Josh Hart Sets Sights On Defense Ahead of Rookie Year

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At the brand-new UCLA Health Training Center, there is the players’ lounge and then the Josh Hart lounge.

The former is outfitted with eight TVs, a heap of video-game systems, a pool table and more. But the latter, preferred by the Lakers’ 30th-overall draft pick, is simply good times with teammates and staffers in the training room.

“We’ve got a beautiful players’ lounge with crazy TVs on it — all of that,” Hart says. “But nah, I’m in the training room.”

Like his fellow Lakers, Hart has been blown away by the Lakers’ new practice facility. For him, it has symbolic contrast to his training site before June’s NBA Draft.

Wanting to avoid the distractions of returning to his hometown Maryland or college city Philadelphia, Hart chose to work out at a court in the basement of a New York City apartment building that he also stayed in.

He spent about two months in these glamor-free digs, waking up at 6 a.m. to put in work.

“I’m just a hard-nosed, gritty, blue-collar kind of guy,” he says.

Hart aims to keep that mentality with the purple and gold, even if, before the draft, he told Sports Illustrated, “You don’t see me in L.A. living the dream life in these crazy facilities. I’m in New York working my butt off.”

Hart now laughs at the irony of his quote as he sits on the court at the UCLA Health Training Center. But while he may be practcing at the NBA’s newest state-of-the-art facility, his attitude remains the same.

In particular, he wants to prove himself on the defensive end.

“I want to be a defensive stopper,” Hart says. “That’s one thing: I want to go up against the best players at my position … and put myself to the test.”

Hart is focused on finding his niche, and he feels that defense is the key to this.

He acknowledges that he won’t be averaging 20 points as a rookie — though Villanova did go 22-0 during his college career when he hit that mark. Instead the reigning Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year has his sights on locking down opposing wings.

“For me, defense is personal,” Hart says. “Obviously it’s tough to stop people one on one. But when you have that mind set of taking this personal; it’s just you and the other guy, and there’s one ball. And one person’s gonna eat, and I want that to be me.”

Hart knows that it will take a lot of grinding to get to where he wants to be defensively, especially in a league full of electric wing players.

He’s up for the task — so long as there isn’t country music playing in the locker room, like a few weeks ago when some of his teammates lifted to Jason Aldean.

“I’ll plead the fifth on that one,” Hart says before quickly changing his mind. “You know what, no I don’t. I don’t approve of that. If I’m in the weight room working out, I want to hear something I can bump to. … I can’t get with that.”

Aside from differences in music tastes, Hart and his teammates are forming connections ahead of their first season together.

He has also bonded with his new coaching staff. He already knew assistant Miles Simons through Nike high-school camps. Plus, Hart and assistant Mark Madsen are two of only three Eagle Scouts to ever play in an NCAA Final Four.

For Hart, his accomplishment of becoming an Eagle Scout is akin to winning the 2016 NCAA title with Villanova.

“It’s kind of like winning a championship,” Hart says. “I was an NCAA champion. When I talk to someone else and they’re an NCAA champion, you have that level of respect because you know everything they had to do for that whole year to get to that point.”

And Hart certainly remembers the workload that it took to become an Eagle Scout.

In high school he had stopped his scouting to focus on basketball. But when he was 16, his father, Moses, reminded Josh that he had promised he would make it to the Eagle Scout ranks.

“He was like, ‘You said you were gonna finish it. You gave me your word,’” Hart said. “’So you’re going to have to finish this.’”

Days before his 18th birthday — the deadline to become an Eagle Scout — Josh finished his final project: clearing up a picnic area in the back of his church.

In the last week possible, he had fulfilled his promise to his dad.

“For me it was a lot of stress getting that done,” Hart says. “But you just have so much respect because you’ve been there. You’ve accomplished it and you know what it takes to accomplish it.”

Next up for the rookie will be proving that he knows what it takes to make a name for himself in the NBA.

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