Monday, January 17, 2011

Q&A with the best scorer of the Finnish League (Korisliiga) Jonathan Heard. The former graduate of Cal State Northridge says: "I'm more of a slasher and a scorer rather than a shooter. I feel ready to push my game to the next level"

Jonathan Heard, the 6-6 Inglewood native and former star at Cal State Northridge is currently the leading scorer in the Finnish Korisliiga, wearing the jersey of Tarmo. The 24 year old swingman, who's currently playing his 3rd pro season, talked to BT analyst Dr FingerRoll about his career so far.

Jonathan, do you have any basketball related childhood memories?

I just remember getting my first basketball court when i was 5 years old and I played night and day until it was time for me to go to bed.

Who was your role model while growing up, both on and off the court? The person that gave you guidance and the player you looked up to for inspiration?

Well, my Mother has always been my role model and my inspiration to play basketball because as a child she was the one who drove me to my games and tournaments and always gave me that support to work as hard as i could.

When was it exactly (if there was a moment) that you understood basketball was going to be your profession?

I was about 11 when i started taking basketball seriously, and started to understand my potential as a player.

You had a successful HS and college career. Were you expecting a call from the NBA?

Of course, i would be lying if i said i didn't think I would expect a call, but everything happens for a reason and that made me work harder and I'm thankful for the opportunities I have had.

Was it difficult to choose to play overseas? And how was your adaptation to a new environment (California and Finland seem like two different worlds) off the court?

Yes, it was difficult because I just got done with college and it was my first time outside of the country. I had to get use to the language barrier, the food, the people and definitely the weather. It doesnt snow in California and it snowed a lot in Finland, so that was a big change for me.

And on the court, what were the differences in the game in Finland and then Chile from the NCAA style of play?

The difference is Finland and Chile are both more physical than college and you also have more freedom playing overseas, where college is more of a certain system.

You're back in the Korisliiga this year and you're the leading scorer. Do you think you're ready to take your game to the next level next season?

I feel each year I get better at my game because of the hard work I put in, I feel like I am ready to take my game to the next level because I know how good I am.

For the readers that have yet to see you play, would you describe Jonathan Heard the player? Your stengths and weaknesses or, better, the aspects of the game you need to improve?

Jonathan Heard is more of a slasher and a scorer rather than a shooter. Meaning my game is more all around. My strength is getting to the basket and I don't have any weaknesses but I can improve on my 3point shooting. I like having the ball in my hands and creating for other players.
Who's Jonathan Heard off the court? What do you like to do in your free time while you're abroad and back home?

I'm really big on family and friends. I also love spending time with my girlfriend. I like going to the movies, playing xbox, sleeping, hahahaha. I'm a regular person off the court, I just like to enjoy life.

You majored in journalism: once your playing days will be over (a long way from now) are you gonna put together your basketball experience and your journalism studies to write about basketball?

Yes, after basketball I want to become a sports anaylst and share my knowledge and experience with everyone.

Thank you, Jonathan and best of luck for your career.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exclusive interview with Leo Avenido, the floor-leader of the Singapore Slingers in the ABL: "I never give up. In every practice, in every game I give everything I got. And I always want to improve and win"

Leonidaz Avenido (born on September 25, 1978) is arguably the best South-East Asian player in the ABL, the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Basketball League. This Year the 5'10" Filipino superstar joined fellow countryman Al Vergara to lead the Singapore Slingers, after running the offense for the Barracudas of Brunei last season. Leo talked to BT columnist Dr FingerRoll about growing up playing basketball in the Philippines, the Pinoy basketball movement, the ABL and his career so far.

To better understand basketball in this area:
ASEAN is the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
ABL, the ASEAN Basketball League is a collaboration between Dato Toni Fernandes, entrepreneur and the founder of  Air Asia, Indonesian media giant E-Live Entertainment and the South East Asian Basketball Association (SEABA).
PBA is the Philippine Basketball Association

Leo, according to ABL analysts you're the best ASEAN born player currently playing in the ABL? How does that feel?

Well, I don't think so, but I would lie if I say I'm not happy to hear that, on the other end I don't want to think too much about it! I'm just a player who works hard everyday and at 32 still needs to improve!

Can you tell us how and when you fell in love with the game?

I started playing basketball late in my high school years: I used to watch some Filipino basketball idols playing and I said to myself that I wanted to be like them someday.

Are there many opportunities to get in touch with the game in the Philippines?

Yes, the Philippines is a basketball country: every sidewalk, every street, almost every house has a basketball court and even if you don't like the game, you're gonna learn to love it eventually!

