Jun 03, 2013 2:33 PM EDT
Still only 24 years old, Deon Thompson already has had a chance to see all aspects of European basketball by living and playing hoops in three different countries – Greece, Slovenia and Germany.
The former North Carolina standout already knows what it means to play in front of sometimes violent Greek basketball fans, compete in the second best league in the world, Euroleague, or practice twice a day on regular basis. Thompson also knows what is like to be a leader of a Euroleague Top 16 team.
After joining the most famous German team, Alba Berlin, Thompson immediately became the main figure of the club by leading the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks. The forward was able to improve his numbers in every statistical categories from last season while he was playing for Union Olimpija, averaging 12 points and 5.4 rebounds during the 2012-13 Euroleague season.
Now Thompson feels ready to step up and join a winning Euroleague team.
RealGM recently caught up with Thompson to discuss his success in Europe, his game improvement and plans to make it to the NBA.
RealGM: First of all, how would you evaluate your performance in the 2012-13 Euroleague season?
Thompson: It was my second year in the Euroleague and I feel I made great strides from my first year to my second year. In the first round of the Euroleague, I played some of the best basketball in my three-year career so far in Europe, I was able to lead my team, Alba Berlin, into the Top 16 and was able to help the club get it's first ever win in the Top 16. While in the Top 16 for the first time my numbers dropped a little from the first round, as teams started to guard me differently and show me different defenses while I had the ball on the low post. In the 65 games I showed that I could play, compete and being 24 years old, I still have some things I can improve on.
RealGM: Could you compare the situation while you were playing for Union Olimpija and this season with Alba?
Thompson: My time with Union Olimpija was a good experience on how things in Europe can be in regards to money and sponsorship situations. Our team started off very strong in the ABA League competition and was fighting in the Euroleague in one of the toughest groups that year. But early in the year, our team started to have financial problems up to where we were three months behind on payments, which makes it difficult to motivate players to practice twice a day for two hours each. So as all of us players went on strike and we saw our teams performance drop and then we lost seven of our top players who left to other teams. Situations like that makes winning very difficult. The main reason I didn't leave was because I felt I was developing my skills and while playing for coach Saso Filipovski, money wasn't as important at the time compared to the things he was teaching me.
While with Alba, it was the total opposite when it came to financial things as the German economy is one of the strongest in all of Europe. When I came to Alba I was given a bigger role on the team and the opportunity to lead the where most of the offense was ran through me, I have to give thanks to coach Sasa Obradovic for given me that chance. The city of Berlin, there isn't enough words for me to describe how incredible the city was, I loved it. The city of Ljubljana was nice as well, but just a smaller city, but it is very nice at the same time.
RealGM: How did it feel to be playing for the same team once again with Danny Green, your former teammate at North Carolina?
Thompson: It was great to have Danny over in Europe with me during the NBA lockout. We were college roommates during my sophomore year at UNC, so over the three years we were able to build a great relationship. To be able to share an experience doing something you love like basketball all the way across the world with one of your brothers is always a great experience.
RealGM: In your opinion what were the reasons that Alba didn't go any further than quarterfinals in German league this season?
Thompson: It was very difficult for our team in the first round of the playoffs in the Beko-BBL (German League). As we played versus Bayern Munich and one of the best European coaches, Pesic. First, I want to give credit to him and his team, he had them ready to play right from game one. There are a lot of reasons why I think our team didn't go any further than the quarterfinals. One could be that our team competed in two competitions this season and with the new structure of how Top 16 was this year, we played close to 70 games! As where Bayren Munich only competed in one competition this year and only played 37 games. Our team wasn't very deep and we accumulated a lot of injuries during the season. With all the practice we did this season on top of playing 65 games, I think our team just ran out of gas and was tired. Also, Munich did a great job with their defensive pressure on our guards and in taking us out of what we wanted to run on offence. Also, I didn't play my best basketball in those three games, getting swept is more motivation for me to use while working on my game this summer.
RealGM: In your first three seasons in overseas, you played for three teams in three different countries. What have you learned so far as a person by living in Greece, Slovenia and Germany?
