Zylan Cheatham, an Arizona native, was all smiles walking into the Suns’ media room yelling, “OOOOOH YEAHHH,” and “WE AT THE CRIB!” The former Arizona State Sun Devil is not new to Suns basketball. He was a die-hard fan growing up in the area.
“It’s just crazy that I grew up watching this team, grew up watching Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson, some of those guys,” Cheatham said. “Now I’m in the same locker room with an opportunity to make my dreams come true.”
Cheatham can remember when he was a little kid, putting himself in game winning situations rocking a Kevin Johnson jersey, imitating what he saw his favorite players doing. Growing up fewer than 30 minutes away from Talking Stick Resort Arena, Cheatham’s parents taught him the ropes of what it meant to be a Suns fan. They attended games and watched them religiously on television.
That would help spark Cheatham’s love for the game, which eventually earned him a scholarship at San Diego State before transferring to Arizona State as an upperclassmen. The Sun Devils’ spark plug averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds but the most important statistic, one that isn’t on paper, is his high energy he provides every time he steps on the court.
“I’ve always been the guy that kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve so I just try to let my personality show,” Cheatham said. “Let my love and passion for this game show and show guys that I want to be in this league and I belong in this league.”
Arizona native and ASU alum Zylan Cheatham was extra excited to attend a Suns workout having grown up a die hard Suns fan. He walked in yelling,— Ashley Nevel (@AshleyNevel) June 1, 2019
“WE AT THE CRIB!” He’s also good friends with Devin Booker. pic.twitter.com/S8cRS7v0EK
The 6’7” forward compares his energy to that of Draymond Green, a guy who players hate playing against but love having on their team. Luguentz Dort, Cheatham’s teammate this past season in Tempe, can confirm.
“Best teammate I ever had,” Dort said. “He was a good leader and I learned just from being around him. He was always the one to bring energy in our locker room.”
That energy used to get him in trouble when he was younger, though, so he decided to turn it into something useful.
“I used to always get in trouble for talking to much,” Cheatham said with a laugh. “I used to always get written up, phone calls home, so I just figured I’d turn it into something positive and I use it on the floor to my advantage.”
Communication is key when it comes to basketball both on and off the court, so the energetic two-way prospect is already on the right path to success. Cheatham is also already familiar with Devin Booker, as he’s played in a few open runs whenever the Suns’ star is on campus.
“I’ve already played with Booker,” Cheatham said. “He usually comes up and plays at ASU, an unbelievable talent and unbelievable scorer, leader and person in general.”
Cheatham would obviously love to continue his career in Phoenix, and he was blessed to have an opportunity to work out for head coach Monty Williams and GM James Jones. The player who attended South Mountain High School remembers seeing Jones at the mall on numerous occasions and would get starstruck. He’d even want to ask for a picture with him but decided not to be that guy. It all worked out in his favor as he got to show his worth in front of him, displaying his high basketball IQ.
“Trying to be a better student of the game and analyze different aspects and pretty much just get better off the floor and on the floor,” Cheatham said of what he’s working to improve on. “Learning how to move without the ball. Learning how to space the floor. Learning all the right spots to be in it’s such an underrated skill that a lot of people sweep under the rug in my opinion — and I’m just trying not to be one of those people.”
The charismatic Cheatham can provide a lot of what Phoenix is looking for at that stretch-4 four role, and his approach to the game would be perfect inside the locker room. He definitely checks a lot of the boxes Jones is looking for.
“I’m not scared of what’s next,” Cheatham said. “I put my best foot forward each day, wake up each day ready to get better, ready to maximize each day, each workout, each treatment session, anything to get better pretty much. When you do stuff like that you can really live with the results whether it’s positive or negative.”
Zylan Cheatham has a close relationship with Jason Terry who offered some advice on making it in the league.— Ashley Nevel (@AshleyNevel) June 2, 2019
Side note: Cheatham has also been ordering wings and Caesar salads for his late night meals and compares his high energy to Draymond Green. @1KingZ4 @jasonterry31 pic.twitter.com/UmqY9g3CCG
His mindset comes with experience but also comes from NBA veterans like Jamal Crawford and a former champion, Jason Terry, who he talks to on a regular basis on how to make it in this league.
“Jason Terry’s message was pretty much, the biggest thing is how you manage your off time,” Cheatham said. “The way he put it to me was basically you got your practice, workouts and then you got hours in a day where you got a pocket full of money and nothing but free time and it’s basically what you do with that time that separates some guys who stay in the league and who have early exits so just trying to be mature on and off the court trying to learn from each step.”
The five-year senior has been embracing this draft process and approaching it with an open mind. It’s something he has been preparing for his whole life, and he’s ready for whatever is thrown his way.
“Whatever happens I’m going to make the best of it,” Cheatham said. “Whether that’s getting picked or whether I have to go to the G-League or overseas, either way, I want to play basketball as long as possible and I try to make the best of it.”
It’s safe to say he’d love to end up on the Suns, to be closer to his family and be able to play for the team he grew up idolizing.