It was painful, at times, watching Jan Vesely play in the NBA. For two-plus seasons, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 Draft tried to please the Washington Wizards, but at every turn he ran into brick walls -- some his doing, some not.
His above-the-rim potential playing for European power Partizan in Serbia, where he won the FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year award in 2010, tantalized the Wizards, who envisioned him being the athletic frontcourt compliment to John Wall and Bradley Beal. And in doing so, the Wizards took Vesely over the likes of Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. (That last sentence figuratively sucks the marrow out of your soul.)
But Vesely couldn’t operate -- at all -- outside the paint. He didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer in three years. He was radioactive at the line, topping out at 53 percent his rookie season and falling from there. And he couldn’t defend without fouling -- a lot, thus negative potential defensive advantages his hops could give him.
After 141 games the Wizards punted, sending Vesely to Denver in a three-team deal for The Professor, Andre Miller. And after finishing his season with the Nuggets, Vesely went back to Europe -- but not to finish in obscurity. Playing for legendary Coach Zeljko Obradovic for Fenerbahce of the Turkish Super League, Vesely has found the joy in his game again. He’s not doing a whole lot different for Fenerbahce than he’s done throughout his career offensively, but he’s also become a good screener and offensive rebounder. The NBA is surely a 3-point league now, but big men who can screen effectively and make themselves available for lobs have a place in today’s four-out one-in game: think DeAndre Jordan, Clint Capela.
Vesely’s three years with Fenerbahce, where he played with Ekpe Udoh and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who signed with Sacramento this summer, have ended with three straight EuroLeague Final Fours. Fenerbahce lost in the semis in 2015, and the finals, in overtime to CSKA Moscow, in 2016. But this past May, in front of their home fans in Istanbul, Fenerbahce bagged the elephant, beating Olympiakos 80-64 in the championship game. Vesely acquitted himself well, and reportedly drew interest this summer from the Nets, Dallas and Philadelphia. But Vesely will go back to Fenerbahce for 2017-18, putting a potential rapprochement with the NBA on hold for at least a year. We’re all suckers for a comeback story, though. To be continued.
Me: Coming off the big season both personally and teamwise, how do you feel about where you are right now?
Jan Vesely: I feel great. Last season, it was my third season with Fenerbahce, and we’ve made the Final Four (of the Super League) two times. We lost in the semifinals (his first season) and the second year we were in the finals. Tough two seasons but this past season was one of the best seasons of my career. We won the trophy (in EuroLeague). That’s why I play here. It was amazing.
Me: I know a big reason you went to Fenerbahce was to play for Coach Obradovic. What has he done for you and your career?
JV: Before I signed with Fenerbahce and before I came to work with him, we spoke one summer in Las Vegas at the Summer League. He was asking how the situation was where I was. I said it was not so good. He said okay, whenever you want I’ll be more than happy if you come to Fenerbahce and come with me. One year after that I signed there. He’s doing a lot for me. He’s given me confidence, given me a role in the team. I’m one of the leaders. You don’t see that in the points but you see it in the energy stuff, defense, helping teammates and stuff like that. This kind of stuff. He give me a chance to play after my career in the NBA, which wasn’t good. He gave me an opportunity to play on a high level. He has a lot of expectations, and I love this kind of pressure.
Me: Was it important that you play for a coach that would let you play to your strengths instead of making you do things that weren’t natural for you?
JV: Of course, of course. Coach Obraovic is now nine-time EuroLeague champion. He knows exactly what each player can do and he tries to get maximum from each player, especially with me. He knows he can play me at different positions with different players on the court. He helps me to improve and to play a good game and it also helps the team to have different kind of variations in offense, and especially on defense. With those kinds of stuff he knows exactly what he can do. He gives you the opportunity to use it how you can use it and that’s the most important thing.
Me: What’s the level of physicality in the SuperLeague and EuroLeague?
JV: It’s tough. It’s not easy of course. It’s not too physical like in the NBA. But it’s still, it’s tough games. Sometimes you play 55 to 57 games (in a season). It’s not a lot of scoring. It’s about defense, playing good defense. It gets you tired. It’s not about strength but how good in shape you are, and you have to react, especially in Europe. You have a half second to react on the court, when is the rotation is coming, stuff like that. Defense, it’s more close than in the NBA, everybody helping each other weak side, switching defense. You have to be quick with your reaction.
