East Rutherford, N.J.—After only five years of playing basketball, French native Johan Petro was drafted No. 25 overall by the Seattle Sonics in 2005. He spent 3 1/2 years with the Sonics/Thunder before a midseason trade to the Nuggets. He re-signed for one year in Denver before joining the Nets as a free agent this July.
We recently sat down with Petro to discuss his upbringing in France and Guadaloupe, what's been behind the recent influx of French talent, why he tweets (the story will surprise you) and what makes his mom's tiramisu so amazing. It's time to Experience New Nets!
NJNets.com: You were raised in Guadeloupe, but your bio says you were born in Paris. How long did you live there?
Johan Petro: My six first years. I went to St. Martin when my father changed jobs, and from there I went to Guadeloupe. That’s where my mom and dad are originally from.
NJNets.com: So which do you consider home?
Petro: Both. But I definitely go more often to Guadeloupe because I have more people, more of my family there. And in summertime, it’s better to go to Guadeloupe. (Laughs.)
NJNets.com: Ha. Better than all the cold-weather places you’ve been playing?
Petro: Yeah. I had the chance to go to Denver, one of the coldest cities in the States, and now I’m in Jersey, so we’ll see how that is.
NJNets.com: You become a winter-sports guy?
Petro: Nah, nah. I’m too afraid for my knees.
NJNets.com: Probably smart, ha. Now you started playing basketball at 13 years old – what did you do before that?
Petro: I was in soccer for 2-3 years, and in between I was learning karate for 6-7 years. I did everything in soccer, because when you’re young, you don’t have a position. So I was kind of all over the place. In karate, I was a brown belt. I enjoyed karate; it teaches you a lot about self-control and all that good stuff. I kind of followed what my dad did – he went into soccer, basketball and karate, so I followed him in that.
NJNets.com: You sized out of soccer, but what made you stop taking karate classes?
Petro: Basketball took this big place as soon as it started, and I had to make a choice. I wasn’t going to be a pro karate kid, ha. So I decided to go basketball. As soon as I picked up the ball, it was over after that.
NJNets.com: And from there, you were very quickly absorbed into the French development program?
Petro: Yes. I got involved when I was 14, and then every year after that. My first year of basketball in Guadeloupe, we had this tournament back in France, and that’s when Patrick Cham, who actually saw me play, came to my house in Guadeloupe and asked me if I wanted to go to this big school in Paris, (The National Institute of Sport and Physical Education) where all the guys we know now play: Rony Turiaf, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker. Patrick asked if I wanted to join the school, and it took off from there.
NJNets.com: And then you won a championship with Pau-Orthez in 2004?
Petro: It was my second year pro, so it was scary, because I was 17 at the time. But it was a good experience. It felt like a good achievement, because I had only played basketball for four years, and I was in a big league, I won a championship and I was a part of it. I was playing at the time, and it felt good. It felt real good.
NJNets.com: When did you notice you were attracting NBA attention?
Petro: I knew kind of late, because they didn’t want to tell me. You know, sometimes if they tell you you’ve got a scout coming in, and you think about it and you can’t really play. My agent at the time didn’t tell me what was going on, so I didn’t know. I just decided to try it out. My first year, I decided to put my name in the draft, and then I started to have some good feedback.
NJNets.com: Did you expect to be drafted in the first round?
Petro: No. I mean, I did and I didn’t. As soon as the day of the draft was there, I didn’t know anymore – I just wanted to be in the NBA! (Laughs.) I didn’t even care. I just wanted to get there.
NJNets.com: What was that transition like for you, after having played professionally in France?
Petro: It was tough. Because they were asking me a lot. Me not speaking English at the time, and me not having played that much in the pros, it was a big transition. As soon as I got drafted, I had the chance to start, and I was only 18 at the time. But it was a good experience, I learned a lot and I’m grateful for that.
NJNets.com: Wow. Your English is impressive for only having been here six years. How’d you pick it up?
Petro: Oh, thanks. (From) TV. Nothing in particular. When it started, I used to have subtitles, and with a little time, I just took them out, and that’s how it came.
NJNets.com: Good to know. When did you feel you belonged in the NBA?
Petro: The first practice. I was just playing basketball, not thinking about anything like, ‘Oh, I’m in the league and I just came from France and I shouldn’t be here,’ or any of those type of thoughts that some people might have. I just went out and played basketball and it just went smoothly.
NJNets.com: With guys like Tony, Rony and Boris clearing the lane for French players in the league, did you follow any NBA players before you got here?
Petro: No, because I didn’t know better. I didn’t know who was doing good or doing bad. I was just watching the basics: MJ, and other fancy names.
NJNets.com: Can you remember the first game you watched?
Petro: It was a playoff, a Final: Utah-Bulls. That was the first one that caught my attention.
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