Darrun Hilliard was acquired by Kirolbet Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz in the summer as one of Pedro Martinez’s choices for the backcourt. A few months later and after Velimir Perasovic took over, the 25-year old American guard is showing his real potential.
Hilliard’s impact on the Spanish team has grown significantly since Jason Granger was sidelined to a serious injury that most probably will keep him out for the remainder of the season. With 91 NBA games for two teams (the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs) in his resumé, the former Austin Spurs player seems ready to give his team the essential play-off boost.
TalkBasket.net met him in Athens, after what was the most peculiar game of the Euroleague season. Panathinaikos OPAP were up by 23 points (56-33) with fifteen minutes to go, but Kirolbet Baskonia made an unprecedented 2-28 run and looked confident down the final stretch. However, it was the Greens who regained strength and calmness to clinch the victory.
Q: How would you evaluate Baskonia’s performance after such a crazy game?
A: It was the first half that hurt us. We don’t want to get down by 21-25 points. That’s a tall tree to climb up. But we did it. We came back, but unfortunately we didn’t pull it out. I’m proud of our guys. I definitely believe that we could have won that game. We made some mistakes down the stretch, individually and as a team.
Q: Apart from some core players, like Shengelia, Garino, Janning and Granger, what else did you miss tonight?
A: We just lacked guys. We just played with seven guys tonight. I’m not sure that people understand how hard this is in the Euroleague. Ilimane Diop and Vincent Poirier got into foul trouble early on and that was tough to pull out.
Q: Do you believe that you stepped up at the right time, when Baskonia was plagued by injuries?
A: For sure. With guys being out and others taking on different responsibilities, it was not only me, but other guys as well that stepped up.
Q: How is your first Euroleague year?
A: It has been an experience for sure. It’s nothing like I had ever experienced before. Especially the crowd out here is outrageous. I look up and see a fire in the crowd and I say “wow, it’s amazing!”. There’s a lot of things that are different in Europe and the NBA. It’s all great basketball and I’m happy to be here.
Q: Did you expect what you eventually met?
A: Oh, yes, and more than that! I didn’t expect for it to be easy. I knew it was going to be difficult and I was ready for the challenge.
Q: I learn that Jalen Jones is having some hard time trying to adjust to European basketball. How is it for you?
A: I think it’s a different game from the NBA and the G-League. It’s played differently and you need in-game experience and practice to make it work for you. The rules are a bit different, not good or bad, but can make you better as a player. I know what Jalen is experiencing right now and I’m sure he’ll pull it through. It’s just a tough time. He must learn that he can’t use his hands on defense and stuff like that, but once he gets adjusted, he’ll be a better player.
Q: Do you think that the disparities between the European and the NBA game are getting bigger?
A: I wouldn’t say that those differences are bad. Once you come over here in Europe, you can be a better player. I am a better player myself than I was in the NBA and that’s a credit to European basketball and the Euroleague. It just depends on how you look at it.
Q: On which aspect would you locate your improvement?
A: Playing defense. I can take more pride on my defense, my decision making and my all-around game.
Q: What’s the long-term objective? To stay and grow in Europe or to go after an NBA offer?
A: I’m not thinking of the NBA. I just want to win. To make it to the play-offs, the Euroleague Final Four one day and the ACB finals. I’m not worried about the NBA or anything like that right now. I figure if I win and my team goes far, everything will take care of itself.
Q: Do you believe that more and more players find it difficult to secure a place in the NBA because of the two-way contracts and the endless back and forth between the NBA and the G-League?
A: Two-way contracts are definitely different than normal NBA contracts. However, I think whichever way you want to go, it doesn’t really matter. The journey and the experience are the most important things.