The Jan Vesely Interview (Pt. 1): Sweating Blood, Searching for Confidence & Advice from A.J. Price
[Editor’s note: Jan Vesely recently gave his most candid interview to date in a Czech Basketmag piece titled, “Sweating Blood.” You certainly won’t see Vesely this open with American media, and for the most part, not in interviews with other Czech media, either. Below, TAI’s Czech correspondent, Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow), provides the first of a two-part translation of that interview; click here to read part two. —Kyle W.]
*SWEATING BLOOD (Part 1)*
Honza, when was the first time during the season that you had thoughts about saying goodbye to the NBA?
In November, in December… we finished the training camp, the season began, and I didn’t play. Whereas at the end of my rookie season I played a solid amount of minutes, so there was some frustration. But just being there [in the NBA] is a huge accomplishment, and staying there—it’s a great thing.
The media and basketball experts criticized you quite a bit. They were saying the sophomore season is crucial for the future of a player. How difficult was it to cut off the harsh criticism?
It was difficult. I tried not to read it, just ignore it and continue to work hard. But in a time of social media, it pops up somewhere all the time, and it’s difficult to protect yourself from it.
Your second NBA season wasn’t that good. Was this one of the reasons you didn’t speak to the media as much as you did in your first season?
I wouldn’t say that I avoid the media. I didn’t play much, so that interest was not as high as it had been. And Czech media, when we played in a city where other Czech athletes play, they came to interview me. But definitely answering questions like, ‘Does it take a toll on you?’ or ‘Don’t you want to quit playing in the league already?’ in a season in which I fought with myself, and I tried to somehow assert myself, it’s quite difficult. It was a factor which contributed to less communication [from me].
When you said that for those who haven’t experienced the NBA, it’s difficult to understand your sitation, what did you have in mind the most?
That it’s a great thing to play there at all. People think, when you get to the NBA, then it’s just easy to stay. But here it all starts anew. And you gotta really work hard in order to keep yourself in the league at all. It’s a lot tougher than anywhere in Europe.
Who supported you the most during the season? Family? Maybe Partizan fans, too?
Perhaps the most was my fiancee, Eva [Kodouskova], who lives with me near Washington. She supported me every second, whenever I needed it. And otherwise, of course my family and fans. I still follow Partizan [Belgrade] and they [Partizan fans—”Grobari”] still love me. When there’s a Belgrade showdown [Partizan vs. Red Star], I tweet that I watched the game and that I cheered for them. The tweet has more success than anything else—let’s say even 100 retweets. All my other tweets have 10 retweets, maximum.
How many times have you heard from Grobari that they want you to return to play for Partizan?
I keep hearing it all the time. Minimally, 100 times a year. “Come back, come back!” and they always keep reminding me of the video from my last Partizan game.
At the beginning of the year, lots of your family members visited you in the States. You probably needed it.
My mom was there the whole month of January. In February, my dad arrived. It was great and it helped me. I saw my little 2-year-old sis as well. It was a nice change after practice. And when I didn’t play, they all kept helping me.
You couldn’t be there just by yourself, right?
Well, definitely not. I don’t know what I’d do in that case.
An Anonymous Alcoholics meeting?
(Laughs.) Yeah, maybe. No, I really don’t know.
How could your agents help you in this difficult situation?
They were giving me advice, ‘Be ready. Be positive. Everything’s gonna turn around. Keep practicing and practicing, and when the opportunity comes, take advantage of it.’ It was in a manner where they were not seeking any trade scenarios for me.
During the season, was there any possibility of a trade?
I don’t know. The agent just told me that if I’d want to ask for a trade, we could try something. But in the middle of the season it’s not good [to be traded], and I’m still getting used to a new team, etc. We didn‘t have a bad team, I definitely wouldn’t want to complain. I just needed to fight and gain confidence.
One Western Conference assistant GM allegedly said that you could be a quality role player on a good team. Let’s say on the team like Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, or Rick Adelman’s European-style teams. Do you agree?
I don’t want to brag about myself at all and say ‘Yeah, I have the talent to play for San Antonio,’ but maybe I’d fit right into a European-caliber team, or to a team with players who played in Europe, players that know each other and play really well together on any court.
Did you experience any fun during a season that began with a funeral-like atmosphere? Or did anything funny happen to you in particular?
The season started badly, but we had a good team and everybody was trying to think positive. There was some horseplay in the locker room—we had Martell Webster for that. That guy held the mood up all the time.
However, the same guy, Webster, also revealed that coach Randy Wittman cried in the locker room after that twelfth consecutive loss. Did it really happen?
Various things did occur. It’s true that bringing this out [to the media] was quite rough, but at the particular moment it was an understandable expression of emotion. All the people on the Wizards team just cared, they wanted to improve the situation and individuals show their emotions differently.
Were there worse things happening—rubbish bins thrown, for example?
Nope. There were some speeches, but rubbish bins and tables… this is not Partizan.
[Editor’s note: no fruit plates smashed against the wall, either, we can assume.]
Obviously, your teammates were “forced” to publicly express opinions about you. For example, guard A.J. Price said that he gave you an advice: to play for something or for someone.
I listened to all the advice, and Price himself told me that he plays for his little daughter. That’s why he suggested that I play for Eva or for my family. I said to myself that I would play for myself, my future family, and Eva.
Did you talk the most with Price?
As far as advice is concerned, yeah. He advised me the most, he experienced the same situation, too. It is really hard to be ready for that chance 24/7. In the NBA, that’s the most difficult thing ever. Otherwise, I probably talked the most with Chris Singleton. We play the same position, we were going together for individual workouts.
Price also said that you hate free throws. How much do you hate them, especially after this season when you fell from 53 percent as a rookie to 31 percent?
