Jan Vesely Packs His Bags for Europe, Perhaps For Good
If he had to do it all over again, Jan Vesely certainly wouldn’t jump up and kiss his girlfriend, Eva, after being drafted sixth overall in 2011. He might avoid the green room altogether. Too much attention. Jan never liked all the attention, at least the negative attention. Safe to say that if he could go back in time, he would have never called Blake Griffin the American Jan Vesely, either.
Now, busted after three NBA seasons and having broke up with his one-time fiancee, that same Eva, prior to last season, Vesely retreats to Europe, reportedly Turkey. In a semi-worn but still smells of new leather bag, he carries a bunch of missed free throws—93 misses, to be exact, out of 157 career chances (40.8%). Vesely resides with exclusive company—those who, in their first three NBA seasons (under age 24), played over 2,400 total minutes, attempted more than 150 free throws, but shot less than 45 percent on those free throws.
Others were (and have been) able to overcome their crutch to be useful NBA players—Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, Ben Wallace, Adonal Foye, Jerome Lane, and Chris Dudley. But not Jan Vesely. Evaporated confidence at the free throw line was just one salty part of his American existence.
“I’ve heard him out of his own mouth, he doesn’t like to go to the free throw line. Just because everybody is watching,” said one time teammate A.J. Price. It wasn’t necessarily the blog-about-nothing world that came down upon Jan the most—although he hated questions about his free throws from the media—rather it was the building moans and groans from fans as they slowly realized that the whistle they just heard will place Jan at the line. Jordan Crawford once tried to take free throws for Jan, partially an act of game-winning responsibility, partially mere J-Craw hubris. And thus, sometimes Jan would avoid the ball altogether, lest a whistle might below. Some opponents would hack him on purpose.
I bet that free throws think this song is about them. It’s not.
Vesely could run the court, dunk the ball, and point to the heavens for an alley-oops. He had soft hands, a softer heart, and could make a quick touch pass like a gust of wind can suddenly change the course of a floating feather. Vesely was also damn good at slap-bounds—a basketball spiked like a volleyball that becomes a rebound-assist to teammate-friends. Jan sure did mean well.
In a foreign land, however, Vesely did not find himself in an environment that worked for him. Various members of the Wizards organization tried to boost him up, and they tried to increase his confidence. It never worked. Forced locker room friendships could never guard against this meek, dull John from Europe.
Getting paid how much to be on an NBA court? He was taken where in the draft?
A franchise starved for relevancy in the year after finding its crown jewel in John Wall should have known better. Vesely had the look of a prospect who could fly like a helicopter and zoom with the “Game Changer”—he was named the 2010 FIBA Europe “Young Men’s Player of the Year.”
But Jan was not an NBA man.
Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly took a bare minimum risk on Vesely last February. Connelly, who had been with the Wizards up until 2010 when he moved on to New Orleans (and then to Denver last summer), was certainly part of the original Washington brain trust that ultimately chose to draft Jan Vesely in 2011. With nothing to do with a disgruntled Andre Miller (other than buy him out and pay him not to play), Connelly packaged Miller along with a second round pick in order to acquire the services of Vesely for the final couple months of the 2013-14 season.
And while Vesely’s play did improve as expectations drastically sloped off in Denver (his PER went from 11.5 with the Wizards to 14.5 with the Nuggets last season), it didn’t improve to the point where he would be part of the team’s future. But maybe Jan didn’t want a future in Denver, either. Maybe he finally knew that he wasn’t cut out for the NBA, at least right now.
Vesely was said to have several European clubs in pursuit this summer, but nary a whisper that would move a kitten whisker on the NBA side. Beloved in Slovenia and then Serbia prior to entering the NBA, the Czech has now reportedly decided to play in Turkey.
According to spor.haberturk.com, with a hat-tip from TAI’s Czech Republic correspondent Lukas Kuba, Vesely will soon visit Istanbul to sign with Fenerbahçe Ülker, a basketball club. The contract will reportedly be for three years with a player option for the third year. Fenerbahçe won the Turkish Basketball League last season, the fifth time since 2006, and finished in the Euroleague top 16. Fenerbahçe has also played exhibition games against NBA teams at their home gym, the Ülker Sports Arena, before each of the past two seasons—they beat the Boston Celtics in October 2012, 97-91, and lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in October 2013, 82-95. This October, Fenerbahçe will host the world champion San Antonio Spurs.
Andrew Goudelock, who played with the L.A. Lakers two seasons ago, is currently on the Fenerbahçe roster* (he spent last season playing in Russia). Vesely will also join one-time Wizards Euro-stash Emir Preldzic, who has played for Fenerbahçe since 2007. The rights to Preldzic, a 2009 NBA draft pick, were acquired by Washington in the February 2010 deal that sent Antawn Jamison to Cleveland. Preldzic’s rights were recently sent to the Dallas Mavericks as part of the sign-and-trade for DeJuan Blair.
Vesely will likely reacquire a comfort zone abroad. He’ll likely stand out as a supreme athlete, when in the NBA he got lost in a sea of them. He will work on his game, and he will get stronger. In Turkey, Jan will be able to shift to a wing forward position without being a target when on defense. His length and textbook rebounding skills will shine. Vesely will consume space when helping defend the pick-and-roll like the NBA consumed him.
Farewell, young Jan. Here’s to hoping those dragons are easier to slay in Europe. And who knows, maybe one day your NBA dreams will be rekindled. But if you’re looking for an escape now, after three NBA seasons, a European vacation might be the best basketball trip for you in the end.