Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Louis Amundson's Bike (Gametime)
- Phoenix Suns player and former UNLV Rebel Louis Amundson on if it seems like a long time since a staph infection forced him to redshirt a season at UNLV.
- Amundson on the late Billy Feeney, his friend who committed suicide in New Mexico in 2003.
- Amundson on what he learned from playing for Lon Kruger.
- Amundson talks about his Panerai watch, one of his few luxury purchases.
Like it did inside the Thomas & Mack Center when he played for UNLV, a low, long Loooooooo hums over the court when Louis Amundson checks into a Suns game.
“Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen echoes from the rafters of the U.S. Airways Center when he gobbles up a rebound, slips the ball over the front of the rim or sinks a couple of free throws.
To further enhance the affinity some locals have for the 6-foot-9, pony-tailed post player, officials unveil the Louis Amundson $1 Bike Valet tent Sunday night.
In a two-minute video that debuts in the second quarter of a Phoenix game against Toronto, Amundson pays tribute to famous former Suns players Dan Majerle and Charles Barkley.
From the many big screens inside U.S. Airways, Amundson tells his rapt audience that he has also arrived … with the bike valet adjacent to the arena.
The former Rebel, whose popularity blossomed when Phoenix fans found out he sometimes rides his mountain bike to work, shot the video Saturday with a TV crew.
“It was fun,” Amundson says after scoring 4 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in 11 minutes against the Raptors. “Good stuff. I think it’s the first of its kind. That’s cool.”
He sits in a leather chair, with a paper plate of fajitas on his lap, in the far corner of the Phoenix locker room and peruses the final stats of the one-point victory over the Raptors.
Eight years ago, the 6-foot-9 center arrived in Las Vegas weighing 190 pounds. He bench pressed 145 pounds. A staph infection forced him to use a redshirt season. His best friend committed suicide.
“It’s been a long road since then,” Amundson says. “I’ve been to a lot of different cities and on a lot of teams, but it’s times like those that make you appreciate where you are.”
College challenged Amundson both physically and emotionally.
Early on, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus – or MRSA, which plagued the sports world at an alarming rate at the start of this decade – was a considerable setback.
Doctors nearly amputated a toe. It showed up in his thumb, and he was forced to sit out 2002-03 for medical reasons.
“It’s so scary,” Amundson told the Sun in March 2005. “It just kept getting worse and worse. Quickly, it goes from something that’s hurting you to something that is seriously wrong.”
In August 2003, Billy Feeney, Amundson’s best friend and high school teammate in Boulder, Colo., who had transferred to New Mexico, was found hanging from a pole outside an Albuquerque apartment complex.
He had been despondent over a breakup with a girlfriend.
Amundson had “BF” and the No. 3 tattooed on the left side of his chest. It was apparent late Sunday night, after he ate a fajita and sat, shirtless, in the corner of the Suns’ locker room.
“I still think about Billy,” Amundson says. “It’s a tough thing. I’ve definitely come to peace with it. It’s just an awful thing. It affects me and it affected me a lot when it happened. I’ll always have him in my heart.”
Amundson occasionally speaks with the late Feeney’s sister, Kayla.
“As time goes by, you grow more comfortable with it, I guess. It took a while. It’s not easy to come to peace with suicide. It wasn’t an accident. There are a lot of questions.”
Accountability and detail
At UNLV, Amundson’s 120 blocked shots are seventh on the school’s career chart. He’s the only Mountain West Conference player to tally at least 20 points and 20 boards in the same game twice.
On the all-league academic team every year, he became a starter – able to bench 250 – his final two seasons under coach Lon Kruger.
“It’s a terrific story, when you think about how hard he worked and how much progress he made,” Kruger says. “To be a fan favorite in Phoenix, on an NBA team, is special.”
In discussing the futures of current young centers Brice Massamba and Carlos Lopez, Kruger often refers to Amundson and Joel Anthony, who is with the Miami Heat, as prime examples of patient development.
