Tomas Satoransky: Still On the Washington Wizards’ Czech List
[Ed. Note: Jan Vesely is a semi-distant memory in Denver, but the Washington Wizards still hold the rights to another prospect from Czech Republic, Tomas Satoransky.
As Satoransky's season in the Spanish ACB League winds down, TAI's Czech correspondent, Lukas Kuba, stops by to catch us up on what Saty's been doing, as well as translate some recent interviews that he's given. -Kyle W.]On a January evening in Catalonia, Spain, a Prague-born high-flier with a big heart was sitting in the last row of the bus, alone—headphones on but no music playing, r
Scenes like these illustrate why the guy’s such a
favored teammate of everyone from Jan Vesely to Marcus Landry, his prankster deeds notwithstanding.
Tomas Satoransky, 22, is
the precocious leader of the Cajasol Seville basketball squad. This season, he’s been better not just by his box score numbers, but he’s been showing growth and maturity off the court, too. Now in his fifth campaign in the capital city of Andalusia, Sevillians count on their young veteran leader to come through night after night. You can’t exactly say it’s a whole new responsibility for “Saty”—he was the team’s most valuable player last season—but this year it’s clearer than ever. Still exuding the brave recklessness of a late teenager, he took over the reins of the team before the start of the season, and with it came the need for real qualities of a leading man. Satoransky has all of those and more.
“We have a young team and I am the one who has spent the last five years on the team so I have to take the responsibility,” he said. “Yes, this year I think I’m more mature, even if it’s logical because I’m a year older. I try to do my best, being a leader is my role on the team this season.”
The tone of Saty’s voice gives off confidence:
“They [coaches] haven’t told me that I have to be the leader of this team, I realize that myself. I gotta lead the team, along with the help of Joan Sastre, and teach my younger teammates the way we wanna play. I’m glad I’m in this position to help them. Even when I was a young kid, since I started playing basketball I’ve always generally played with older guys. That lasted until the last season, when I was already considered kind of a veteran player, which was a paradox because I was just 21 years old. I always enjoyed playing against older guys, you got a chance to prove yourself against those [experienced] competitors. There was an extra motivation [to play better than them.]“
The average age of the 2014 Cajasol team is 22, and there are only three players on the roster who are at least one year older than Satoransky (University of Wisconsin’s Marcus Landry, Scott Bamforth from Weber State, and Alex Urtasun). Nevertheless, Saty’s leadership for a team built this way is special by any measure: tangible, intangible or visual. He’s
the second leading scorer for Cajasol (12.3 PPG), first in assists per game (4.6, fourth overall in the ACB) and first in Rating aka Valoracion or VAL (16.0, eighth overall).
Check out Satoransky’s season-by-season progress in VAL (the Spanish version of PER) in the ACB:
- 2009-10 – 2.5
- 2010-11 – 6.8
- 2011-12 - 3.9
- 2012-13 – 13.6
- 2013-14 – 16.0
And I shouldn’t forget to mention this impressive stat: Tomas, the point guard, is fourth on the team in rebounds per game (3.6). Of course, the stats aren’t be all and end all, but looking at them you get a sense of just how important is Satoransky for the relative success of this year’s team.
“Such numbers, that sounds great, but this season we have more players who can contribute in games. I have a role that also comes from the fact it’s my fifth year playing for Cajasol.”
When comparing Satoransky’s 2013-14 season to his last one, stat-wise, one cannot come to any other conclusion other than … yes, Tomas is still growing up before the eyes of Spanish fans and becoming a player to be reckoned with, at least in European and FIBA ball. His percentage from the 3-point line is up by almost three percent (.366, on 71 total attempts); his charity-stripe percentage is up as well (.810); he’s durable (averages 31 minutes per game); and his assists, boards, and steals (1.5 SPG, sixth overall) have improved and his turnovers are down to 2.5 per game.
“What’s very important this season compared to the last one, is just my consistency. That’s what I’ve always lacked and what coach Aito [Garcia Reneses] and his coaching staff always insist: being more consistent than I was before. We have a lot of talented players, just more weapons [this year]. For example, we have more shooters than last year: Scott Bamforth is playing well these days, Marcos Mata is a good shooter.”
As for the dreaded turnover stuff? There’s progress in what has been the one recurrent weakness
in Satoransky’s game. (Remember, he led the Spanish 2012-13 Liga Endesa in TOs.)
“I’ve always had problems with turnovers. [For example,] Against CAI Zaragoza I had three, but I think I’m improving slowly but surely. I think it’s very important for the whole team, and I do realize that.”
