The 2018-19 campaign started off on the wrong foot for AEK Athens, since the Greek Cup and Basketball Champions League holders were defeated at Peristeri on the first matchday of the Greek League. After the first negative result of the season, Luca Banchi and his players focus on the next rival, none other than Hapoel Jerusalem, a team featuring 35-year-old former NBA star center Amar’e Stoudemire, who happens to be also its co-owner.
Malcolm Griffin had a rather turbulent 2017-18 season, playing for Kolossos Rhodes and Zenit Saint Petersburg of Russia. He was the leading scorer in the Greek League, third in assists and sixth in steals on January 22, 2018, when the Russians bought him out of his Greek team.
In an interview with TalkBasket.net, the 27-year-old point guard who went undrafted in the 2014 NBA draft, expresses his desire to prove AEK right for their insistence on signing him and looks forward to an “exciting” opening night against Amar’e and co.
Q: How’s been your experience with coach Banchi so far?
A: Playing for Luca so far has been a good experience. He depends on all the players and expects a lot from me. I like to be criticised by the coach so I can improve every day, without taking offense to it.
Q: Is he like coach Lykogiannis you had in Kolossos?
A: No. Lykogiannis, that’s my guy! I talked to him when we played his team, Cholargos, in a friendly game. Everyone knows he’s a more intense guy. Luca, like any coach, will get intense when necessary, but for Lykogiannis that’s his psychology and philosophy in order to get the best out of his players. Every coach has different style: Phil Jackson was a laid-back coach. He got the best out of his players. Then, you have coaches like George Karl or Bobby Knight, who show emotions a lot and get the same amount of effort out of their players. I had tough coaches growing up as a kid and when I came overseas, I was prepared to any style of ball. I take the good out of everything they say.
Q: AEK run an impressive streak in the preparation games, beating the likes of Panathinaikos, Khimki and Maccabi. Do you feel more confident now?
A: Whether we had those games or not, I feel confident because we work hard every day and play together. We have a great coaching staff which puts us in the right position to win each game and every night. As long as we play together, hard on defense and share the ball, having fun will come naturally. Those games gave us a good look on how things will be, even though we and the other teams were missing some players. We are waiting on Kavadas and Howard (Sant-Roos) to get back from injury. Both of them are key-guys in our team, as well as Xanthopoulos who broke his nose. At this point, we have no other choice but to be ready.
Q: How did you make the decision to come to AEK?
A: The tradition with AEK is really great. I knew about the club and its tradition years ago, before I even knew about overseas basketball. Ofcourse, I knew they won the Champions League and the Greek championship last season. When I left Kolossos Rhodes to go to Zenit, they were interested in me. It was after we beat them in Rhodes. When things didn’t go as planned in Zenit, I learned that they still wanted me this summer. It was like a sign that they really wanted me here. After that, it was an easy decision. Once I got the deal, I cut everybody else off and went with it.
Q: What went wrong with Zenit?
A: I believe it was the difference in my role: while in Kolossos, I was the guy who was depended on, to do a lot. I was never afraid of the pressure because I like it. When I went there, my role was minimized and I had to do things I wasn’t comfortable doing. It was a great step for my career though, as it really helped me out to get the offers that I did this summer. I’m glad that AEK was still interested in me and I’ll make this year worthwhile. I was afraid that if anything in Russia didn’t go the right way, they could lose interest but they stuck with it and, luckily, they still wanted me involved with this club, which is a privilege and an honour.
Q: Last year, you nearly beat Panathinaikos with Kolossos. Do you think that you have the chance to make it this time?
A: These guys beat Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, two of the best teams in all of Europe, last year for the Greek cup. So, the goal is not just to overcome them, but dominate the whole league if possible. We know we got to come out hard every time and play focused. That’s what we did in Kolossos against Panathinaikos, who were short a player or two but we were a low-level team and almost got the win. Here, we got enough talent to go up against anybody, not just Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, as long as we lock in. We want to win all the games if we can, but we have to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time, keep fighting and building chemistry every day.
Q: Are you looking forward to facing Amar’e Stoudamire with Hapoel Jerusalem on the first matchday of the Champions League?
A: I’ve played against NBA players, I grew up with them. So, it won’t be shocking to me. It’s going to be exciting, though. I know the atmosphere will be crazy because it will be our first Champions League game. This team is the defending champions. We’ll try to dominate as much as we can, day in and day out.