Jared Dudley returns to Suns as role model for young team

Jul 12, 2016, 5:29 PM

Washington Wizards forward Jared Dudley reacts after hitting a 3-point shot during the fourth quart...

Washington Wizards forward Jared Dudley reacts after hitting a 3-point shot during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 8, 2016. The Blazers won 116-109. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

(AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns had been looking to add veteran leadership to their young roster this offseason. Former Sun Jared Dudley felt he was the right fit for that role.

“I’ve secretly wanted to come back here for years,” Dudley said. “I had a great experience here during my five years. I don’t think there’s a more perfect person right now for this job at this time with this young team than me.”

The 31-year-old forward signed a three-year contract Friday with the Suns, and general manager Ryan McDonough said the fan base immediately expressed its happiness with the popular player’s return.

“I knew how well liked Jared was here in Phoenix, but just the overwhelming support for him and the signing that came from the people within our organization, from the fans and media, it was really neat to see,” McDonough said.

Dudley previously played for the Suns from 2008 to 2013, a span that included a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2010. Dudley’s nine-year career has also included stints with the Charlotte Bobcats, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards.

Dudley said his career has come full circle.

“Now going into my 10th year, who would have thought that I was in the same room at 22 years old with braids,” Dudley said in a Friday press conference at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “Now I’m here to help lead this young team.”

The Suns’ average team age of 24.7 ranks them fifth-youngest in the NBA. The two oldest players on the team are Tyson Chandler and the recently acquired Leandro Barbosa, both age 33.

“The best teams have balance,” McDonough said. “You don’t want too many veteran guys and not enough young guys. You also don’t want a bunch of kids who might not know what they’re doing.”

McDonough pointed to the mix of talent on the Suns roster, from Dragan Bender at age 18 to Chandler, the team’s elder statesman.

“We have veteran guys who still have a lot of good basketball in them who can also mentor and teach the young guys,” McDonough said. “They are also high character and IQ players who set good examples. We have guys in the middle of their careers such as (Eric) Bledsoe and (Brandon) Knight alongside our younger generation of players.”

Suns coach Earl Watson is looking forward to Dudley’s presence in the locker room.

“I feel at complete ease to have him in our locker room as one of our leaders,” Watson said. “His voice is going to be powerful for the young guys and they are going to emulate him as they grow within our program.”

Dudley said he believes a key to mentoring the team’s younger players, particularly coming off of a season in which they lost 59 games, is maintaining a positive mindset.

“I’ve always been a positive guy, I’ve always had that in my life. Especially on a team with younger guys you have to uplift,” Dudley said. “Bringing that positive energy every day to rub off on young guys where coach may not be playing you, something goes wrong, you still have to fight through it and be a pro.”

Watson said he experienced Dudley’s dedication to the game first-hand during offseason pickup games at UCLA.

“Jared and I go way back,” Watson said. “I’ve seen him evolve as a player and as a leader. To see his progression is just amazing. He’s never missed a day in the gym. You notice guys like that.”

Dudley will be looked upon to mentor the Suns’ trio of draft picks: Bender, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis. He hopes to use his past experience with the Suns to turn the young players into future leaders.

“First things first, you have to lead by example. Before I can say anything to them, they have to see it. They have to see how I’m a pro and how I am in September when I’m training,” Dudley said. “My locker is right by Marquese. Conversations, how to be a pro, staying after and getting the right shots, in the weight room … Why is it important? Trainers and coaches will always be on your head to do this and that, tell them why it is. It’s going to be a long process with them. As a team, we’re fighting. A lot of veterans fear that. I embrace it.”

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