Throughout the season, Satoransky has been watching
Showtime’s Netflix’s “House of Cards” series and reading Rafael Nadal’s book, which was a recommendation of his beloved coach, Aito. It’s basically offers an insight into how sports winners and champions are forged through a combination of successes and failures. Like Rafa dealing with his family problems and career-threatening injuries, Tomas has had his own share of tough times in life.
Milan Ryska—a former Czech Republic 16-year-old basketball super talent and Satoransky’s teammate, classmate and a good friend (they often shared a desk at school)—committed suicide in February of 2009 when they were high school sophomores. Some Czech news websites reported
that the suicide was because of unrequited love, but Tomas, and Ondrej Balvin, then a student at the same school and now Saty’s teammate with Cajasol, say they don’t think it was because of a girl.
“Everybody liked Milan. He was always smiling and funny and you would never know he had any problems… That’s why it shocked us all so hard. We try to don’t think about it because the life goes on and you can’t bring back someone‘s life.”
Watching the video in the previously linked article, you can see how saddened and distressed Saty looked. He still has trouble talking about it, but five years ago he had to learn how to cope with the aftershocks of death, a difficult experience which made him grow up faster. By then, Satoransky was already playing pro ball in his second season with Czech Republic National Basketball League’s USK Prague club. He’s a product of the youth ranks at USK and his high school experience was different from most: he studied at a grammar school in Prague, in a class with a special program for young teen athletes.
“[Being able to study there] gave me the ability to practice and play basketball more [than other high school kids in Czech Rep.] and to improve a lot. Teachers were more patient with me, because normally when you attend a regular public school they don‘t accept you missing lots of classes.”
To make up for lost study time, Tomas had to go to summer classes in order to get his grades high enough to graduate from grammar school. He never minded the early morning or afternoon practices with other school’s basketball players instead of sitting in classes.
“The school principal loved sports and he always supported us and gave us a lot of confidence,” Tomas reminisced on the times spent in a special environment for athletes.
Although he hasn’t graduated yet, Satoransky is wise beyond his years and knows his country’s important history. It was early in the current season, on Nov. 17 last year, when he played one of his best games (against CAI Zaragoza), amassing 16 points, six assists and four rebounds in a win. It was also a special day, to say the least, for all the freedom-loving people in the Czech Republic. It marked the 24th anniversary of a student demonstration in Prague suppressed by the Communist Party’s riot police, an event that sparked a series of other popular protests and the starting point of the Velvet Revolution. The end of 41 years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia was near. Nowadays, Nov. 17 is a national public holiday, dubbed the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.
“When I see this day [on the calendar], I reflect on what happened in 1989 with the Velvet Revolution. I remember because it‘s a topic that has been discussed a lot in the Czech Republic and I think we’re always going to remember it because living under communism was hard. It definitely affects you because your parents and your grandparents have lived through those trying times.”
Thanks to the brave efforts of people like the late Vaclav Havel, Satoransky was born into democratic Czechoslovakia.
“My parents and grandparents kept telling me that the chances for better life were slim then [before 1989]. You had no opportunities to study abroad [in the Western world], you couldn’t have gone to Spain to start playing basketball here as I did, they couldn’t buy what they wanted and so on, so this is a very special day for people in our country, because that’s when the Revolution started and we began to be free.”
Some call Saty a free spirit (the “I have fun everywhere I am“ quote), but what’s indisputable is he’s got a basketball spirit first and foremost. Where will that basketball spirit take him? Playing in the best league on the planet—one day—is still his ultimate goal and dream.
“In Washington, the Wizards were very pleased with my progress last season. They wanted me to maintain this level of play in Europe [this season] and they believe that I can get even better down the road.”
Cajasol didn’t play in Eurocup this season, which means more time for Satoransky’s individual workouts and more time spent in the weight room. Having the experience of going to NBA pre-draft workouts, the 2012 NBA Draft Combine, and the 2012 Summer League, Tomas knew he had to transform his body to even better athletic/muscular shape in order to survive at the NBA level. Simply, a physical change was a must.
“I got a little tired after the long summer I had, but now that I‘m recovered 100 percent physically, I do weights and other individual work.”
So far, so good. The difference may be subtle, but it’s a safe bet it got noticed by the always-present basketball scouts.
“It helps a lot in having more stamina, I got more energy for longer periods of time, and that helps me to be able to defend more actively and even to press full-court.”
