Those back home in the Czech Republic call Jan Vesely “Honza.” But why?
It’s not akin to a nickname in the traditional sense of the NBA. TAI’s Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) writes:
I’m not much into the origins of names, but probably it’s like the name “William” in English, a common nickname is Bill, Billy, etc. In Czech, it’s Jan > Honza, Honzik, Honzicek. The last two ones are mostly for little kids, and actually “Honza” is how you’d call a friend when talking to him/about him, it’s an informal name. I bet none of his friends calls him Jan.
Still, look up “Honza” according to ‘the Wikipedia‘ and you get a much more interesting answer in the big picture of Vesely’s current basketball struggles:
Honza (John) is a Czech fairy tale character. Sometimes called Hloupý Honza (Dull John) or Líný Honza (Lazy John).
In original uses, Líný Honza is the lazy and inept son of village farmers. His parents send him “to the world” to take care of himself and get experience. On his way, he meets seemingly impossible obstacles (often involving dragon) but outsmarts them all and returns home with fame, riches and a princess as his wife.
While sometimes called Hloupý Honza (Dull John), he is not really dull and in more modern fairy tales he often loses other negative characteristics too.
Lukas had an answer for this, too:
I suppose the name Jan (“Honza”) for the main character is in lots of old Czech (and Slovak) fairy tales just because of the popularity among regular people. I believe it was the most popular name for a male back in Czechoslovakia times. Now it’s a bit outdated, this generation kids have more “modern” names.
Coming to America hasn’t been a fairy tale for Jan. And there’s been seeds of unrest in the homeland, via @Luke_Mellow on Twitter:
Czech Headline of the Day: iSport.cz > “Too Many Losses For Vesely. Maybe A Trade Would Help Him”
— Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) November 24, 2012
iSport.cz: #Wizards not an ideal asylum for starting point to NBA career when you’re a young European player.
— Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) November 24, 2012
Lubos Barton: “I hope the [Jan #Vesely] situation gets better soon or he’ll play for other team where he can be more useful. . . .
— Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) November 30, 2012
Jan is having a very poor sophomore NBA campaign. He hustles on defense, he goes after rebounds, he wants to do everything right. But on offense, he’s still “Dull John” trying to fight over one huge obstacle after another. More fouls than points? Check, 34 to 29. Terrible free throw shooting? You bet, 23.1 percent. Vesely was drafted sixth overall in 2011 and his PER this year is 5.0 (one of the worst sophomore campaigns in NBA history).
The draft after circling the rebuild around John Wall was presumed to be very important for the Wizards. But so far, there’s been more of the dragon wrecking havoc on the team’s foundation than any Vesely wizardry. One result: Vesely’s success has been even more closely connected to “Exciting John” Wall.
In a recent post on his blog, Ted’s Take, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis goes to bat for Vesely. He writes:
Jan Vesely and Trevor Ariza are best situated in a running, fast-paced offense. We have now had to slow down play without John Wall in the lineup, and we are asking players to play half court sets. This is a miss -match for their specific skill sets. Jan Vesely is in his second year of development. You always support a young, talented player, who is 7 feet tall, can run and is fundamentally sound. Jan has our support, and is working hard to develop his all-around game. But this is his second year in the NBA, and he is playing without a starting point guard who can push the pace of play. We shouldn’t be so fast to write him off as a player. This is easy to do in media but not something that is smart to do for our franchise.
The Washington Post’s Michael Lee relayed a similar sentiment this past weekend:
The Wizards have yet to have John Wall on the court this season and Vesely probably feels his absence more than any player on the roster. Wall’s speed helped the Wizards get fast-break opportunities and he was never afraid to throw a lob from beyond the three-point line—or even half court—and watch Vesely throw it down.
“I like fast basketball. Running with John Wall on the fast break, that’s nice, but it’s not everything. I just need to know how to play with everybody,” Vesely said. “I blame myself for that.”
There’s something to all of this. This season the Wizards play at the 25th-fastest pace in the NBA, averaging 93.21 possessions per 48 minutes. The old, “grind-it-out” San Antonio Spurs play at the NBA’s eight-fastest pace, averaging 95.57 possessions per 48. Last season the Wizards played at the league’s seventh-fastest pace, 95.11; in Wall’s rookie year, the ninth-fastest pace, 96.47.
But there’s also something to being able to sustain without John Wall. The Chicago Bulls have managed to win games without Derrick Rose, currently posting an 8-7 record. The Bulls roster, in addition to Rose, is littered with their own draft acquisitions who are contributing at various levels this season (PER-wise): Joakim Noah (drafted 9th in 2007 / 18.4 PER), Taj Gibson (26th in 2009 / 13.7), Jimmy Butler (30th in 2011 / 16.8), and Marquis Teague (29th in 2012 / 4.4), and you could even count Kirk Hinrich (7th in 2003 / 9.0), and Luol Deng (7th in 2004—draft day trade with Phoenix / 15.4 PER).
The Washington Wizards have not cultivated a similar environment of confidence as the Chicago franchise, or a lot of franchises.
Confidence plays an immeasurable role, as usual. And right now, perhaps always, Vesely is not the type of player who creates and exudes confidence, but rather one whose confidence feeds off that of a cohesive unit. He says so much himself via Lee’s story:
“When I was in Europe, I was winning all the time. Sometimes we lose a lot of games in a row and I’m not used to it. I mean, it’s tough for everybody to play with confidence.”
The problems partially originate from the necessary jettisoning of previous building blocks of Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. They were supposed to be the team-cultivated Hinrich, Deng and Noah by the time Washington landed Wall with the first overall pick like Chicago did with Rose. Instead, the gross failure in player development that has yet to be explained nor accounted for by Ted Leonsis, as well as tumultuous comings and goings—treading water after trades, buyouts and departures by amnesty ax—has accelerated expectations for the next generation of Wizards. Perhaps the “throw the kids in the pool” strategy will ultimately help them, but in the sense of a team learning how to win, even in the contingency of playing without Wall (or Nene), ill-fitting parts and bad timing have battled mightily against confidence.
And thus, these Wiz Kids can’t win, even with the addition of well-paid veterans like Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. And thus, confidence can’t be found, it must be attained. And thus Jan “Honza” Vesely, and all of the Wizards struggling finding their way in the world, almost always see confidence as a mirage. Washington is a team ill-equipped by design, but one that holds out hope in its distant completeness nonetheless.
Leonsis also writes in the same, aforementioned blog post:
Young players develop at their own pace and in context to how the team is developing and playing. When you are a sitting with one win this season, it is very easy, and frankly casual, to critique very young players.
Leonsis would go on to use “frankly” one additional time in his blog post. Washington brass proudly achieved quick turnover, they made the team younger, and now they must explain the curious natures of individual learning curves.
Will the Wizards, and Jan Vesely, ever break out of their funk? Setting up John Wall as savior may be one hope, but it can’t be the only hope. And right now, if the success of Washington’s rebuild is in any way contingent on preventing young Honza from tainting his fairytale by returning home after tragedy with neither fame nor riches to show for it, then the answer will be simple: Good luck.