The Jan Vesely Interview (Pt. 2): Mambas and Cars, Fouling and Flopping & EuroBasket and the D-League
[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 second of a two-part translation of that interview; click here to read part one. —Kyle W.]
*SWEATING BLOOD (Part 2)*
Coach Randy Wittman stressed that at least one of the Wizards’ young big men—[Trevor] Booker, [Chris] Singleton, [Kevin] Seraphin, and you—has to get significantly better, because the organization wants to know who’s the best long-term investment. So will this be the most crucial summer of your career?
Definitely. And that’s why I’m going to America for two months, where I wanna sweat blood. The coach from Slovenia I mentioned [Mirsad Alilovic], he’s known me since I was 16 years old, so he knows my thinking, and that’s going to help me mentally.
Coach Wittman didn’t like that you “hid from the ball” during games…
This follows my answer about free throws. Sometimes it was the case, not that I did it outright intentionally, but I just didn’t show up for the ball the way I should have shown up.
You did sometimes have quality stints on the floor, where you were flying all over. Why couldn’t you replicate those more often?
I could do it when I played [enough minutes]. For example, I played 20 minutes with eight points and eight rebounds against the Thunder, then I got DNP-CDs the next three games. When you do something good at work and then you’re overlooked for a month, that doesn’t help much. So I don’t know how to interpret that. And when I did get on the court for five minutes, I don’t know why I was sent there. So after one good game I sat on the bench for three games, then came those five minutes, after that 20. Then I only played the last 30 seconds of a game.
Can you say which things made you lose confidence?
When I played, let’s say, those five minutes, I tried to be aggressive, but, for instance, I got whistled for two quick fouls and was sent back to the bench. I was overdoing it, not being patient. I have to find a fine line between being aggressive and not overdoing it.
It’s not any news that you get criticized for fouling. Do you still get whistled for those “rookie” fouls?
Yeah, sometimes, but every so often it’s my stupid foul. But mostly it was [caused] by my unsettled position in the rotation. When I went out there on the hardwood, I made an effort to show them I can play and [unfortunately] it was too aggressive. Sometimes, when I managed to make some good defensive plays, I got into the groove and was flying all over the court, staying out there for 20 minutes. But when I go back to sit down [on the bench] after two minutes—you practically can’t do anything in such a short time—and then I come back on the floor later, I no longer had that drive in me. It’s just that everyone is better off playing long stretches.
Do you hope that NBA Summer League and EuroBasket 2013 will mean a great opportunity for you to pick up the lost confidence a little?
I take EuroBasket as a bigger opportunity. Firstly, it’s about gaining confidence, and secondly it’s about showing that I can play.
What did you say about the opinions that the Wizards could have sent you down to the D-League to get a playing rhythm?
I would rather go back to Europe. Every basketball player fights to get to the NBA, and on the top of that, there’s not a lot of team basketball in the D-League. That’s just my opinion. After the season, I talked with people from the Wizards’ front office, and they said they had contemplated it, but eventually decided to not send me down. I wouldn’t want to play in the D-League whatsoever. I want to play in the NBA, not the D-League.
For NBA players, is being sent down to the D-League a stigma?
Well, maybe it helps getting a playing rhythm a bit, but I’m not a guard who can dribble up and down the floor and score 30 points. I take the D-League as a competition where you can collect some points…
Your Czech NBA predecessor, Jiri Welsch, lasted four years in the NBA with averages of 6.1 points in 18.6 minutes per game. Have you spoken with him about his NBA experience yet?
I’ve yet to meet him personally. Now in the summer, I‘ll try to ask him about it. And George Zidek (another former Czech NBA player) said to me in January that mostly I just have to stay ready.
Randy Wittman remarked that your main task of the summer would be to work on your psyche. How can you?
Well, this month [May], I got the chance to be at home with my family. I don’t deal with basketball now, except for several interviews with journalists. And in June, I’ll work on it with my coach. I think he will instill confidence in me and will help me to retrieve that Partizan killer instinct.
You’ve already said that the NBA is mainly about confidence. The best players must not doubt themselves at any point of the season.
That’s exactly how it is. They must not! You gotta believe you’ll make the shot. Even when shots don’t fall for you in the game.
In the NBA it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many point guards are big-time scorers and sometimes they are perhaps more focused on scoring than passing and creating shots for teammates. Is it true?
Here, it’s not like in Europe where a point guard scores four points and has a bunch of assists. In the NBA, he can have six assists, but he scores more points. Sometimes they have plenty of points plus many assists. The whole NBA is simply focused on getting buckets, even when you are a point guard. He holds the ball the longest, so he has lots of opportunities to score.
What about zone defense, do teams use it more compared to the past?
A couple of times I’ve seen it, but [teams] don’t use it much. Because of the defensive three-second [violation] rule, you can’t play the 2-3 zone, it has to be the 3-2 zone. And when it’s the 2-3 zone, big men have a lot of work to do getting out of the paint, or they have to constantly be touching or within arm’s length of someone [opponent] in order to not commit a violation.
Are there fewer flops after the NBA released guidelines for the anti-flopping rule, with floppers being fined?
I don’t know whether, after some of our games, certain situations were reviewed, but I think now there’s less of those moments that deserved at least a warning in the past. Overall, I think there’s less flopping, players don’t try to fall to the floor without reason. Personally, I didn’t violate the rule.
A couple of months ago, there was an article wondering why so few NBA players average 20 or more points per game. Is there suddenly less big-time scorers in the NBA these days? Did defenses improve a lot? In a perfect world, how many points would be required from you?