Thompson: Living outside the States hasn't been so difficult. Don't get me wrong, there always are hard moments during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etcetera where I am so far and distant from the ones I love. But I am use to being distant from family; I left Torrance, CA at 17 to go all the way across the country to North Carolina. Luckily, in my three years in Europe, I have been able to play in great cities, which makes it easier to live adjust, especially Americans. It has been a great experience, I really didn't see myself over in Europe, but I have been making the most of it, there is so much culture and history to learn from each country. I am using basketball as a tool to experience it all. Also, to be able to have my family visit and experience them with me is such a blessing in its self.
RealGM: Most of American basketball fans haven't seen you playing since 2010. In your opinion, how has your game changed since the last time you wore Tar Heel's jersey?
Thompson: Yeah, it has been awhile since I wore that Carolina Blue, where I spent four years in Chapel Hill. At UNC my game was mostly around the basket being able to make quick moves with my turn-around jumper or come to the middle with a jump hook. I still have those elements in my game in the post, but in Europe playing in the post is different. It's not so much about getting the best position, catching and making the fastest move possible to finish. In Europe getting the ball in the post is about patience, backing your defending down as close as possible to the basket and finish. Also with doing this there haven’t been very many people who can stop me one-on-one in the post so I draw a lot of double teams, that create a lot of open shots for my teammates. In the post there is just a different approach in how I play. Also, I have added a solid mid range jumper, which makes hard to guard when I'm involved in pick and pop/roll situations. I want to continue on extending my range to the three point line and all the way to the NBA three-point line. I really see myself as a stretch four man.
RealGM: Do you still stay in touch with your former teammates Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and others?
Thompson: I always train in Chapel Hill during the summers, so I see a lot of the guys when they come into town.
RealGM: Why did you decide to go to Europe instead of playing in the D-League?
Thompson: For me, Europe was the smarter move. In three years, I have been able to earn and create a solid name for myself in Europe. Also financially, I have been able to make good money for myself as to where if I sat in the D-League and didn't receive a call up it would almost feel like a year wasted where I could of made great money overseas. I understand I won't be able to play basketball forever and at the end of the day it is about making the most money you can and be smart with it, so life after basketball after putting in all this hard work is well worth it. Being able to live comfortably and support my family.
RealGM: What are your plans for this summer? Are you planning to participate in the NBA summer league?
Thompson: The NBA is obviously a goal of mine someday. This summer I plan to train in Chapel Hill with the strength and condition coach, Jonas Sahratian and continue to get my body in the best shape possible, while working on the things in my game I need to improve. I do plan to play in the NBA summer league and I'm not sure as to whom I will be playing with at this point.
RealGM: What are your preferences for the next season?
Thompson: For next season, I want to do everything possible to try and get into the NBA. If I am close with a team, try and go to veterans camp and see where that takes me. If that doesn't workout, I want to play on the highest level in Europe and play in the Euroleague. But, I want to play with a team who will have the chance of winning Euroleague or at least can compete on a high level with all the teams.
RealGM: Have you already received any interest from specific leagues or countries?
Thompson: There are still a lot of teams still competing in there domestic leagues and I'm sure they are focusing on trying to win a championship.
May 28, 2013 4:56 PM EDT
In last year’s combine hosted by the Brooklyn Nets, being the tallest player didn’t help 7-foot-1 center Mindaugas Kupsas leave a deeper impression on NBA scouts. But the big man out of Lithuania believes that the annual adidas EuroCamp this season will be a different story.
After withdrawing his name from 2012 NBA Draft, Kupsas continued developing his game in Lithuania, playing for Lietkabelis Panevezys. The center improved his numbers in all statistical categories, averaging 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 34 games played in 12-13 season.
RealGM sat down with auto-eligible Kupsas, who is the only potential NBA draftee from Lithuania this year, to talk about his development, the upcoming NBA draft, future plans and much more.
RealGM: First of all, most of basketball fans know nothing about you. Could you tell me how you began playing basketball?
Kupsas: Well, I grew up in a, let’s say, grange. My parents divorced when I was 15 or 16. I was always taller and bigger than my other friends at school. There were no proper facilities in the place where I grew up to play hoops, therefore my aunt told Sabonis basketball school about me and the story began. I started playing basketball very late, but the good part is that I never had serious injuries while I was playing.
RealGM: Instead of going to the U.S. and playing in NCAA, why did you decide to continue your career in Lithuania?
