Czech Mate: An Insider's Take on Tomas Satoransky, Jan Vesely, and the Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About

Czech Mate: An Insider’s Take on Tomas Satoransky, Jan Vesely, and the Wizards

Updated: October 2, 2015

[Ed. Note: Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) is TAI’s Czech correspondent. Since 2011 he has helped cover the careers of fellow countrymen and Wizards draft picks, Jan Vesely and Tomas Satoransky.

Vesely, as you are well aware, ceased being a Wizard in February 2014 after being drafted sixth overall by the team in 2011. Satoransky was selected by the Wizards in the second round of 2012 and the team has maintained his rights while he’s played overseas in Spain. Satoransky, per multiple reports, is expected to join Washington for the 2016-17 season.

Today Lukas brings us commentary from Lubos Barton, a veteran Czech basketball star and national team teammate of Vesely and Satoransky. Click here for Lukas’ past coverage.]

[Czech National Team at EuroBasket 2015, courtesy of the Czech Basketball Federation]

[Czech National Team at EuroBasket 2015, courtesy of the Czech Basketball Federation]

Lukas Kuba:

I’d been trying to track down Lubos Barton since the summer of 2013. The veteran Czech basketballer and occasional blogger played four seasons (1998-2002) at Valparaiso University in Indiana, where he still ranks fourth all-time in career points, fifth in rebounds, and seventh in assists (1). He has since played for several teams in Europe and has been a stalwart on the Czech Republic national team.

I’ve always enjoyed Barton’s style of writing and insights into the world of basketball. My goal at the time of EuroBasket 2013 was to see if he was interested in writing about two budding stars of Czech basketball and Washington Wizards draftees, Jan Vesely and Tomas Satoransky. The issue was that I didn’t have a direct contact to Barton and couldn’t reach him by email, Twitter (he’s not on Twitter), or Facebook. The idea fizzled over time, as did Vesely’s career with the Wizards.

Fast forward to this summer: The Czech national team literally did wonders at EuroBasket 2015, finishing in seventh place. This might not be a big deal to hoops fans outside of the Czech Republic, but a top eight finish  was a success for the national team. In fact, it was the best finish for the Czech Lions since 1985—the year I was born—when Czech and Slovak brothers battled under the flag of Czechoslovakia and came away with a silver medal, upsetting Drazen Petrovic’s Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals and Spain in the semis before falling to the mighty Soviet Union squad and its young MVP, Arvydas Sabonis, in the final.

It’s impossible to compare these two accomplishments. However, what the Czechs did, led by its two young stars, Vesely and Satoransky (and their run-and-gun style of ball), got rave reviews from sports fans across the country.

More important: Mission accomplished. The Czechs qualified to play in one of three qualifying tournaments for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and rekindled the popularity of men’s basketball in the Czech Republic. It was in this atmosphere of joy and congratulations that I was mailing back and forth with my friend Petr Janouch, a former Czech basketball player, NBA expert, and play-by-play announcer. Don’t know why it took me so long, but I realized Petr is good friends with Jiri Welsch (former NBAer with the Warriors, Celtics, Cavs, and Bucks) and Barton. (Satoransky calls them “The Grandpas.”) So I was finally able to connect with Barton, who, despite a busy schedule, kindly got back to me. Barton recently signed to play for FC Barcelona “B” team; Satoransky plays for the main FC Barcelona team. Without further ado, keep reading for Barton’s thoughts on his Czech-mates.


[Jan Vesely and Tomas Satoransky at EuroBasket 2015, via the Czech Basketball Federation]

[Jan Vesely and Tomas Satoransky at EuroBasket 2015, via the Czech Basketball Federation]

Lubos Barton:

For as long as I can remember (I am 35), the Washington Bullets and later on the the Wizards were one of the mediocre teams in pro basketball. They were not quite the worst, but they never had any high-caliber playoff teams. Mismanagement would be the first and main reason for it. I actually can’t remember a single draftee (besides Juwan Howard) from 1993 all the way to when Wizards took John Wall with the first pick overall in 2010. Oh, yeah, now I remember. There was the Kwame Brown experiment back in 2001.

I don’t want to be harsh but basically the Wizards have never been on my radar when it came to following NBA. Not until they drafted Jan Vesely with the sixth overall pick in 2011, exactly one year after they drafted John Wall. I was excited. The future was bright and sky was the limit. Two top athletes at their positions would team up and change the course of the franchise. Well, it didn’t end that well. Not for Jan.

I don’t want to get into details but, from my point of view, Jan never got comfortable and never played his game. His weakness were on display and his virtues were hidden. That would ultimately cost him valuable playing time, a role on the team, and eventually he would end up sitting not only at the end of the bench, but also sometimes behind the bench in street clothes.