“They’re ideal models not just because they made it, but because they worked so hard to get there,” Kruger says. “They didn’t expect it to be easy, and it wasn’t easy.
“They probably wouldn’t have made it had they not had the attitudes they have. Louis’s motor was always running. He’s very active, very athletic. He competes every day. It’s great to see.”
From Kruger, Amundson developed a profound attention to detail and accountability. Kruger never wavered in his belief that Amundson could be a valuable contributor to the Rebels.
Amundson is grateful for certain coaches, like Kruger, who showed him confidence and that he could achieve goals with the proper amount of desire and effort.
“I’ve had instances where I’ve felt a little discouraged, but I didn’t give up,” Amundson says. “I kept working. Eventually, I made it happen … I definitely had some setbacks, but you pick yourself up and keep going.
“If you keep working hard, good things will happen to you.”
Amundson had stints in the NBA Development League, and with the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers, before Phoenix signed him to a two-year deal in August 2008.
With awe, he remembers his first few games in the world’s best basketball league.
“I was still a fan, a little bit star-struck,” Amundson says. “There isn’t much time on the floor to stand and watch, but I’d catch myself in Staples Center or Madison Square Garden … during starting lineups, you get chills.”
Last season, his blue-collar style irked foes Nene (who head-butted Amundson) and Zach Randolph (who punched Amundson.)
“That was pretty wild,” Amundson says. “I was in the thick of things, a lot of different conflicts. That’s just how I play. Some people get under others’ nerves. I’m flying under the radar this season.
“I think more players know about me. They know how I play. They know I’m not a dirty player. Hopefully, I’ll stay out of the controversies this season.”
Before every tip-off, he’s the last Sun to high-five every Phoenix starter. He does it nearly at halfcourt. At timeouts, he’s the first to greet the Suns’ quintet coming off the court with fist bumps.
Like Kruger said, about accountability and knowing your role, Amundson understands about being a model teammate.
“It doesn’t stop when I come out of the game,” he says. “I still want to bring that energy and enthusiasm. I learned my second year when I didn’t play a whole lot.
“You still have to be professional and enthusiastic and pick up your teammates. I know they appreciate it. Whether I’m in or out of the game, that’s my role. I’ll play it the best I can.”
Summertime work with free-throw guru Dave Love has helped Amundson polish his 44.2-percent touch last season to 52.4 percent. He’s averaging career bests with 5.4 points and 4.5 boards.
“I hit it hard this summer, knowing I was going into a contract year,” he says. “But I’ve always been the type to work a lot on my game in the summer and try to get better.
“If you don’t there are so many hungry players that want to be in this league that, the summer you don’t do it is the summer you might get passed up, someone might come in over your head.”
Amundson, who turns 27 in three weeks, will have made $1.65 million at the end of this season.
He bought a home in Denver for his mother, Eloise Berg, and this past summer he got an incredible deal on a bank-owned house in the lakeside boutique McCormick Ranch development.
Amundson remodeled it, tearing out the kitchen floor and cabinets, raising the ceiling and installing new bedroom carpet. He hopes to move in next week.
“I’m in a great spot here,” he says. “I would love to stay here. I love the fans. I love the organization.”
“I know we have a lot of free agents and I doubt I’m the priority,” Amundson says. “I think it’ll all shake out in the end. I’m not too worried about it. I’ll wait and see.”
He did splurge on a Panerai watch. A buddy had one, and Amundson dthought it was classy. Nothing ornate. Like Amundson, it’s understated. No diamonds or gold, but it had a price tag of about $10,000.
And he hates it. It’s automatic, and since he doesn’t wear it every day he must wind it and set the time whenever he puts it on.
“Man, this expensive (bleep) watch … this is b.s.,” Amundson says. “My Timex tells better time.”
The former Rebel that takes a licking and keeps on ticking should have known better.