On the other end of the floor, Satoransky feels more comfortable this year surrounded by more quality shooters who are able to knock down shots off his passes. Saty’s at his best when he penetrates to the hoop, drawing the defenses in, and then dishing to an open teammate. It’s his trademark: seeing the floor very well and excelling at driving the ball.
“This year the paint is more open, and thus it’s easier to drive out there—to finish at the rim or kick it out to our shooters. [Besides] I think what also gives me more peace of mind is I believe that this year the roles on the team are better defined [compared to last season].”
Of course, he’s at his best in the open court, running on the break, and slashing to the basket like a horse galloping through a grassy plain. They say speed kills. And he has speed you can’t teach.
“I feel comfortable playing both ways, in an uptempo style or executing in the halfcourt, but obviously I’m at my best when I run with the ball into fast breaks. [Also] I am a person who likes to show emotions out on the floor.”
Now’s a good time to watch some of his highlights from 2013-14 (along with those of Kristaps Porzingis, Satoransky’s 18-year-old Latvian running mate). Click here to view via acbtv.acb.com.
There was plenty of emotion among Cajasol players on March 8, the day when Satoransky swished a trey at the buzzer to give his team an important road victory versus Bilbao (82-79). After the game, Tomas said it was “the most clutch basket” of his career. That big shot kept Cajasol in the playoff race, as they currently sit in the last spot with a 15-14 record and five games remaining.
Whether Satoransky leads his team to the ACB Playoffs after missing out last year or not, there is a lot of value in the player the Wizards drafted in 2012 and still own the rights to. Because, bottom line, as Czech Rep. national team coach Ronen Ginzburg put it recently: First of all, Tomas has got a big heart and that’s a wonderful thing.
Satoransky’s quotes of note from an interview
in the winter issue of Czech Basketmag magazine:
On communicating with the Wizards front office:
I mostly communicate with Tommy Sheppard, with whom I’ve run into at EuroBasket  a few times. We talked about our games there.
On playing with Jan Vesely on the Wizards someday:
[The Wizards] They didn’t exercise the fourth-year option on his [Vesely‘s] contract, so I suppose he won’t be with the Wizards come this fall. So the likelihood of us two playing together [on the Wizards] is almost zero. It was a little disappointing for me.
On if his chances to go to the NBA are bigger after a successful EuroBasket tourney:
I won’t dare to say yes, I don’t know what their (Wizards FO’s) plans are. Nevertheless, this season, which is good one for me individually and is even better than the last one I had with Seville, gives me greater opportunities for the future.
On if a trade involving him can happen:
I don’t know, because I don’t have any concrete info. But if I had to say, no [there won’t be a trade], because—as they told me last summer—they want me to come to play for the Wizards this year.
Therefore, I feel they are interested in me. But as I talked about Honza, it wouldn‘t surprise me if they suddenly traded me. In the NBA, decisions are made rather quickly.
On the current season with Cajasol:
My role on the team has increased even more. I‘m delighted that I have successfully worked on some of my weaknesses, such as turnovers or assist-to-turnover ratio, which are important for the whole team. Being a
point guard, it’s important that your teammates feel comfortable playing alongside you. I shoot a better percentage from the floor and I know how to better differentiate between good shots and bad ones. Thanks to that we play better this season. Moreover, I average the second-most minutes per game in the [ACB] league, for which I’m very happy because such trust and playing time from the coach are really huge.
On if he’s the ACB MVP:
I’m glad for the stats I have, but to say I’m an MVP is a little premature, exaggerated and unrealistic. There are players with far better seasons, plus their teams are contenders for the title and in most cases the MVP is someone playing on a Top 3 team.
On the notion that being the MVP of the ACB doesn’t mean that much, as we’ve seen with Tiago Splitter and his first couple of seasons with the Spurs:
Of course, it can help in order to gain more confidence, but otherwise NBA is a different world. It’s as if a Czech league MVP suddenly came to play in the ACB.
On if this is his last season with Cajasol:
Yes, it’s the most likely [option]. My contract runs out this summer and I would like to take a step forward again. But so far I have wished not to deal with it yet, I still have this season to play—I concentrate on the present. There are still a lot of things ahead of me which I’d like to accomplish in Seville. Surely, playing in the Euroleague is tempting, to play the best teams in Europe and to contend for some titles or cups.
On if opponents focus on stopping him even more this season:
Their scouting reports are more detailed, but I benefit a lot from dishing assists to our good shooters. Some teams even tried to guard me with their best perimeter stopper, like when we played against Valencia and their noted defender [Romain] Sato. Or they defend me with a guy who’s a good pick-and-roll defender, because I often use screens.
