Ahead of this week’s NBA London Game 2019 the Washington Wizards player Tomas Satoransky answered media questions about various topics, mostly related with his return to Europe or a game against the New York Knicks.
How special is it for you to play in London with the Wizards, having come from the Czech Republic and having your relatives come to the game? What is your emotion of playing in Europe with your NBA team?
TS: “It will be great for me as a European player coming back to Europe, being able to play an NBA game in front of my family members, friends, and European fans. It’s always special and hopefully I’m going to take it as a normal game but some emotions will be there and just looking forward to that. Hopefully we can get the win and we can play good basketball – what we’re trying to continue recently in the season.”
The Wizards had a lot of injuries during this season, how are you as a team taking all these injuries? Are you still confident you can get back to a playoff place? How is the atmosphere in the team?
TS: “Our goal is still the same – trying to get better every day as a team, trying to get as many wins as we can right now. Obviously, we didn’t start as well as we wanted to, we had much higher expectations from us but it is what it is right now. I think lately we’ve been playing much better, especially our energy was better, solid throughout the whole game. We have to keep going and continue with that and hopefully the wins will come with that. Obviously it’s early for us still to be giving ourselves goals for the season, especially in the position we’re at but the league is always open and we’re just three wins behind eighth place, we’ve got to get better and hopefully we can fight for those positions.”
You’ve faced the Knicks a couple of times this season already and won both of those match-ups. The Knicks narrowly beat you in pre-season, do you think the two games this season give you the edge mentally in the London game or do you think the atmosphere being more mixed might even things up a little bit?
TS: “Yeah I think we have a great record against the Knicks the last couple of years and we’ve always played with the kind of confidence that those previous games gave you. But I think it’s going to be totally different in London, everyone’s going to be very excited to play somewhere where they’ve never played, in front of the different crowd and I think there’s no favourite in that game. Obviously we know what we have to do to win the game but we’ll see how each team reacts to that crowd and the different environment but we will obviously do everything in our possibilities to win the game.”
What are your expectations for the London crowd and atmosphere at the O2? The crowd will probably be half Knicks fans and half Wizards fans so will probably be a different atmosphere compared to what you’re used to. Have you spoken to anybody in London before?
TS: “For me, it’s really a little bit of the unknown. I’ve never played there or talked to someone who was there. I know there’s a lot of Premier League soccer players in the first row, that’s what I’ve heard. Usually against the Knicks, they have fans everywhere, it almost feels like they’re playing at home when they play in these games – there’s Knicks jerseys everywhere. So I’m expecting them to have the whole crowd there but as long as we’re used to that, I think we’ll be fine.”
This is your third season in the NBA but is there one thing you miss most about European basketball? And what is the best thing about NBA compared to Europe?
TS: “That’s a tough question, there’s a lot of differences between the EuroLeague and NBA. The importance of the EuroLeague games are always high and every position matters, it’s a little bit like the NBA playoffs. I think that the difference there is that you’re really taking every position seriously like it’s life or death. And maybe the atmosphere from the different fans to our different countries – that’s what I miss the most. Going to Greece or Serbia and being in that, what we call it, ‘hell’. But on the other hand, the NBA is just such a magnet for the fans, spectacular plays and different style for the fans. I’ve been enjoying that and you’re really going against the best players in the world so the competition is something which is great here.”
The Wizards recently lost John Wall – how the team changed without him and how your role specifically has changed without him of the team?
TS: “It’s a huge loss for us, not only John but we also lost Markeiff Morris and Dwight Howard at the beginning of the season. We have to find a way or learn how to play without them. But we’ve been in that position last year, for me I gained confidence from last year starting 30 games, there’s a lot of things that’s changed, a lot of players have stepped up their games and we’re actually trying to move in the offence a little bit more because obviously John is a very dominant player on the ball. I think we’re trying to play a little faster with movements on offence. But we’re playing hard and playing solid.”
Your first NBA game was against the Bulls, you got 35 points and you got the chance because players were out and it’s frequent in the NBA for that to happen. So what is the difference in opportunity between the NBA and the EuroLeague?
TS: “Yeah I think there is a difference, especially for European players coming to the league because you always have to prove yourself in America. It doesn’t matter what you did in the past in EuroLeague, it’s the same thing with Luka Doncic, ‘the special one’, he proved himself in the first games. But for some of the players it takes time and it’s very tough mentally, especially the first years because you’re used to playing in Europe and you know what you can do. So it was obviously very tough for me I had to stay ready mentally, I think I was ready in my second year for that opportunity when John got hurt and that really helped me so I think mentally it’s very tough here.”
Is there a difference in Europe as far as young players today maybe get to stay on the court and show off their skills more than in the NBA?
TS: “There’s a big difference in the NBA between starters and their playing time and the bench players – maybe it’s different in other teams but that’s how it was in our team. Wherever I play in Europe, I’ve been there for a long time, I had a good position – they were giving me chances as a young player. And even with Barcelona, we changed the starting line-up so many times, so it was a little bit different and I had to get used to that.”
What is your opinion on your opponents for the London game? You have ex-teammates such as Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porziņģis – are you looking forward to playing them more than other teams?
TS: “It’s always special for me to play against my ex-teammates from Europe. We always talk and hang out before the games, especially against Kristaps who’s one of my best friends as well. But unfortunately I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to play, he hasn’t played all season because of the injury so we’ll see. But Mario’s been playing well for the Knicks, always a dangerous player. It’s special to play against some of the players I’ve been on the same team with and that’s the same thing for this game.”
How do you improve your self-confidence in the last few games in shooting because you have more opportunities to shoot and more confidence from the coach? How do you improve yourself in these skills?
TS: “It’s important to be confident when you’re playing in NBA. Obviously it’s tough when you don’t play, you’re aware of not losing your confidence but it’s hard for you because you don’t get that play time. Playing and starting for my team is helping me with that and I’m trying to be more aggressive and I’m hearing from my teammates and my coaches to shoot every shot I have, my percentage has been good the last two years so they have that kind of confidence in me. That’s really helping me being able to have the trust from my teammates like that. I try to be, in the last four or five games, more aggressive and I hope to continue with that and to have more of the responsibility on that part of our offence.”
You seem to have a great chemistry with your center Thomas Bryant who is the unexpected rising star for the Wizards this season and your connection with him seems a little bit like your connection with Jan Vesely, another Wizards draft pick. How do you like Thomas on the field and do you think you have something similar like with Jan Vesely?
TS: “I think it would be great if I had the same connection like with Jan, that was special because I’ve been playing with Jan for so many years. It’s easy to play with Thomas, you know what he’s going to bring. He’s going to bring the energy and he’s going to be active in the offence and defence. He’s got a lot of confidence now in him and he’s great at finishing around the basket and he kind of changed the season as well for us because of his energy so it’s great for all of us and it’s really easy to play with him on the court and off the court he’s also such a nice guy. So I think he’s something of what we needed.”