Kupsas: As I said, I started to play basketball very late and I guess I would have age limitations in the NCAA program. Therefore, at that time, Zalgiris signed me when I was young for a long-term contract. The NCAA is a great system, you get a diploma of university while you hoop and you get to know different cultures as well.
RealGM: What were the reasons for your withdrawal from previous draft and why you feel you’re more ready to step into the league than last year?
Kupsas: Last year I withdrew my name from the draft because my agents and I talked about it and decided it would be best for me to spend another season preparing and becoming a known player. Last year was my introduction to the NBA. I worked out with NBA teams and got the feedback for what I need to work on and get better to become an NBA player. Now the goal is to show how I developed myself in a year and demonstrate that in June at adidas EuroCamp in Treviso.
RealGM: Tell me about your performance in Nets combine held last year in New Jersey.
Kupsas: I was jet-lagged like crazy, wasn’t prepared at all, barely saw the basket. The opponents were shorter, faster and it wasn’t the performance I wanted to show in front of the all these respected NBA scouts. Adidas EuroCamp in Treviso camp will be a different story.
RealGM: A year ago you were competing against Jonas Valanciunas in Lithuanian league. Could you share your experience on playing against the Raptors’ big man?
Kupsas: Honestly, It was good. If you ask me was it hard for me to play against him, my answer would be absolutely no. I enjoyed it every second. I had no problems guarding him at all. Playing against Lavrinovic brothers is harder, that’s for sure.
RealGM: Which specific areas of your game you've been working on this year?
Kupsas: I would say I was trying to improve majority of areas and I’m still working on it. I am better now at Pick and Roll situations and I love playing it a lot. My shooting is now significantly different as well. I don’t sway when making a jump shot or playing back to the basket. I think I started to “go hard” on defense as well.
RealGM: In your opinion, which aspects of your game need to improve the most to be able to play in the NBA right away?
Kupsas: I want to be faster, I want to defend faster players. Now my physical program is focused to vertical, so I can be more aggressive when I get the ball under the basket so either I can make a baby hook or simply dunk on another player who guards me. During the season I’ve heard from NBA scouts about my lack of vertical, so before the NBA Draft I want to show how I proved myself.
RealGM: If tomorrow was your first day in the NBA, what can you do to help your team to improve? What are your strong sides?
Kupsas: I would fulfill and complete whatever the coach told me to do. Of course, I would focus on defense like crazy, I don’t mind going into contact also. I like to block shots. In my first day in the NBA, I wouldn’t be upset if I left the arena without scoring a point, but our team won.
RealGM: Do you believe it is a right time to play in the NBA, or would you still want to remain in Europe?
Kupsas: If I'm drafted, it is really dependent on the NBA club. Either they would like me to play in the D-League in the first year, or for a season or two in Europe.
RealGM: What are your current plans for this draft summer?
Kupsas: At the moment I am working out with Zalgiris team in Kaunas, twice a day. I also arrive an hour earlier before start of practice. I spend around six hours at the gym per day and, honestly, I feel I am getting better every day. I think it’s a priceless chance to learn from Zalgiris’ head coach Joan Plaza and compete against Robertas Javtokas or Lavrinovic brothers. Later on I will be working out with a personal trainer on my skills. I should be 100 percent ready for adidas EuroCamp.
May 15, 2013 6:38 PM EDT
After 24 years of coaching in Germany, Dirk Bauermann had to leave his home country and move to Eastern Europe for the first time in his career.
The nine-time German champion and former coach of the Germany national team landed a job in Poland this season as head coach of its national team and also took over the coaching position in Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, Lithuania.
RealGM sat down with Bauermann in Vilnius to talk about the changes in his life, time with Lietuvos Rytas, German basketball, Dirk Nowitzki, his new role with Poland national team and much more.
RealGM: First of all, I've heard that Toronto Raptors' assistant general manager Maurizio Gherardini was the person who helped you to get in touch with Lietuvos Rytas. Could you tell me how did you end up signing a contract with Lietuvos Rytas?
