Ibaka Making Progress Both On, Off The Court

Serge Ibaka’s transition to the United States and the NBA is still in its early stages.

The Thunde rookie has been here since June, but the season is not even a month old.

Still, both he and the organization have seen progress.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said his English has greatly improved over the months. Teammate Jeff Green called Ibaka’s basketball IQ tremendous.

Ibaka, meanwhile, said his confidence has continued to grow.

Wednesday night in Los Angeles was a prime example.

Having played a total of just five minutes prior to the Thunder’s game against the Clippers, Ibaka was called upon during the fourth quarter of a tight game. And Ibaka responded well, scoring four points, blocking a shot and grabbing three rebounds – two offensive – before fouling out in the Thunder’s 83-79 victory.

Brooks said that Ibaka’s energy gave the Thunder a chance to win.

“He looked good last game,” Brooks said. “That’s all he can do, is when his name is called to go in there and hustle and create energy and rebound and block shots, and he did that.”

Said Ibaka: “That’s given me more confidence and that’s very important for me. I thank my teammates. The first game in Sacramento, those two minutes gave me more confidence for the next time.”

His confidence on the court was evident. Off the court, he’s speaking English more confidently; Friday was just the third time he had spoken to reporters without the help of a translator.

Given the language barrier and the circumstances that faced him on the court, Green was impressed with the way Ibaka handled himself on Wednesday.

“He knows how to play the game, he knows about spacing,” Green said. “He can look at a play and remember it. But we’re also there to help him if he forgets. For him to be his first year in the league, as far as the language barrier and everything, I think he’s doing a pretty good job of understanding a lot of things.”

Ibaka credited his teammates for helping him learn English on top of the classes he said he’s currently taking. In two months, Ibaka said he hopes his English will be much improved. Ibaka said his favorite word he’s picked up, slang or otherwise, is “baby,” which he and his teammates toss around with each other. Ibaka still reads his French version of the Bible prior to every game, just so he can brush up on one of four languages he speaks, and considers himself to be a religious person.

Another part of Ibaka’s transition has been the travel. This will be his first trip to most NBA cities. While Green said that the team often takes him out to dinner on the road, or just goes exploring, Ibaka said there’s a time and a place for that.

“It’s new for me but the most important thing is to focus on basketball and not the city,” Ibaka siad. “That’s the most important thing for me. I know the cites are beautiful but I need to focus more on my job. Maybe after the regular season I can go back to L.A. for vacation, but for now I focus on basketball.”

And as far progress on the basketball court goes, Ibaka said he’s been focusing on the defensive end.

“I think I’ve progressed more on defense,” he said. “My defense is better because we work every day to make a difference (defensively). It’s important because we have people who can score. The team needs people for energy, more defense. The coaches before the last game told me to go in for energy, to run, block and defend.”

Said Brooks, “I see good things from him every day.”

Contact Chris Silva