Me: What did it mean for you to contribute to the EuroLeague championship?
JV: I’m the kind of player and kind of person that I put the team interest in front of myself. If I score five points and get five rebounds, but we win the game, for me, I’m much happier with that than if we lose the game and I score 20 and 10 rebounds and I make double doubles, triple doubles. I think I can help somebody. If somebody’s tired I say okay, you rest and now I’ll go play defense for you. You take my player which is so not as aggressive on the floor. And we win the game and we win the trophy. I think that’s my contribution to the team. Every game I try to give the maximum on both sides and that’s it.
Me: What is the atmosphere like there?
JV: First of all, the fans are incredible. The atmosphere they make every game, it gives you so much energy that sometimes you don’t think that you are tired. Fans are jumping and screaming. However I play now, I’ll have more energy. They give you that kind of energy and they push you forward. The organization is great, it’s very close to the NBA in its standards. We have our own arena, just for us. The facility, everything is new. Generally the life in Istanbul, it’s great. There’s a lot of opportunities, dinners, restaurants, coffee places. It’s unbelievable, the shopping. The life is nice here, and the fans respect you. Everybody’s involved, especially after we won the EuroLeague it’s more crazy on their part. Everybody comes like LeBron James coming. It’s a big achievement for Turkey and Fenerbahce and myself. It’s great.
Me: Did you talk with your Czech Republic teammate Tomas Satoransky about his season with the Wizards?
JV: We talked during the season a couple of times. We saw each other at the end of the summer, at my wedding and at his wedding. We had time to talk a little bit. It’s not easy, the first season for a European player to the NBA. It’s a whole new system, different people, different types of players. It’s more physical in the NBA. It’s not easy. He was struggling. But I told him that I ended up a similar situation. I tried to tell him just to stay positive. All you can do is work hard and prove to the coaches and the management that you are here for a reason. He was trying to do that. He’s very passionate about basketball. It’s very hard for him to go through that situation but he’s mature enough and crazy about basketball enough that he will do a good job. The season is over now and there’s a new one in front of him, and I think he’s going to do much more better, for him, mentally.
It’s not like I’ve closed the door. I’m waiting for the right situation ... For me, personally, the important thing is to have a good coach who understands you and understands what you can do.
Me: What did you learn from your time in Washington, with all the expectations?
JV: (laughs) What did I learn? I came from Belgrade to there. I was a star in there and everybody’s telling you how good you are. I was proving that in Partizan and then I came to the NBA. It was a total shock for me. I don’t think in that moment I was ready for it. It was like I got slapped in the face, I came here and it was like, wow, what is happening? I learned a lot of stuff -- to work with your body in different kind of situations. In Europe, you have one month off; in the NBA, if you don’t make the playoffs, you have six months off. You have to make the schedule for yourself tor the whole year. In Europe they give you the schedule is done and you go for vacation two, three weeks, and you do something and again you start with the team (again). Also…I think I grew up outside of the court if I’m not talking basketball wise. I learned a lot off the court…you can also learn from watching the players. Unbelievable players. You can learn a lot watching them play.
Me: So what is the chance you come back to the NBA some day?
JV: Actually, I’m still thinking about it. It’s not like I’ve closed the door. I’m waiting for the right situation, like we were talking about. For me, personally, the important thing is to have a good coach who understands you and understands what you can do. I don’t want to go back or only I say ‘okay, I’m here, what are we going to do?’ I don’t want that. I like basketball and I like to compete. And Coach Obradovic, he’s given me that position. And if I go back one day I want to be at least in the similar situation. I’m not expecting to come and be the main player and to be I don’t know what. But to exactly know what situations I’m okay in, or what I’m accustomed, or my job is this. If a coach or GM tells me your job is to make these kinds of rebounds and play defense and score this, and I do that, I expect to keep playing. Sometimes that didn’t happen when I was there. But looking for the good situation and team. So I didn’t close the door for sure.