Bauermann: Well, he called me and said that he had helped the club in many different ways and they had asked him for advise in terms of who to look at for a possible replacement for the old coach. He [Maurizio Gherardini] recommended me, we have known each other for a long time. He was the GM in Treviso and we played against them with both, Bamberg and Leverkusen, in the Euroleague. He recommended me to them and I guess they had me on the radar as well. They called me and it didn't take long to come to an agreement. The negotiating process took only one or two days. I had been waiting for the right situation, a top professional European team and seemed to be a good fit.
RealGM: After joining Lietuvos Rytas, you definitely found things you liked or didn't like. Could you name the positives and negatives of the situation you found in Vilnius?
Bauermann: The one thing that I didn't like was all that snow. Even at the beginning of April, we had minus 10 degrees in Celsius at night. Other than that, it has been very good three weeks here. Fans in Vilnius welcomed me with open arms because it's a basketball country. I was happy about the positive reception. The club is very professional and the only purpose is to win. Everybody is investing in winning and I really like our team. We have a young group, which invested in winning and so far everything is good.
Of course, before I came here, I looked at the tons of video. After I signed here, I looked at even more video. I just thought that the team had room for improvement at the defensive end of the floor. They needed to develop a collective identity. I thought that working a lot on defensive fundamentals, schemes, rotations we could then develop team identity. Something we can base our game on. That was the first cornerstone sort of speak of what I've tried to do here.
RealGM: In the Germian media, you've mentioned that you're the first German to come to work for a Lithuanian basketball team. What does it personally mean to you?
Bauermann: I think it's a sign of respect for myself, which I appreciate, but it's also a kind of respect for German basketball. Europe recognize that we're not just a soccer country. And we're not a country that just has [Dirk] Nowitzki and that's it. We have good players, good coaches and hopefully I'll be able to open the door for other coaches. Hopefully that will be a side effect of signing here.
RealGM: Is there a thing or two that Lithuanian basketball could learn from Germany?
Bauermann: I would never say what somebody could learn from somebody else. They have to decide. But I think German basketball has grown in the last few years a lot. Because first, the league is very strong and well governed. The management of the league (BBL) is at very high level and they do a very good job. We have great infrastructure and all the gyms are pretty much brand new. Also in Germany, you have a very interesting loyal fan base. The basketball community is tremendous. Almost all the games are sold out on the regular basis. The normal sports fan is not interested in basketball, that's the difference. In the States, they are interested in football, baseball, basketball or even hockey. And they have preferences and they watch one sport more than the other. In Germany, the regular sports fan is a soccer fan, who doesn't care about basketball. That's the problem. Like I said, the league is very strong and professional, teams are doing a good job. And what I think that really helped is the fact that we have gone from possibly having 12 Americans on your roster to now six-max, which I think was a really important step.
RealGM: You've been coaching one of the most ambitious European teams, Bayern Munich for two seasons. Bayern is well known for its soccer team, but they haven been declaring intentions to establish itself on elite European basketball scene as well.
Bauermann: Obviously, being one of the biggest clubs in Europe, I think you can legitimately compare them to Real Madrid or Barcelona. It was a huge step for German basketball that they decided to focus not only on soccer, but also start developing basketball as well. The club has great recourses and they really want to do it. They can easily build a Final Four Euroleague team. They have money, resources and sponsorship. And also the city is great and is made for basketball. Another question is what are the goals. Do they just want to play in the Euroleague or do they want to become one of the top basketball teams in Europe and compete for championships. That's what they do in soccer and if they decide they want to be in basketball where Real Madrid and Barcelona is now, they can very easily do that, that's not a problem. So far, the program has grown very quickly. The gym is nice, the fan support has been great and sky is the limit for them.
RealGM: Taking you back to Lithuania, one of Lietuvos Rytas' players, Nemanja Nedovic, might be drafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. So far, what's your opinion on Nedovic?
Bauermann: Nemanja definitely has NBA potential, there's no question. He's super athletic, but a lot of guards are. It's important to be athletic, especially in the NBA, but more importantly he has tremendous court vision and scoring ability, which is important nowadays in modern basketball. He's not just a scoring point guard, who dominates the ball and makes everybody around him fall asleep. He has a very good feel when to take over and when to be distribute and facilitate. He's still young and it's a difficult position to play, but I think most importantly he needs to make a personal commitment to the defensive end of the floor. With his athletic ability and his instincts, he can dominate the game on the defensive end. But it must be something that he wants to do. And then I think he can be a very complete and a very good NBA guard.