Who was your basketball role model while growing up? And would you describe yourself as a player to the readers who have yet to see you play?

Just like anyone else I think, Micheal Jordan was my role model while growing up: I particularly liked his attitude on the court; like I said, I had Filipino idols as well, players like Kenneth Duremdes, Vergel Meneses, Jeff Cariaso and Johnny Abbarientos: they were very good. To answer the second part of your questions, I never give up: in every practice, in every game, I give everything I got and I always want to improve, but if I have to choose one thing that describes me is that I play my heart out!

For those who are not familiar with the basketball movement in the Philippines, can you tell us how important is bball in your country?

Basketball is huge in my country and luckily if you become a pro player you get paid good money and you can help your family financially. But, besides that, basketball, together with other sports, is also a tool to keep kids off the streets and away from drugs and crime.

Just like in the NBA, the PBA, the Filipino national league, has a draft in which players are selected from college. You were selected number 10 in 2002 Draft. Is this draft any close, even in terms of media coverage, to the NBA's one?

The draft is televised so there's a lot of media coverage and attention. I was lucky to be selected together with some senior teammates; I remember being so nervous and sweaty even though the room was ice cold. When they called my name I was so happy: a nice feeling indeed.

Can you tell us a bit about your career?

My career is like a rollercoaster, but I always say to myself to hold on and just believe in myself and have faith in God! So far I've been blessed.

ABL was born last year and you played in Brunei before joining Singapore Slingers this year. How important is the development of ABL for the growth of basketball in South-East Asia?

Compared to last year, the League is more mature, all teams improved the quality of their rosters, the supporters keep on coming to the arenas and I personally hope the ABL can improve its status and will have more and more followers in the future, maybe even beyond South-East Asia.

This year the Singapore Slingers opted for a full Pinoy backcourt with Al Vergara and yourself. Is it special for you and Al to play against the favourites, the Philippines Patriots?

I'm happy to play alongside Al this year, also because I can play more the 2 spot than last year when I ran the offense as a playmaker in Brunei. Well, this is my job, so nothing personal, I'm a Filipino but I play here in Singapore and we just need to do our job when we face the Patriots! On the court I hate them, off the court I love them.

Can you describe the style of play in the ABL?

In the ABL you need to be in top shape because all the teams like to run: you need to be strong physically and mentally ready because so many players play rough and talk trash. As for the fans, I like my home crowd, they make us feel like we are playing in a NBA arena.

At 32 you're at the peak of your career and you're going to play for many years to come. Once your playing days will be over, are you gonna still be in the bball world with another role (coach, manager, owner)?

I really don't know, I'm too busy enjoying the remaining years of my career!

What type of person is Leo Avenido when he doesn't wear a basketball uniform?

I'm a comedian, always smiling, but when it's time to get serious, don't count on me for laughter! I'm kidding, of course!

Best of luck for your season and career, Leo!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Q&A with Miles "the Voice" Schmidt-Scheuber: "The future of the German hoops looks bright. Nowitzki and Kaman will play at the 2012 Olympics in London and Tibor Pleiss will make the team in the NBA soon"

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber is the voice and play by play broadcaster of the Deutsche Bank Skyliners on radio since the 2004-2005 season. He has broadcast 270 professional basketball games in this time including 5 BEKO BBL All star games, the 2008 BEKO BBL cup final Artland Dragons-EnBW Ludwigsburg from Hamburg, an ULEB Cup game  from in Rome against Frankfurt and a  international games Germany-Canada with Dirk Nowizki and Germany Poland. He has interviewed well known players like Anthony Tolliver, Shamond Williams, Tyus Edney, Robin Benzing, Daniel Ewing, Carlos Arroyo, Marcus Brown , Marcus Fizer, JR Bremer, Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola, Mario Kasun and Maciej Lampe just to name a few. He has his own weekly 2 hour basketball radio show since 2006. He also writes for and German

Miles, you are the Voice of the Deutsche Bank Skyliners in the German Basketball League (BBL) but you are a journalist and you host a nationally renowed radio magazine. No one better than you can tell Basketball Telegraph readers how basketball going in Germany.

The BEKO BBL season is as exciting as never before. It seems that in the past 2-3 seasons, the league has gotten more and more tight. The first placed team cant take the 18th placed team lightly as Bamberg recently experienced losing to the last placed team Gloria Giants Duesseldorf. Every team can beat every other team. Every weekend there are very exciting games and rarely games where a team has already decided the game at halftime. The league is very competitive and the league has gotten much more athletic in the last 5 years.