Me: Is it important to prove to people that you’re good enough to play in the NBA?
JV: It is important, but it’s not the main thing. You feel you can go to a bad team and a bad situation and you cannot do anything even if you want. Of course I want to go to the NBA and prove I can play in the NBA, but on the other hand if the situation is not right, I can’t do It by myself. Because I’m a different kind of player. I can’t take the ball and score 40 alone. I need the team around and get something from the players so I can make a position for myself. I’m doing the same thing here. That’s the thing.
Me: There was some talk this summer that some NBA teams asked about you coming over. What didn’t feel right? Was this just not the right time to do it?
JV: The thing is, it wasn’t too serious a conversation about it…a lot of bigs was not signed yet (in the NBA). It was too long to wait. First of all, I had the option in my contract, until July 15; I can leave any time up to that, but not past that. For example, Mason Plumlee signed (in Denver) a couple of days ago. That was one of the bigs that wasn’t signed. I wasn’t in a situation where I can talk to the teams and stuff. There was free agency and a lot of bigs at my position. I didn’t pay too much attention; my manager was talking to the teams. I was waiting for the situation but it didn’t get too serious..
Me: Do you think the NBA game is more suited to your skills now than it was when you were playing here?
JV: I think so. It’s more small ball. It’s not about big guys posting up and stuff. It’s more quick for sure. I was playing with John Wall and he’s playing the same tempo than when I was there. I can’t say it’s slower. But for sure, the NBA is different than I was there. But I think I can do it in the right situation. I think I can help a team a lot with those little things. There’s no bigs posting up. They’re not waiting for the big guys to cross half court. For sure, it’s a lot of quick basketball, up and down. It’s changed. I think it’s more watchable, it’s more fun to watch high tempo basketball.
Me: And you played with Ekpe Udoh, who signed with Utah this summer. And his career path is eerily similar to yours—he was the sixth pick in the first round of the 2010 Draft, a year before you went to Washington with the exact same pick, a lot of expectations he didn’t live up to, he went to Europe and improved, and now he’s back. So I have to ask if you look at him and say ‘if he can do it, I can do it?’
JV: Yes, of course. Actually, he was the main player with us last year and after the season he was the MVP of the Final Four, and it was understandable that he would go there. Of course when I saw that he signed with Utah, I was thinking the same—okay, he went there; why can I not go? In this situation, of course, I’m thinking about it, and like I said before, I still haven’t closed the door on the NBA. Still watching it and trying to get better at Fenerbahce and see what happens.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
--Toronto’s Serge Ibaka (@sergeibaka), a native of the Republic of Congo, Wednesday, 5:40 p.m., after President Trump referred to “Nambia” -- non-existent country he apparently believed was in Africa -- during remarks at the United Nations Wednesday. The White House later said he was referring to Namibia.
THEY SAID IT
“That was just me being a total (expletive) idiot. I own up to it. I want to move on from it. It probably hit me probably harder than what everybody (thought). Everybody else was telling me to relax, to snap out of it, but I was really, really upset with myself more than anything. It’s not the fact that people were talking about me, because I deserve that, but I’m just more upset with myself that I let myself go that far, you know what I was saying? It was a joke to me at first. I was doing it all summer, and it went too deep. I went too hard… I haven’t slept in two days, two nights. I haven’t ate. It’s crazy, because I feel so (expletive) pissed at myself and I’m mad that I brought someone into it.”
-- Kevin Durant, to USA Today, confirming that he addressed Twitter critics in the third person -- though he denies it was with a separate and anonymous account -- and bashed the Thunder and Billy Donovan in the process in explaining why he left OKC for the Warriors.
“When I took the job, my wife asked me ‘will there be any media?’ I said ‘it’s the Warriors -- nobody cares.’”
-- Warriors general manager Bob Myers, to the San Jose Mercury News, on his unexpected star turn in the spotlight since taking over as the Dubs’ GM in 2011.
“I love chicken. Can we not talk about chicken?”
-- Pacers big man Al Jefferson, to the Indianapolis Star, detailing how he’s lost 40 pounds since coming to the team in 2016 by eliminating, among other things, chicken from his diet.
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