ever in a business type setting, they won't allow a ponytail. So, if I can do it now, (I) might as well," Amundson said.

Team Player Representative

With the rumors of a possible NBA lockout after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, Lou has stepped forward as one of the two team player representatives. Raja Bell was the player representative prior to Amundson, but after being jettisoned off, the spot was open. Amundson jumped at the opportunity, eager to become involved.

"I just kind of volunteered. I knew it was something that was interesting to me, and when it was offered, I just kind of jumped at the opportunity. We've got some important negotiations in the next few months, and it's been interesting to be at the All-Star game and hear the reaction to the first proposal from the owners.

"It's interesting to see how the climate has changed since the economic downturn. For me, it's so interesting to hear the other side of it. It's so different from college. In college, all you care about is that your books are paid for and you just go to class and play ball. There's not a business side to it like in the NBA — and the business side of it is pretty real. I mean, the more you learn about it, the more you realize everything is about money, how it's all a business, and that it's not just a game anymore," Amundson said.

The Unlikely Hero

Of Amundson, head coach Alvin Gentry said, "Lou's great. He's great on the boards for us, and he brings a lot of energy to the game with our second unit. He's a good guy in the locker room and we like him a lot."

While Louis Amundson might not have the same physical gifts as an All-Star player like Steve Nash or Amare Stoudemire, his hard work, determination and intelligence have finally begun to pay off. He is always one of the last players to leave the practice court and is consistently seen working on different elements of his game. In a time where the future of the Phoenix Suns still remains a question, they have found one bright spot — and his name is Louis Amundson.

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