I've been in Germany and attended the gyms: it's impressive the atmosphere over there during the games. I do believe the League board was successful with marketing campaigns. Do you still see any room to the next step?

Basketball is still a growing commodity in Germany. A positive development has been the attendance rate which I believe reached 1 millionen patrons last season in the BEKO BBL. The German basketball league finally got a name sponsor in 2009 with BEKO with the help of Gloria Giants Duesseldorf coach Murat Didin and after 5 years got a national TV deal again with Sport 1. The BEKO BBL seem to be making strides in marketing, but it is never easy when a country is led by soccer and has other sports like ice hockey and handball which still garner more interest. A big problem still seems to be the limited media coverage of basketball.

Dirk Nowitzki has been a true factor in the german basketball growth. Will the National Team be ready to keep being competitive when his career will end?

Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman most likely will play at the 2012 Olympics in London and this will be a big chance for the German national team to win a medal. The future of German basketball looks bright and is developing well. Despite not having success at the European championships in 2009 in Poland and at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, the club has a promising roster of young players. The team has experience with 2005/2007 BEKO BBL champion with Bamberg Steffen Hamann, ACB veteran Jan Jagla,  Dirk Nowitzki friend Demond Greene who grew up playing with the Dallas Maverick in Wurzburg and sharp shooter Heiko Schaffartzik who can decide games on his own, can shoot of the dribble with ease and score in bunches. After that, the team has unending young talent from the birth years 1988/1989. 3 players from the birth year 1988 are Per Guenther who is playing a great season for Ratiopharm Ulm and playing with so much confidence that he could have his breakout season at the 2011 European championships, Tim Ohlbrecht still has unending potential who was already seen as the next big German talent after Dirk Nowitzi four years ago. Ohlbrecht is playing for a very good coach with Michael Koch in Bonn and will be a very important player in the next years for Dirk Bauermann. Lucca Staiger who once scored 106 points when he was 16 is a sharp shooter that got experience at Iowa State and is now playing for Alba Berlin and getting a role in the rotation of Luka Pavicevic. The birth year 1989 has the biggest prospects and highest potential. The four players are Tibor Pleiss, Robin Benzing, Elias Harris and Phillip Schwethelm. The two biggest prospects are Tibor Pleiss and Robin Benzing. Pleiss was drafted by the New Jersey Nets last summer and has been developing nicely in Bamberg. He should be an NBA player in 1-2 years. Robin Benzing had a poor WM in Turkey, but has matured into a big scoring option in Ulm. Last season, he averaged 12.5ppg, 2.5rpg, 1.2apg, and currently is averaging 15,2ppg, 4,4rpg and 1,0apg. He didn’t enter the NBA draft in 2010, but most likely will in 2011. He will be one of the big stars in the German national team in the future. Elias Harris is an interesting prospect that is playing his second season in the NCAA for Gonzaga. Last season, he averaged 14.9ppg, 7.1rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 54.7%, 3PT: 45.1%. He is very versatile as he is a natural power forward, but has the athleticism of a small forward which he also can play and dazzle you with his shooting. I will be very surprised if he doesn’t have a healthy NBA career. Phillip Schwethelm is a talented forward that is known for his shooting, but has the all around game and is a strong defender. He will be the typical role player in the future that will do his job and make the big plays. In some ways, the German national team is a few steps back to other countries like Spain that develop their players so much earlier. Players like Rickey Rubio, Victor Claver and Sergio llull were already playing ACB in their teens. The key to developing young German players better is recognizing a talented player with 8-12 years instead of 15-17 years.

Do you think it's early to see a German team on the top of the Euroleague?

There are really only two BEKO BBL teams that have Euroleague niveau and they are The Brose Baskets Bamberg and Alba Berlin. Alba Berlin showed last season that they could keep up with the top European teams in the Eurocup reaching the final against Valencia, but losing. The Brose Baskets Bamberg played a very strong euroleague. They beat Olympiakos, Real Madrid and Malaga and lost two tight games to Rome and Madrid by not more than 4 points combined. Bamberg had a lot of misfortune and could of easily reached the next round. Bamberg has the best chemistry and ball movement in the BEKO BBL and are on a healthy route to becoming a final 4 team. One cant forget that a Bamberg might have 6-7 million budget and a Real Madrid between 20-30 million. That makes the differences at the end where a Bamberg and Madrid finish.

Can you tell us more of the best BBL domestic and import players?

