Olivier Hanlan: “The goal is to get on an NBA team, but I keep the doors open for China”

The Jazz's Olivier Hanlan, formerly a Boston College star, drives to the basket during a summer league game vs. the Spurs.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Canadian combo-guard Olivier Hanlan was having a good season with Iraklis BC in Greece, leading his team in most statistical categories. Past tense is necessary here, since the 2019-2020 campaign seems very difficult to resume in the following weeks. Up until the break, Hanlan averaged 16.3 points, 3.55 rebounds, 3.45 assists and 15.5 PIR over 20 Greek League games with the team from Thessaloniki. Iraklis BC currently ranks seventh, which means that if there is still a season, they could secure a play-off berth for the first time in sixteen years.

Hanlan played college basketball for the Boston College Eagles of the NCAA and was selected with the 42nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz. His unimpressive turnup at the 2015 NBA Summer League could not land him a contract, but Europe has proven more generous. The Quebec-born player took a good taste of Euroleague action with Zalgiris Kaunas, tried also the French League with Le Mans, had another shot at the NBA through the Spurs-affiliate team in the G-League and returned to Europe for Telekom Baskets Bonn in Germany. This is quite a journey for a man at the age of 27, who’s still waiting for an NBA job to come his way.

About a month before the coronavirus pandemic brought almost every sports competition to a halt, TalkBasket.net spoke with Olivier Hanlan in Crete, where the Canadian guard participated in the Greek All-Star Game. The 6-foot-4 guard took the time to talk about his prospective career destinations, which do not exclude China, his impressions from playing in Greece and his potential return to the Canadian NT after almost three years.

“It’s always fun to come to an event like this, where there’s not too much stress going on and you can enjoy it, see all the top players in the league and just have fun. I’m looking forward to finishing the season in the play-offs”, Hanlan said in the beginning of the conversation, unaware of what was about to follow a few weeks later.

Q: How is your season in Greece?

A: I think it’s going pretty well. Every team has ups and downs. We have some more games to play in the regular season.

Q: How did Iraklis BC come along?

A: It was more of a basketball choice, in terms of being able to play my style of basketball and demostrate that for a full year. I mean having the ball in my hands, being aggressive and having the freedom on the court to use my instincts.

Q: Would you compare Iraklis fans to the Zalgiris crowd?

A: They’re very similar. Both have many fans, although Zalgiris has amazing fans and the environment over there is pretty crazy. The country is small, but everyone knows basketball over there. Greece is the same thing. Fans show up in every game, no matter if we play the first or the last team. They send me thousands of messages on Instagram to support me. They’ve been good to me and hopefully we can finish on a good note.

Q: Competition-wise, how’s the Greek League?

A: I feel like there’s a lot of good teams and players. It’s one of the leagues where there’s many good guards, especially from Panathinaikos and AEK Athens. I’ve played four-five years in Europe and I’ve always bumped into Tyrese Rice throughout the process. But just seeing him be so consistent these last years he’s been playing, is pretty incredible. He’s still really good. I respect his game, his journey and his career.

Q: Are you going to participate in the next Summer League?

A: I’m not too sure what I’m doing in the summer yet. I’m trying to focus on this season; finish it as good as possible on a group and on an individual note. Sometimes, playing overseas is up and down, but as long as you stay steady and consistent throughout the season, you’ll be alright.

Q: Do your NBA rights still belong to the San Antonio Spurs?

A: No, after last summer they don’t belong. Last year, I was waiting to sign in Europe to release my rights. Now, I’m just focused on making the playoffs. NBA is always the ultimate goal, right? So, I leave it up to my agent and try to focus on the basketball aspect of things. I feel like this year I’ve been pretty consistent with my play and I just need to finish this X amount of months and games to get to the playoffs, which is very important for me. I feel that it’s another opportunity to showcase your abilities and all eyes are watching you.

Q: How was your experience in the 2015 NBA draft?

A: It was good going through that draft process. I think I worked out for 20 teams. So, it was a pretty crazy process, but it’s part of basketball. There’s so many things throughout a career. Everybody has different journeys, but overall it was interesting.

Q: Did you keep in touch with the Utah Jazz organisation after they drafted you?

A: Yeah, throughout my years in Europe. But every summer I play a good amount of time in the Summer League. I’ve always bumped into people and most of the time it’s easy to keep in contact with them.

Q: You managed to win a G-League title in the States with the Austin Spurs in 2018. How was that?

A: We had a pretty good run and it was nice what we did with that group of players. Sometimes, the G-League can be a tricky thing, but we had a really good team and group of coaches. That’s why we ended up winning.

Q: Would you rather play in the G-League again or would you explore European options?

A: I will never play in the G-League, starting with a G-League contract. That’s for sure. I’d always pick Europe. But some of the two-way contracts are getting interesting because they’ve started to pay players more and more money. For sure, it would be something interesting, but the goal is to get on an NBA team. If I don’t feel the need to go back to the G-League, I could make a good amount of money in Europe too.

Q: Would China be considered an alluring destination or not anymore?

A: My agent has always brought the Chinese League to my attention. Especially for a guard like me, who likes to score, it would be a pretty interesting situation. The season is a little shorter and they have a lot of money over there. So, I’ve always told him: “Keep the doors open for that!” (laughs).

Q: Do you believe that you deserved an NBA opportunity?

A: You know … it’s never given, you got to earn it. I know guys that right from the draft have an immediate role and others that go to the NBA, stay for two years and then get overseas for five or six years before they get a chance. So, I just keep on working and hopefully a chance comes up.

Q: Did you pick anyone’s brains regarding career opportunities during the Greek All-Star Game? There were some very accomplished guys present, like the NBA champ Brandon Rush.

A: No, it was just a chance for all of us to have fun. I feel like sometimes us as athletes are so serious, stressful, always worrying about our next job and staff like that. So, for once it was the complete opposite. You just try to forget about all the important things, have fun, get to see some familiar faces from the NBA or overseas.

Q: What will you do after your contract with Iraklis BC expires?

A: It’s too early to say anything. Most of the time, that’s not my job to focus on. I think that sometimes when you’re too much focused on what’s ahead, you start getting distracted. Now, all my energy and my thining is to win the games left with the team to go to the playoffs.

Q: Are you going to play with the Canadian National Team again?

A: I was. I still have really good communication with them throughout the years, but now it gets a little tricky with the timing. Communication with the National Team is still there, but we’ll see what happens. They have the Pre-Olympic Tournament next summer and I wasn’t able to join them in their last games. It’s always an honour to play for Team Canada. It’s like an All-Star Game. You see so many good players and I’ve been playing with the NT since I was 17. We’re a team with a lot of potential, but some times it takes a little more experience to win those kind of games.