RealGM: On his latest interview to RealGM, Nedovic said that Lithuanian and Serbian basketball school is pretty much similar, while your coaching style reminds him American basketball style. Could you explain that?
Bauermann: Obviously, what I do is in terms of general approach to the game that we're taking, it's definitely a European approach, a very team and defense oriented. I shouldn't say that American teams aren't [playing] pass oriented, not off the dribble, not a whole one-on-one, but like a team game. Obviously, there are a lot of American teams who play like that. I think if you look how NBA teams play. Nobody moves the ball better than Miami Heat or executes better in half court than San Antonio Spurs. I think it's almost unfair to say that the American game is more individual or more off the dribble. But I think it's probably more about how I carry myself and how I relate to the players. That sort of things. Not the basketball part as much, but how I relate with players, how I coach them and how I try to get most out of them.
RealGM: In your opinion, what the future holds for German national team after the retirement of Nowitzki?
Bauermann: I think we have an up-and-coming generation of players that turn 23 or 24 this year and will be a foundation for our national team for years. Tim Ohlbrecht is the oldest one of that group and he's now with the Houston Rockets. And then you have five-six players, who in couple years will definitely be Euroleague level or even NBA - Tibor Pleiss, Ohlbrecht, Robin Benzing, Philipp Schwethelm, Ellias Harris, who might be drafted, Bastian Doreth and Per Gunther. It's very balanced and it's not like four big guys and no shooters. We have a really good balance and I think sky is the limit for our national team. I gave them first opportunity to play national basketball when they were 19-year-old. They played in U20 European championship and two days later they were in the national team's training camp. Later they all played in EuroBasket 2009, 2010 FIBA Worlds and EuroBasket 2011. Now they're all national team players and the future looks very bright.
RealGM: You had a chance to work with Nowitzki for such a long time. Could you name at least few things what you've learned from Nowitzki?
Bauermann: I think the main thing they see is that you can be a world's superstar, but it doesn't have to change who you are as a person. That's number one. So to turn nose up is not a good thing. I think they all learned from Dirk that you can be a humble person, a regular guy, who is friendly to everybody, to the kids, just be a normal person and still be a superstar. Second thing that I think they learned was an unbelievable work ethic. You practice hard, you try to win every drill and scrimmage. And you always work extra - after every practice he stayed longer and worked on his outside shot, obviously. A lot of players and coaches talk and say things, but to me talk is cheap, it's what you do. He lead these young men by example. By being humble and normal, and talking to them. He showed them how really you need to a professional, how hard you need to work. The dedication and making winning your only priority, not the stats. In German basketball, we could not have asked a better role model.
RealGM: We all heard many stories about Nowitzki's work ethic, but is there anything specific about his training?
Bauermann: I think he does some drills with Holger Geschwindner, his mentor and coach, that were specifically designed to help him, being a 7-footer, balance his mobility, technique, but more importantly, his footwork and balance. Those things are unusual, but very well designed and very creative. You have to give Holger a lot of credit for Dirk's development.
RealGM: Do you think that humbleness is what separate Nowitzki from other superstars and makes him so popular?
Bauermann: I don't know many superstars, but Chris Kaman was the same way. He was a cool guy, very coachable and fun to be around. I can't say, but I know that he's one of the most pleasant, humble and smartest players that I ever coached.
RealGM: Moving to your other new position as a head coach of Polish national team, how did you end up landing a job there?
Bauermann: They contacted and they obviously they knew me from all those championships. They liked how I coached and how my teams play. It didn't take long to come to an agreement. It's a lot of fun to coach at EuroBasket. You play against some of the best teams, players and coaches. With that regard, it was kind of no-brainer for me. Plus, I think the team really has a lot of potential. I think it has a really good combination of older guys, who both played in the NBA and Euroleague level. Maciej Lampe, for example, is having the best season in his career with Caja Laboral. But also we have a really good generation of young players, who were born in 1993. [Przemek] Karnowski, [Tomasz] Gielo, [Mateusz] Ponitka. I think it will be fun to work with both these young guys same as with very good veteran type players.
RealGM: How do you look at this job in Poland - as a challenge or as an opportunity to archive great results?