The best domestic players I already mentioned in the third question, but have to be Tibor Pleiss and Robin Benzing at the moment. I also don’t want to forget Phillip Zwiener of TBB Trier who has showed the whole German basketball world that when he gets minutes, that he belongs to the best current German players. Zwiener is leading his club in scoring and probably will get invited by Dirk Bauermann next summer for the German national team. The two best import players at the moment are Dashaun Wood of the Deutsche Bank Skyliners who is the main reason the team is in second place despite injuries to AJ Moye and Roger Powell. He is the early MVP candidate as is John Brant who is near unstoppable for Ratiopharm Ulm who is averaging 15ppg and 10rpg and everyone is waiting for his first 20ppg and 20rpg game this season. Other top import players are Torrell Martin, Folarin Campbell, Craig Callahan, Tyrese Rice, Derrick Allen, and Casey Jacobsen.

We know that Soccer is a major sport in Germany. However, have sponsors and businessmen started investing more and more in basketball? How are the clubs going financially wise in this troubled economy?

You might have to ask the teams. Without doing any research, I believe that there might be a gradual increase in this area. It is always a struggle in this area as clubs are fighting for sponsors. The Deutsche Bank Skyliners have been looking for a name sponsor for a long time as times are tough. In the last years there have teams like Rhein Energie Cologne that went bankrupt and teams like Giessen and Trier that made it public that they were having financial problems. The whole problem with getting more sponsors has to do simply with getting more awareness of the sport basketball in the media. You know you're in trouble, if a person comes into a basketball city in Germany and is surprised that there is a basketball team there.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Exclusive Q&A with Japanese Pointguard Takumi Ishizaki (Shimane Susanoo Magic) who grinds now to shine later: "I want to go to the Olympics. All my focus is to make this dream come true"

Takumi Ishizaki is the 26 years old pointguard of the Shimane Susanoo Magic (bj League). Takumi (6'2", 187 lbs) grew up in the Hokuriku high school/youth program and he is one of the rising star of the Japanese basketball. He is a member of the National Team, and in his career so far he got numerous international awards: 5th place in Asian junior tournament, 16th place in Universiade  2005, 4th place in Universiade 2007, 2nd place in East Asia basketball championships 2009, 3rd place in East Asian Games 2009, 4th place in Asian Games 2010.

Takumi, tell our readers please something about your career so far?

I started playing basketball when I was 6 years old because my mother was coaching the team in the youth program. I played in the National tournaments in all the categories: elementary school, middle school, high school and university. I was selected as a member on the U18 National Team during my high school years and we got a championship in the National tournament. I also became National champion while attending the University and we got 4th at the Universiade 2007 in Bangkok: it was an amazing international experience. After graduated I played professionally three years with the Toshiba Brave Thunders in JBL but when I got a chance to play in Europe, in Germany, I left the team for a while in april 2010. Now I'm with the Susanoo Magic, and I'm preparing to grind and get the chance to play in Europe again.

Who were your favourite players growing up as a little kid?

I didn't watch basketball that much when a kid, due to fact I didn't love basketball when I was a little kid. Now I'm a real fan, I do love the game. And I watch games and footages of great players, trying to get inspiration and to steal secrets and to become a better player. I love to watch Steve Nash, Ricky Rubio and many other pointguards. But my favourite player is Yuta Tabuse. Although he is a japanese player he is no doubt a great baller: he has similar size as me, great skills and he really can play and he is really good and can compete at any level with import players.

What does working hard mean to you?

I like to work hard, it's a must if you want to become a better player. I do that for myself, coach, fans, family. I'm very competitive, fans here are great and supportive, so I just try to grind to get better and  ready for the next level.

Maybe not everybody knows about the bj league. What can you tell us about the Japanese basketball?

I think we are a backward country in basketball now. We depend on foreign players in many cases during the games. The same stuff happens in both the Japanese leagues, the bj and the JBL. I know that nobody knows about our leagues so the goal is to make the Japanese basketball more attractive and professional in the years to come. The domestic players have to improve and need to be able to compete against the imports.  I'm optimistic that it will happen.

What is your typical off-season and what do you enjoy off the court?

I almost don't have off-season because when the season ends we have the National team training camps.  So usually I go on short vacations and I love meeting friends. In my spare time I like reading books.

What are your future goals? Have you ever thought to play in other leagues, for instance in Europe?

I want to go to the Olympics: that's my dream. Our National team hasn't participated to the Olympics for a long time. All my efforts and focus is to make this dream come true. I definitely would love to play in Europe: I could learn more in high level leagues and I want to push myself to the next level, even for the Japanese basketball.