Austin Hollins: “Even if I had to go back, I would still choose Zenit Saint Petersburg over Panathinaikos”

Photo Source: EuroLeague Basketball

Austin Hollins is having his rookie Euroleague season with Zenit Saint Petersburg, after five years of overseas experience. The 28-year-old had to cash his great 2018-19 campaign with Rasta Vechta in Germany and although many prestigious top-tier clubs went after him last summer, he chose the Russian side which received a wild card in order to make its first ever appearance on the big European stage.

As for the athletic guard-forward from Arizona, his 9.3 points in 21 minutes indicate that he can be as successful at the top level as he has been playing college basketball for the University of Minnesota, as well as in France, Finland and Germany. Zenit recently substituted coach Joan Plaza with Xavi Pascual, but their Euroleague fate seems doomed, since they are 7-17 and hold only the slimmest of chances to make the play-offs.

TalkBasket.net met Austin Hollins in Athens after another blowout defeat of the Russians to Panathinaikos OPAP, one of the teams that tried to get his signature in the summer of 2019.

Q: Do you think the final score (81-96) did justice to Zenit’s performance?

A: We made a lot of mistakes and I think the score speaks for itself. They are a great offensive team and if you’re not getting stops, it’s tough to beat them. We just have to go back to the drawing board and keep practicing.

Q: How has the Euroleague treated you so far?

A: For me personally, Euroleague is going well. It’s been tough (to respond) as a team, for sure, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it.

Q: What’s the objective right now for Zenit?

A: Find the way to win. That’s the ultimate goal, since we are competitors. Obviously, it’s not so fortunate that we are in a difficult situation, but we have to keep working and stay together as a team. Given the team’s place in the standings, it’s hard to get to the play-offs, but we got to fight the same way as if we were in the TOP 8.

Q: As far as the VTB League goes, do you know that you have to play the finals in order to make next season’s Euroleague?

A: I do know that and we’re focused on that. VTB is most important for us. We got to go out there and get wins, take care of business.

Q: How did Zenit become your first Euroleague team last summer?

A: I weighed my options. Me and my agent had been talking about it. Coach Plaza called me and that was it. I felt it was the right situation for me, an opportunity to play in the Euroleague which I took.

Q: Did your agent actually talk to David Blatt about joining Olympiacos Piraeus?

A: He did speak with him. I don’t know how much they spoke, but there were contacts.

Q: Is it also true that Argyris Pedoulakis tried to recruit you to Peristeri BC in 2018 and also Panathinaikos OPAP last year?

A: Yes, it’s true. We spoke on the phone a couple of times, as I was still waiting to make a decision. I like to take my time to make sure I’ve picked the best situation for myself. I went to the best place for me: Rasta Vechta. Last summer, I had an offer from Panathinaikos, but I went to what seemed as the best place for me. I never look back, trying to redo things. Even if I had to go back, I would still make the same decision. I’m happy playing for Zenit, although Panathinaikos is a great organisation with a lot of history.

Q: Were you surprised at not getting drafted in 2014?

A: No, I wasn’t. Those things are out of my control and I don’t think too much about this.

Q: Does your father Lionel give you advice on how to play or correct your game?

A: Sure, we talk on the phone sometimes, but whenever I’m home we get in the gym and he helps me out.

Q: You played against Rick Pitino in the Euroleague, but back in college you were coached by his son, Richard. How was your relationship?

A: He was a great coach although I only played one season (2013-14) with him. I really enjoyed playing for him and I think he’s going to have a lot of success if he continues to coach wherever he is.

Q: You were a defence-oriented player in your college years. Do you think that this feature can translate well into Euroleague basketball?

A: It’s very important to play off-ball. Defence is important for winning games, for any team. It’s something that I pride myself on, playing defence and trying to do the best I can.

Q: Will you give another shot at playing in the NBA next summer?

A: I’m focusing where I’m at right now, without giving up on the NBA. I work hard in the summer and during the year. I’m very blessed and all I do is just trust the process. However, I can’t say if I’m going to participate in another Summer League because it’s early for that.