Again, I thought to myself, they are still the Wizards. This would never happen on well-managed teams.

In 2012, the Wizards drafted yet another of my countrymen, Tomas Satoransky, this time in the second round with the 32nd overall pick. An athletic guard playing then for one of the better teams in Spanish ACB League, Seville, Satoransky didn’t get as much exposure as Vesely did with Partizan Belgrade, but his combination of athleticism and skill made him a very interesting prospect. Probably the best thing that happened to Satoransky is that he was drafted in second round and could thus stay in Seville and work on his game. His ACB team then unloaded its roster from veteran players and took the “young and cheap” road. All of a sudden, Tomas was one of the main and seasoned players, still at age of 21 at the time. It also didn’t hurt that Seville signed a legendary Spanish coach, Aito Garcia Reneses. Aito allowed such players as Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro (2), Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio to debut in ACB and actually excel. Within two years, Satoransky became one of the top point guards in the league and powerhouse FC Barcelona signed him to a multi-year contract.

The Wizards still have the rights to Satoransky, who is coming off a very impressive first Euroleague/ACB season with FCB. Turning 24 this fall (Oct. 30), he is just entering his best years, when athleticism links with skill level and understanding of the game. Satoransky further impressed at EuroBasket 2015 with the Czech national team and was one of the best PGs in the tournament. Tomas has one more year on his contract with Barcelona, and if he continues to play at this level it will be very hard for them to keep him. The Wizards could use another player to complement the Wall/Beal duo, and to me it’s a no brainer.

But again, we are talking about Wizards here. They were both good and lucky with their second round pick, and they should cash in. But they will have to make quite an effort because Satoransky is not that desperate to leave his well-earned spot at FCB. Not for a minor role on an NBA playoff team. Don’t get me wrong. The NBA has always been a dream of his, and he would sacrifice a lot to achieve it, but the situation has to be right and both sides have to make it work. Trust me, the way the Wizards mishandled Vesely still triggers many question marks. Stay tuned.

I got to play with both players at the brink of my career. If I had to characterize them, I would go as simple as this: they are both extremely athletic and versatile players, good defenders, and always look to finish inside. Tomas improved his outside shooting a great deal, which will also help him within the NBA ranks. Vesely’s jump shot isn’t broken but it usually isn’t working, either. He has to have confidence to take them and make them. He has developed a very quick and lethal floater/teardrop, and that is actually his best shot right now.

The biggest difference between the two of them is that Tomas is always thinking basketball and Jan is not quite like that. For better or worse, Jan has a simple and straightforward approach to basketball. His best skill is that he plays instinctively and with lots of energy and passion. His best games are always those when his adrenaline flows high—he got maybe too much of that in Pioneer Arena in Belgrade, where Partizan plays its home games. For those who never been there, it’s quite a sight. Jan would feed off that energy and would play to another level.

Tomas, on the other hand, I’ve known him well for four years now, can’t go more than five minutes without mentioning basketball. He likes to pick my brain about different subjects, and I assume he does that to many others about the game. His combination of physical attributes, skills, and mentality has him destined to be a great player. Based on hoop skills alone, I would be surprised if Tomas isn’t playing in the NBA next season.

Vesely’s return to Europe was a wise one. He signed with Turkish Fenerbahce, in Istanbul, and improved under yet another European coaching legend, Zeljko Obradovic. Vesely got his rhythm and confidence back and ended up being one of the best players in Euroleague. He also has one more year on his contract and his level of play should open many doors in the NBA. This time, whoever decides to sign him, should know what kind of player Vesely is and how to play him.

There is no doubt in my mind that both Czech players belong in the NBA. It would have been sweet to see them playing side by side, for the same team. It would be better, however, if they get a chance (a second chance for Vesely) and actually performed up to their abilities.

In Cannes, France this summer, Barton met with his childhood idol and inspiration for playing basketball, Magic Johnson, for the second time.

[In Cannes, France this summer, Barton met with his childhood idol and inspiration for playing basketball, Magic Johnson, for the second time. Photo courtesy of Lubos Barton]

[Photo courtesy of Lubos Barton]

  1. Barton was also the Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year in 2002; Valpo now plays in the Horizon League.
  2. Ed. Note: JC Navarro was 2002 second round pick (39th overall) by Michael Jordan’s Wizards. His rights were traded by Ernie Grunfeld to the Grizzlies for a protected first round pick in 2007. In 2008, that protected pick was sent back to the Grizzlies in a deal that netted Washington Mike James and Javaris Crittenton.
Lukas Kuba