On if he takes fewer risks with the ball now that his turnovers are down:
Maybe I was more predictable [before this season]. The last few seasons I often did things which were clear in advance. Coach Aito once said I play the pick-and-roll as if I was jumping into the pool, driving to the basket without reading the defense. Now I read it better, I don’t drive there headless and recklessly—I wait for the best possible moment for attacking the defense.
On his improvement on defense:
I’m more active on the defensive end, and I think about defense more [this season]. Unlike last season, I don’t defend only point guards because we have smaller players at the shooting guard spot. So sometimes I guard a point guard, a shooting guard, and a small forward in a game and guarding those other positions is helpful to my development.
On what’s the toughest thing when playing more than 30 minutes per game:
The hardest thing is to play all out all the time, offensively and defensively, never take any plays off. Sometimes I feel the tendency to take a play off somewhere, and that’s the biggest mistake. Therefore I try to concentrate in order to bring maximum effort. We always win games when we are aggressive on defense. Being aggressive is the most important thing for me.
On practices in Seville:
We practice seven or eight times a week. We have a young team so everybody on the team is hungry [to play] and we are out there on the floor half an hour before the practice starts. And after practices, we work out individually. It’s important to take the week as an opportunity to improve your game.
On if this year’s team is stronger on the paper:
No, it’s definitely weaker on the paper but we are stronger in being more hungry and motivated. We have lots of young, talented players, who—in many cases—are basically ACB rookies. But they want to improve every day and show that they deserve playing time. That’s awfully important. And really, it’s quite funny that our average age is 22 years.
On if it’s not weird that him and team captain Joan Sastre are the most tenured Cajasol players:
Not quite, I fairly enjoy it. I’ve been here almost five years and some things are not new to me. When coach Aito wants to discuss something [game-plan related], there’s usually a group consisting of myself, Sastre and our second-oldest player, Marcos Mata, who’s 27 years old. I’m definitely more vocal in the locker room, at team meetings, and I talk more with the coach.
On if they have a fine book in Seville:
Yes, we do. When we played against Tenerife I got the first technical of my life and it cost me 200 Euros (laughs). In comparison with Czech league it’s pretty rough. When someone comes to a practice five minutes late or is late for a meeting at the [railroad] station before going to an away game, it’s 40 Euros in no time. Some fines are set up by the club [Cajasol], and there are others set up by coach Aito. This happened to me recently: after practice I kicked the ball up and unfortunately it stayed there in the rafters under the ceiling. And the ball just wouldn’t fall down. So they gave me a fine of 50 Euros for kicking a ball plus 100 Euros as an actual cost of that ball. Luckily, afterwards someone climbed up there and took it down.
On transportation in the city of Seville:
Although I live quite close to our basketball arena, I probably couldn’t live without a car here. Moreover, I like driving into the downtown. The club provides us with either Toyotas or Citroens C4 and C5. Of course, we also have special cars for American players, they have to have a car with automatic transmission. I prefer a smaller vehicle because the downtown streets are quite narrow.
Some interesting exchanges from this blog interview:
Tomas Satoransky: Coach Aito wants me to be able to slow the game down when necessary, to control the game more and make better reads during the game. It’s a little difficult for me because I’ve always played very aggressively, but I think the coach’s instructions can only help me to be a better player. Aito is a coach who demands a lot from his players, on defense, too.
Who was the best player you played with in Seville?
TS: I think the best player was Paul Davis, from whom I learned a lot. But Earl Calloway, as a point guard, is the guy that helped me the most in my progress.
I read that coach Aito had advised you to play chess.
TS: It’s something that he recommends to almost everyone on the team. He also tells to do other things outside of basketball. The truth is I don‘t play a lot of chess, but I always try to do activities that help me unwind, like reading.
What do you usually read? Motivational books?
TS: I like, for example, those books which are called … biographical, right? Books about athletes from other sports, not just basketball players. I like criminal dramas and detectives… I enjoy it and it’s a nice excuse for not being in front of the TV or computer all the time.
Did any of these biographical books influenced you?
TS: Yes, my favorite is the Magic Johnson’s book. I liked that Andrew Gaze book a lot, too. It’s a bit … controversial. Controversial. And, of course, funny and you can get some idea on how to not succumb to the pressure when things don’t go right.
You told me you like detectives, so I recommend you The Mysteries of Laura series.
TS: Okay, I’ll watch it, great!