I wouldn’t say I hate them. It was all about my head—I didn’t want to shoot them because I knew that I’d miss. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to make them—in practice I shot them better—but [on the court], the head was functioning differently than it should.
Some people claimed that because you don’t want to shoot free throws, you’re not that aggressive on the offensive end, you’re not driving to the basket.
Sometimes I did feel this way, that I didn’t want to go shoot a free throw. I didn’t have that confidence, because I knew that I’d play just five minutes. I didn’t know my role and how many minutes I would play.
When Jordan Crawford, without batting an eye, attempted to shoot your free throws in a November game, and the refs even let him to make one before they noticed his trick, it looked like a funny sequence. Did they reprimand you for it afterwards?
No, nobody addressed that at all. NBA referees are real pros, I knew that they would eventually notice. Of course, I didn’t plan anything, Jordan just went there on his own.
Has the fact that you have had to change the style of your shooting stroke since coming to the Wizards influenced your shooting?
It’s possible. Also, I’m still getting used to that transition to playing the power forward position. In Europe, I never had to fight with centers under the basket. On the contrary, I have to do this in the NBA, which is certainly not easy. But I have to accept it and just play. As for alterations of my shooting mechanics, they tried to change it three times already. When you have a player like Kevin Martin who shoots weirdly, and he makes them… It’s not about the style, it’s about the confidence. When they change my style thrice in two seasons, it doesn’t help my head.
There is a lot of weird shooting strokes in the NBA, for example Shawn Marion, and apparently no one changed anything about his shot. Why change yours?
I don’t know why myself. But I’d be glad if it stays as it is now.
Isn’t it time to say something to them and stand by your opinion?
Probably, yeah, I wouldn’t want to change my shot again. Starting in early June, I’ll spend a couple months in Los Angeles, where I’ll work out with my Slovenian coach. I requested from the team that he would work out with me—we’ll work on everything, including 1-on-1 play. I need to improve that in order to attack the basket more. I’ll listen to his advice.
How much did the Achilles injury slow you down in your 2012 offseason workouts?
Quite a bit. It happened to me at the end of the 2012 Summer League, and I had stop working out for three weeks in August. I could have worked out more if I was healthy.
I read an opinion saying that a big man’s development takes longer. It takes longer to prove that you are an NBA-caliber player if you’re a big man. For example, Spanish ACB league MVP Tiago Splitter didn’t have the easiest rookie season in the NBA, and last season he had to endure the ignominy of being intentionally fouled without the ball.
Guards, small players have the ball in their hands far more often, so I’d agree with that. For how hard it is to succeed in the NBA, just look at the case of Mirza Teletovic. Before going to the NBA, he was the best scorer in the Euroleague, averaging 22 points per game, and this season he only played occasionally for the Nets. That [Europe-to-NBA] transition just takes a lot of work. And it’s definitely harder than I expected. NBA is mainly about the confidence. When you come and show it immediately, then you got no problem.
There was a lot of written about the fact that you missed point guard John Wall [while he was injured].
We all know that I like to play fast basketball, I like fastbreaks and to have him on the floor is an advantage for me. Even when he runs into the paint faster than I get there myself, I trail the break and tip-in or put back the shot if he misses. In the half-court offense it’s more difficult, but overall, for myself it’s perfect to play with him. He can find you when you’re open, even when it’s 5-on-5. But when he returned from injury, I stopped playing.
What was the mood of the Wizards fans, let’s say, until the return of John Wall?
Well, some of them came with paper bags over their heads—they didn’t want to watch us play. But when John came back, we often had a full house in the arena. And when 20,000 people come, it has some weight.
If you had Wall for the entire season, would it have been enough for a playoff team?
If we had him in the starting five for the whole season, and if we played the whole season the way we played after his return, we would’ve had a big chance.
Coaches say that in order to earn playing time, you have to work hard in practice. How do you measure up against other Wizards big men?
With Singleton, I can hold my own against him. With others, it’s a bit worse. Except Singleton, they are all built like mountains of meat. For example, [Trevor] Booker has shoulders as big as my head. (Laughs.) It ain’t fun, but when you take into account my body figure, I fight with them under the basket, and they certainly don’t crush me on every possession. When it comes to earning playing time on the floor, the big fight for those minutes occurs mainly in training camp. During the regular season there’s not much time for practice, and I don’t have the type of experience that coach gives minutes to in the actual game from the way you play in practice. But sometimes we play 3-on-3 after practice, and we go after each other out there. It’s rather in order to make each other better. When you don’t go all-out and bang in the lane [in practice], then you can’t play tough against guys like [Carlos] Boozer.
Vesely on his playing weight:
During my second season I weighed around 242 pounds, which was about seven pounds more than I had in my first NBA season. I think if I were 253, packing on more pounds of muscle, that would be cool. The Wizards want me weighing even more than that, but I won’t overdo it. I want to pack on some muscle, but not mountains of meat like Nikola Pekovic (Minnesota Timberwolves), for example.
Vesely on Jason Collins’ coming out:
It was a surprise for everyone—for the guys on the team, for the whole league, and for the whole country. Not even his brother, Jarron, knew it. My agent called me with the news, but even before that some of my friends had sent me some articles about it, but I didn’t believe it. However, the agent told me it’s true. He wanted to let me know. I have had only good experiences with Jason. He’s a great player and a human being, too. Even [Barack] Obama spoke about his courage. Mustering the courage to say he’s coming out—he didn’t know what response it would have and how the people would judge it. He didn’t know if people would condemn him or if they would stay on his side. But the response was good—we are all people and, generally, people don’t deal with these things as much as they would have in the past. Jason can be proud of himself, that he found the courage and went to the public with it.