The news of Tyler Honeycutt’s death in mid-July (ruled a suicide after an investigation by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office) shuttered both the European and the US basketball community. His roommate during the 2017-2018 EuroLeague and VTeuB campaign with Khimki was Anthony Gill.
On the occasion of the Russian team’s visit to Athens for the Pavlos Giannakopoulos Tournament, the 25-year-old forward who recently renewed his contract with the VTB finalists, dedicated ten minutes to TalkBasket.net. The core of this interview was ofcourse the untimely death of Honeycutt, but also the prospects of Khimki in this season’s EuroLeague.
Q: Did you get to learn some things about Pavlos Giannakopoulos?
A: It was an honour not only for us, but for each and every team to be in a tournament bearing his name. We were playing for something bigger than ourselves, honouring a great man who did so much for EuroLeague and European basketball. I don’t know much about European basketball, but I knew how great this man was and what he brought to the table as far as the competitive nature that he always brought to his teams and the way that he cared about his players. I heard a lot of stories about him. I think that his son now is running the organisation in the exact same way, to the way he speaks out, stands up for his players and encompasses the same things as his father did. For that, I think that the organisation of Panathinaikos will always be on top, no matter the up and downs.
Q: How do you expect this season to be?
A: I expect us to compete. We’re a young team and club, but we will compete to the best of our ability. We have a lot to prove this year, that we deserve to be in the EuroLeague. If we continue to work hard, listen to what coach Bartzokas says, without having our own agendas, we’ll be successful.
Q: It is possible to top last season?
A: I think so. We have a lot of talent and in some ways, I believe we are a better team this year. Looking at me last year, many were asking who Anthony Gill is and why did they sign him. Our coach does an amazing job of getting players and making them great. To be the best this year means to get past the play-offs, go to the Final Four and win it. Noone will say that getting to the play-offs is enough.
Q: What’s the competition like this year?
A: It’s great. Each team, from the top to the bottom, has added different players that can contribute. Some of them have picked NBA players that came to play here. This means that the league is growing, it’s getting better every year and expands, trying to show that it is second only to the NBA. It’s exactly how I expected it to be. I always tell myself that if I cannot be at the highest level, which is the NBA, I want to be right there next to it. In some ways, the EuroLeague is a lot more competitive than the NBA because every single game counts. I like it better because you have to play as hard as you can every night.
Q: What’s your opinion about Panathinaikos?
A: They are a great team. Historically, Panathinaikos are top-tier team. We always have to be ready to compete against those kind of teams and, as a young team, need to prove ourselves.
Q: Nevertheless, AEK was the team that beat you, PAO and Maccabi in Cyprus.
A: The truth is that you don’t expect the opponent to play zone for too much in professional basketball, but they did and it worked. They have a lot of talent. Greece always does a great job of putting competitive teams out there and AEK is one of those teams. I’m all about competing and the Greek league is like that.
Q: Do you believe that Tyler Honeycutt’s suicide could have been avoided and if so, in which way?
A: I don’t know if it could be avoided. I don’t know what God’s plans are in life. I did tell myself coming to this year that I was going to try to be closer to my teammates so that nothing gets past me. If there’s something I can do, I want to do it. What happened with Tyler was really unexpected. He did so much for this team and was always a bright light for us. That’s the way I’ll always remember him. He just had a bad day. Everyone on the team was shocked. Sometimes you can look back and say “oh, I can see why that happened”, but you don’t see that with Tyler. There was not one day that he came with a hint of depression or being down. He was always ready to laugh and ready to play. I think that especially for him, coming from LA and going to Moscow where the sun may not shine for a month, the transition had been difficult. But I can’t say. I couldn’t know what was going on in his head.
Q: In terms of the relationship between team members, how’s Khimki?
A: Great. We’re learning every day how to be a top-tier team. We look at teams like Panathinaikos, Olympiacos and Fener to see what they are doing to be successful. The thing with Tyler brought everybody closer. We all had the feeling that we should come together and do something special this year, not just for Tyler but for the community. It was a big hit for his family and also for Khikmki. I won’t say that we will dedicate this season to Tyler -I’m not the captain and can’t speak on behalf of everyone- but I know we can’t forget what happened. We can’t forget our teammate who was a light to all of us.
Q: On the first gameday, you play against Olympiacos. What about them?
A: They have a great team and a great coach as well. There’s not going to be a night off and not play against a competitive team. It’s exciting time for us. Every team has good players and noone stands out really.
Q: It’s still hard to beat CSKA, isn’t it?
A: They are just like any other team, a historically great Russian team, but I want to compete against the best every night. All the people in Russia say that it’s better to try to avoid CSKA until the finals, but I’m not that kind of a person.