After two and a half years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Spanish guard-forward Alex Abrines returned home. The club that had made him one of the top prospects in Europe, FC Barcelona, was eager to have him back last summer and the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft signed a two-year deal with the Catalan side. Abrines was named the Euroleague Rising Star in 2016, succeeding fellow teammate at Barca Nikola Mirotic, who had won the accolade in 2011 and 2012 as a Real Madrid player.
The Spanish NT player was waived by the Thunder in February 2019, not only on the basis of his performances, but mainly because he was struggling with depression. In a video posted on his Twitter page in July 2019, the 26-year-old revealed that he had reached the point where he “hated basketball” since he was living a nightmare and thus tried to avoid it any time that he could. Having gone through psychological hardship, Abrines found out that he no longer wished to stay away from basketball courts and chose the team coached by the legendary Svetislav Pesic, on his second stint with Barca himself, to restore whatever part of his basketball I.D. had been lost in the NBA.
Although FC Barcelona were eliminated in the Spanish Cup quarter-finals by Valencia Basket, they are 19-6 in Euroleague and many would bet a fortune on them winning the continental crown. Such a scenario would make perfect sense, simply because this season the ensemble is extraordinary: Nikola Mirotic, Malcolm Delaney, Cory Higgins, Brandon Davies and of course Alejandro Abrines himself make up a super-team. Depth, size, experience and endless basketball quality can lead FC Barcelona to the much-coveted trophy, but for Abrines the great news is that he’s back on track, playing again the game that he no longer seems to hate. The same goes for his presence in the NBA. His rookie season turned out fine, as he scored 6 points on 38% threes in 68 games, but the other two campaigns were below (his) standards, despite the support he got from franchise star Russell Westbrook. However, for him it’s just water under the bridge.
TalkBasket.net discussed with Abrines his impressions from the victorious game for FC Barcelona against Panathinaikos OPAP in Athens (an arena in which the Spanish team had last won in 2015), his NBA experience and the evolution of the Euroleague into a most attractive competition for NBA players.
Q: How was the game?
A: It was a tough one. We know how hard it is to play at OAKA. I think we did a pretty good job since Panathinaikos were playing great in the first three quarters, but in the last one we managed to keep our intensity high, made some shots and that’s why we got the win.
Q: Did you miss playing in this arena?
A: Yeah, you got those kind of courts and big gyms in the States, but the crowd doesn’t cheer as much as here. It’s great because it gives players the opportunity to show their talents in front of thousands of people.
Q: What brought you back to Europe?
A: I think I needed a change, although I had some great times in Oklahoma. After what happened with my depression, it was tough. I needed a change, to come back home and I think FC Barcelona was the best team. I knew the club, I have friends in Barcelona and it’s pretty close to my hometown. I needed a change of air.
Q: Do you think you were NBA ready, in every aspect, back in 2016?
A: Well, NBA is completely different than European basketball. I know that I’ve changed a lot physically – obviously I lost a little bit. But over there it’s always games after games and you need to have your body prepared for that. Here it’s different: you got to be ready to practice hard and play one, two or sometimes three games a week. Intensity is higher in Europe because every minute and every game is important. I missed playing for so many trophies: the King’s Cup, the Spanish League and the Euroleague. Those are different competitions and it doesn’t matter so much if you lose one because you can win the others.
Q: Apart from having the chance to play with Russell Westbrook is there anything that you hold on to from your three years in Oklahoma?
A: I made so many good friends there, like Steven Adams. I met him again last summer after four months since I had gotten back in Spain. That says a lot about the friendship I had with him. But it wasn’t only him. I obviously don’t talk with Russ or Paul George but they’re always there. Some of them came to my wedding. It’s a relationship built in almost three years and I keep that.
Q: Did you get to demystify the NBA a little bit?
A: It was as I expected it to be, but I didn’t know how I was going to play or perform. The first months were obviously hard because I had to adjust. Some guys like Westbrook helped me a lot and I was able to play well, play with him and also win some games.
Q: Would you try it again?
A: Yes, I haven’t closed the door on the NBA. Right now, I’m focused on FC Barcelona. I’ve got one more year with them, but you never know what’s going to happen in the future. If I got the chance to go back, maybe I would take it. But it’s not an answer that I have right now.
Q: What has changed in European basketball since 2016, when you left?
A: I don’t see a lot of changes. After three years, you tend to forget how the game was. The intensity is high, all the teams – and especially this season- get better players. More NBA players like Mirotic came here to play the Euroleague and this says a lot. Euroleague is the second best league in the world and in the USA they’re starting to notice. I hope that more players would come to Europe in order to make this league even better.
Q: Was Mirotic signing with FC Barcelona a surprise for you?
A: Actually, yes. We had the same agent and I knew nothing about it! When I realised on Twitter what was going on, I called my agent and went like: “Oh man, you should have told me! I didn’t know anything”. So, it was a big surprise, but he’s a great player and I’m happy to have him on my team.