Bauermann: With the results, you never know. If you base it on that, you could be quickly disappointed. I think you have to base it on substance, level of commitment that the team and federation have, people that are responsible. People in the federation are great and it's all about the people, professionalism and commitment to winning. Like I said, EuroBasket is a tremendous challenge, our group is very difficult. It's just fun to work at the highest level.
RealGM: Some time ago Marcin Gortat and Lampe made a commitment to play for Poland in the upcoming EuroBasket 2013. What was your reaction to this?
Bauermann: I talked to both of them. I talked to Gortat and he played in past summers. So with him it was never a question. Lampe had some problems last summers because he had bad ankle. I talked to him and I told him what the plans are and how important I thought he was for the team success. He immediately told me he's coming and just tell me when I need to be there.
May 11, 2013
RealGM sat down with Ettore Messina in London to talk about what the future holds for CSKA, the Euroleague Final Four format, Viktor Khryapa and things that money can't buy.
May 09, 2013
RealGM sat down with Euroleague president Jordi Bertomeu to discuss the 2012-13 season, the new format of the competition, its biggest problems and the future of Euroleague.
Apr 18, 2013
RealGM sat down with Nemanja Nedovic in Vilnius to talk about his first season with Lietuvos Rytas, development in the Euroleague, his NBA dream and much more.
Mar 01, 2013
Andrew Sullivan sat down with RealGM to discuss joys and sorrows of the British basketball, his personal career, Great Britain national team, Luol Deng and much more.
Feb 07, 2013
Bobby Brown, Viktor Khryapa, Vassilis Spanoulis, Rudy Fernandez, Nenad Krstic, Jordan Farmar, Sonny Weems and Ante Tomic are all candidates to win the Euroleague MVP this season.
Jan 31, 2013
RealGM caught up with Josh Powell in Greece for a one-on-one interview to discuss his new team Olympiacos, Euroleague, his career in the NBA, Lakers and much more.
Jan 10, 2013
Over the past couple of season Dontaye Draper has established himself in Europe as a pass-first type Euroleague point guard with excellent scoring skills.
Dec 26, 2012
Nikola Mirotic, Nenad Krstic, Erazem Lorbek, Ioannis Bourousis, Darjus Lavrinovic, Sofoklis Schorstanitis and David Andersen are amongst the best centers in Euroleague.
Dec 06, 2012
Viktor Khryapa, Georgios Printezis, Felipe Reyes, Paulius Jankunas, Marcus Slaughter and Mike Batiste are amongst the best power forwards in Euroleague this season.
Nov 18, 2012
Getting back to the roots of European hoops - slow-paced, efficient positional basketball has brought success to Zalgiris
Oct 26, 2012
The shooting guard position in Euroleague is headlined by Vassilis Spanoulis, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Fernando San Emeterio, Jaycee Carroll and Keith Langford.
Oct 09, 2012
With Bo McCalebb, Dimitris Diamantidis, Milos Teodosic, Jordan Farmar, Marcelinho Huertas and Sergio Rodriguez, the point guard position has a lot of high quality talent in Europe.
Sep 17, 2012
Former UNC Greensboro standout Kyle Hines had an incredible two-year journey from the second Italian league to Euroleague champion throne.
Sep 06, 2012
The 2012-13 Euroleague regular season will begin on October 19th and here are RealGM's preseason power rankings with CSKA, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Ulker and Olympiacos comprising the top-five.
Aug 27, 2012
J.R. Holden was a European game changer and retired a year ago after a long career with CSKA and the Russian National Team. Now, Holden begins the next phase of his life as a businessman and maybe one day as the GM of a team in Europe.
Aug 17, 2012
Patrick Mills, Joe Ingles, Nate Reinking, Darius Songaila and Salah Mejri were amongst the players with surprisingly good performances in the Olympics, while Matt Nielsen, Jonas Valanciunas, Ronny Turiaf, Al-Farouq Aminu and Sergey Monya struggled.
Jul 25, 2012
After losing their second Euroleague final in the last four years, CSKA Moscow president and CEO Andrey Vatutin felt the team needed changes. Vatutin sat down with RealGM to talk about the last season, changes and the future of CSKA.
Older Blog Posts »
Basketball Wiretap Headlines