LSB PLAYERS LEARN LIFE & BASKETBALL LESSONS FROM REIGNING NBA CHAMP NEMANJA BJELICA
Lucky young Londoner’s from the LSB’s Brent Panthers got the chance of a lifetime last week in an exclusive Q&A with a surprise special guest at the BDA Camp in Belgrade. Current NBA Champion Nemanja Bjelica, from the Golden State Warriors, took some time out of his busy schedule (he is currently working with the Serbian Men’s National team in preparation for the upcoming FIBA European Championships) to visit with the BDA young ballers in person.
In an excitable gym full of potential future stars jockeying to get closer to the former Euroleague MVP, Bjelica graciously made time for every single player present – taking pictures, signing jersey’s, shaking hands with parents and above all, answering all of the questions the Panthers threw his way.
A selection of the top questions from the surprise session:
Q: What was it like winning a NBA Championship with the Golden State Warriors?
A: It was like a dream come true for me. I’ve been playing at a high level for many years and the opportunity to win it all does not come along very often so when it does, you have to enjoy every moment and make the sacrifices necessary to put the team first and do whatever you can to help the team win. We had a very special group this past season, a legendary group led by the greatest shooter of all-time, but also an entire organisation who were all committed to the same goal and all willing to sacrifice individual things for the success of the team. Amazing coaches, amazing management and amazing players all coming together. It was very special.
Q: You were the best player in all of Europe when you moved to the NBA – what is the biggest difference between playing at the top level in Euroleague and playing for the top team in the NBA?
A: Both levels are high, but in the NBA you have the best players in the world – the best athletes and the best of everything, from facilities, trainers, nutrition, travel, technology, just all things are covered and at the highest level in the world. Also the rules between both leagues are different which makes the European court smaller as players can pack the paint making it more difficult to drive the lane, while in the NBA everything is more spaced because of the defence rules. Situations also matter. In the NBA, depending where you are and what the team requires from you, you have to play your role. When you understand that, things get easier.
Q: Who is the best player in the NBA?
A: There are a lot of great players in the NBA, but my teammate Steph Curry, is incredible. He can score from anywhere on the court and is the best shooter I have ever seen.
Q: If you could give your younger self advice now you have more experience, what would you say and why?
A: I would have come to the NBA earlier. I had many opportunities to go to the NBA much earlier than I did. I didn’t go to the NBA until I was 27 because I was having a good career in Euroleague. If I did it again, I would have come earlier so all my prime years would be in the NBA.
Q: What’s it like playing for your country?
A: Playing for Serbia is unlike anything else. It isn’t about money, I would play for my country for free. It’s the highest honour a player can receive. To have your family and friends supporting you and to know you have been selected to represent your country at the highest international stage, there is nothing bigger or better than that.
Q: Who is the hardest player to guard in the NBA?
A: Of course Kevin Durant and Lebron James are unstoppable but for me, I have the hardest time with smaller quick guards, because of my height (ed: he’s 6’10” tall!).
Q: I’m 13 years old, what type of training should I be doing to get to the NBA like you?
A: You should be playing the game for fun and enjoyment at your age. You need to have a real love of the game to take it far. Instead of thinking about NBA, make the most of enjoying playing with your friends or playing on your own for fun. Focus on your school work because that is what will help you not only after basketball but also with opportunities in basketball for college in America if you do develop as a player. Being a good student will always help your basketball career. Listen to your coaches and your parents.
BDA co-founder Bane Vukovic was full of praise for the Serbian superstar:
“To have a player of Nemanja’s calibre come to spend time with the young players at our camp speaks volumes about what type of person he is. He is busy in preparations for the FIBA EuroBasket, but when asked by Coach Milojevic (BDA co-founder and currently assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors), understanding the impact he has on the next generation, he committed straight away. Incredible player, but even more incredible human being.”
LSB founder and Director Nhamo Shire added:
“The look in the eyes of the young players from London when he (Bjelica) walked in was everything. To have a NBA Champion live and in the flesh and to be able to talk with him, ask him anything they wanted and take pictures and slap high-fives with one of the best players from Europe to ever do it…it’s just inspirational and I’m so glad we were able to pull this off. BDA really came through on this one. Amazing experience.”