Averaging some nine points and nine rebounds would be good. Take those nine points: fastbreaks are six points, a free throw or two make it seven or eight, and perhaps a made long jumper … we are at 10 points. With John [Wall], there will be more of those fastbreaks opportunities, and if I could play 20 minutes, it isn’t that difficult [getting to nine points per game]. Even those rebounds, you can grab them at ease. But you have to play and gain confidence. And those defenses? Definitely, defenses keep improving—it is more physical and everybody bangs in the lane. And maybe that anti-flopping rule helped it, too.
Let’s talk EuroBasket. Every second week, FIBA Europe ranks the 24 teams headed for EuroBasket. Lots of times, the Czech Republic was dead last in those power rankings. The national team is a complete underdog.
This is certainly good. Every opponent is going to play Czechs like they have an easy win, and we can only surprise people.
In the preparation leading up to EuroBasket, you will play Turkey twice, then Lithuania, and then the Russians. What do you think about these quality opponents?
It‘ll be a good test. We definitely can’t play weak teams in the preparation, and this will be great.
Have you talked with the [Czech national team] coach about your role and position on the team?
[Yes, but] we haven’t dealt with it [yet]. I just asked him about the plan for the whole summer, and I wanted to say that he can count with me. I’ll join the [Czech national] team immediately after my return from America and expect to arrive at the end of July.
Do you believe that you will adapt back to the European game quickly?
I still have that European-style game in myself. I was never scoring 30 points [per game]. I think that I won’t have a problem with it. It’s just that we have to find the right chemistry on the floor. We have that [preparation] month for it, we’ll be fine.
Your last game for the national team was in 2009. After announcing the intention of playing for the team at EuroBasket, have you noticed the opinion that now it comes in handy for you because you just need to play in some games after a bad season?
I don’t know who is saying this. I want to represent [the country], and there were reasons why I couldn’t the last few years. Those reasons were justified, it was nothing against the national team on my side. There was the Draft, there was the rookie NBA season, and now this emerged and I got a chance to play. After all, I always represented the Czech Republic gladly, since I were 15 years old. And if anyone says that I don’t play for the Czech Republic, look it up on the Internet. Those summers [I wasn’t on the team], I didn’t have any vacation except for about two weeks.
EuroBasket 2013 is a bigger stage than last year’s qualification for it … when the Wizards didn’t recommend you playing, so can we say they want you to play this summer?
They can’t outright prevent me from playing for the national team. Last year, after that Summer League injury, I couldn’t have played anyway. Even if it wasn’t the only reason. I already knew it before [the injury] that I wouldn’t play.
In early May, the Washington Post ran an article about your sophomore season—and there were 219 comments. For example, one comment said that you got visited by family and thus you couldn’t concentrate enough on basketball, that you couldn’t work out more, and that due to EuroBasket, you will have less time to prepare for the next NBA season. Do you surmise, in case your third NBA season starts poorly, that it will all come back at you like a boomerang?
Man, before the preparation for EuroBasket, I’ll be two months in LA! I think it’s pretty soon to deal with such things as early as in May. When the first preparation games start, then people can say something.
If your third NBA season starts developing in a similar way as the second one, would you seriously think about returning back to Europe?
If the Wizards extended my contract by another year—they can exercise the fourth year option [on my rookie deal]—I’d definitely want to try playing another year in the NBA. But I’ll mainly try so that this third NBA season is a good one.
Have you heard anything about Tomas Satoransky’s coming to the Wizards?
I haven’t talked with him yet. I didn’t want to distract him with it, because his season [in Spain] hasn’t ended yet. I’m assuming that the Wizards will probably want him to play in the Summer League this year, too. Regarding its importance, the Summer League is widely watched and it does matter whether a player shows off his skills and his style of the game. But I don’t think that it will be the main thing [for Tomas]. I think, for both of us, EuroBasket will be more important.
Tomas was basically an MVP for his Cajasol team and ranked second in assists per game in the ACB League. Is he ready for the NBA?
I can’t say if he is. We’ve already talked about a player like [Mirza] Teletovic, who didn’t play that much so far. The point is, you gotta fly into the NBA with confidence, not without it…
Last question: Would you wager that you’ll be teammates with Satoransky on the 2013-14 Wizards?
Tough question. I’d be glad if he was on the 2013-14 team. But if I had to wager, I’d say he probably won’t come [to the NBA next season]
Vesely on his Nike Black Mamba sneakers:
When I first put on my Black Mambas in Partizan—my first low-top shoes—they were so stable that I decided to keep them. Now I don’t even take notice that they are low-cut. And as far a my ankles, I tape them for games. I always try to stretch the new ones in practice and then I take them to the game. I don’t like the hardness of new shoes. So I usually wear one or two pairs of sneakers per month, which looks small in comparison to the average in the league, but I like it that way. As for using basketball shoes, I’m probably one of the least demanding players in the league.
Vesely on his housing:
I live in Northern Virginia. Without a traffic jam, I’m in the Verizon Center in ten minutes—I just cross the Potomac River and I’m downtown.
Vesely on his car:
I wanted to buy Porsche Panamera or Range Rover, but in the players’ garage we already have about five of those, thanks to my teammates. So I wanted something else, and I chose Jaguar XJ. Nobody has this model. I’m not afraid of it [getting stolen]. No one would dare to steal it, the whole city is guarded. When I park my car next to the FBI building, I don’t think someone would try stealing it. (Laughs.) I already got a couple of fines for speeding, thanks to the cameras all over the place. But amounts between $20 and $50 aren’t that excessive. You can pay them through the Internet. Just entering a car number plate and I immediately see if I have something there.