Marcus Slaughter was one of the last additions on AEK Athens’s 2019-20 roster. The Greek side have formed an experienced squad, in which Slaughter will join fellow veterans Jonas Maciulis, Keith Langford and Dimitris Mavroeidis.
After a long and fruitful career which spanned six countries and twelve different teams, the 34-year-old center will make his Greek League and BCL debut. AEK Athens start off not as the Champions League title holders, but as a solid contender to the trophy. Having played for Real Madrid, the perennial “Queen” of European basketball, Slaughter will find himself fighting for another “Queen”, which is wearing the black and yellow outfit instead of the white one.
Just a few days before the BCL tip-off, the 2015 EuroLeague champion with “los blancos”, who declared for the 2005 NBA Draft but later withdrew and went undrafted by NBA franchises the following year, sat with TalkBasket.net for an extensive interview on his past, present and future.
Q: Which are your first impressions of Athens?
A: It’s a great city, great country, great food. I’m loving it right now. Everyone speaks English, so it’s easy to adapt. The people are friendly and I enjoy being able to speak English with everybody and communicate, be myself. I missed that. I think it’s underrated because a lot of people don’t understand how difficult it can be when you’re in another country and you’re not able to communicate yourself. After a while, you lose your personality. When I can only speak on the basketball court and outside I can’t say anything, it gets hard.
Q: You’ve played all over Europe. Which are your expectations from the Greek League?
A: Actually, it’s my first time in Greece. I have only played against Panathinaikos and Olympiacos and, from that, I know that they are really good teams. As far as the league, I don’t know it at all. It’s going to be very new and all I do is to ask questions to my teammates to know more about the players. I don’t know about their tendencies and I have to get familiar with the players really fast. That part will be difficult, but I will adjust pretty fast once I get to watch all the video.
Q: Before signing with AEK, where did you get your info from?
A: My teammate last year was Manny Harris who played here. When we were in the locker room, he used to talk about AEK. So, I knew a lot about the team from him and I also talked to Jordan Theodore who was here. He advised me on what areas to live in, how is it etc. They both loved it. Manny told me that it was an amazing place and that he would come back anytime. All I heard was great things.
Q: It seems surprising that you didn’t talk with Jonas Maciulis, since you were teammates in Real Madrid.
A: No, I didn’t get to speak to him about the place.
Q: Did you have any offers from Greek teams in the past?
A: Yes, Panathinaikos. But I turned it down because I liked Madrid better. It was somewhere around 2014.
Q: I know you’re a passionate fan of Real Madrid and that you’re watching soccer.
A: Yeah, I’m a big fan of football and basketball as well. It’s like family because I had been there for a long time. I went to a lot of players’ weddings and I’m still connected with them like family. To leave that and go to another place was really very difficult to do. So, I didn’t want to leave and decided to stay. At the time, the coach -I forget his name- called me, we had a conversation and he told me that he wanted me here. I told him I appreciate it, but I don’t want to come. It turned out to be a good decision.
Q: It was Dusko Ivanovic.
A: Yeah, Dusko. That was his name.
Q: Are you still following Real Madrid?
A: Yes, I watched them win the Spanish Supercup. I also got to watch some highlights. I pay attention to what they’re doing and look at them often.
Q: I believe you’ve said that basketball was never your sport of preference initially.
A: No, my No.1 sport is baseball. Growing up, I used to watch it more than anything. Then, it was basketball and as I got to 17-18 years old, soccer. I played as a kid for fun, but I watch it and enjoy it a lot. Not to mention the soccer practices I had with my Real Madrid teammates (laughs).
Q: Are you happy that the Spanish National Team won the FIBA World Cup?
A: Absolutely. Actually, I wanted Spain to win. Those are my friends; I know them; they’re like family to me. I don’t know anyone on the US team. I was really happy for my friends winning gold and also proud of them.
Q: This year you will be playing in the Basketball Champions League. The format of the competition has changed and in the play-offs, there’s a best-of-three series deciding the winner instead of the goal average. What do you think?
A: Ah, OK. I like that better because I think that the best team will win the series. In the Final Four, no one really has a real advantage. Anyone can win because it’s only one game and anybody can get lucky in that game. The series is about the best team and that’s why I like it better.
Q: Have you looked at the competition in the BCL?
A: I know a few teams. For instance, (Virtus) Bologna. I played there, so I know that team.
Q: Bologna are playing the EuroCup this year.
A: Oh, they’re in EuroCup now! I remember that they won the BCL. There are some other teams that I remember, like Pau Orthez in France. I played there and I’m familiar with them. The German team (Rasta Vechta) I don’t know, the Polish team (Anwil Wloclawek) I’ve heard of them, I’ve played in Jerusalem and I’m familiar with the place. I’ve also played several times against Banvit.
Q: What does it take for AEK Athens to succeed this season?
A: It takes a lot of hard work. It’s about chemistry, communication, commitment and unselfishness. With all these ingredients, you can make a great team. Of course, you got to have talent, as well. I think we have a chance against everybody.
Q: AEK Athens has six players with EuroLeague experience: you, Langford, Maciulis, Markovic, Ray and Mavroeidis. Does it matter?
A: Yes, it’s not everything, but experience does matter. It means that you’ve been in that situation before, so that you understand what it takes and how it’s going to feel. When you are new, you get into a situation and you don’t know how to react. When you’re experienced, you know what you’re supposed to do. That is an advantage for experienced players. We have a lot of them on our roster and this means that we know how to play the game of basketball.
Q: Probably you are not fully aware of what happened in Greek basketball last year with Olympiacos, but how do you deal with it?
A: No, I just heard that they’re not playing this year and that’s unfortunate. As a team, you only have to play the teams that are in front of you.
Q: Yes, but do you wish you could play against Olympiacos also?
A: Absolutely! I want to play against the best: players, teams, everything. Unfortunately, they won’t be playing in the Greek League but it is what it is.
Q: It seems that the EuroLeague is turning into a closed group. Do you agree with its present form?
A: I think that for EuroLeague, which is the best league outside of the NBA, you want the best teams in Europe, however you need to get that; the best teams wherever they come from, even if they’re in England, it doesn’t matter. Just get the best teams available to play. I don’t think it should be closed off because there could be a great team one year and then fall off. If they’re one of the good teams, they should be competing with the best teams in the world. I like the teams that play in the EuroLeague and maybe they could make it bigger with more teams, because there are some good ones missing from the competition. It would be more exciting for the fans here in Europe who want their country to be represented.
Q: Do you regret having declared yourself available for the 2005 NBA Draft?
A: No, because based on what was going on I had every great stat possible. There was nothing more I could do. I averaged 17 points, I was fifth in the nation in rebounding with 11 rebounds, I was one of the top 2-3 players in my conference and did everything that’s possible to do on the court. I won everything for the teams and my University (San Diego State). Other than that, I would come back just to play. It’s not like I was going to do better. That’s the way it works. I don’t think it’s the system of the draft, but life works in ways that you don’t understand. I believe in God and I can’t question his plans.