Featured

West Virginia’s John Flowers brings West Virginia basketball back together again

By Tom Ballato

John Flowers started bringing West Virginia alumni and fans together each year for an alumni game. He is back at it for the fifth year, but this time is uniting a fanbase and reuniting players for The Basketball Tournament (TBT).

Flowers spent four year playing under Bob Huggins at West Virginia. Each year his role increased and he eventually became a starter his senior season. During his time in West Virginia, Flowers played alongside Joe Alexander, Kevin Jones, Devin Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler and many other talented players that ended up going to the NBA or overseas to play professionally. His time on the court had to be earned. West Virginia was an annual NCAA Tournament team during Flowers’ tenure. He was known for his defense and rebounding and drew tough defensive assignments each game.

After Flowers graduated from West Virginia, he went undrafted and started a professional career overseas. His game has expanded since we last saw him in a Mountaineers uniform. He has played in six countries so far and is having success.

 

jflow
Photo shared by John Flowers.

Recently, Flowers announced West Virginia’s entry into the 2019 TBT Tournament. Something both college basketball and West Virginia fans should be excited about. The roster has yet to be revealed, but I’m sure we will get to see some former West Virginia greats together again! John has given so much to the West Virginia program. When asked what his favorite memory at West Virginia was, he replied, “Not one in particular is better than the other, but miss just walking around campus just being a student.”

What was it like to play for Bob Huggins at West Virginia?

My overall experience playing with coach Huggins was great. He led us to the NCAA tournament every year, Big East Championship, and Final Four. I learned a lot from him on and off the court. He taught me about responsibility and manning up and not to blame others for what I can control.

Your role gradually increased each year you were at West Virginia. You eventually became a consistent starter your senior year. What work did you have to put in to eventually become a starter? Does coach Huggins believe that freshman, regardless of talent, have to earn their minutes?

Huggins believes that anyone on the team freshman-senior has to earn the right to be on the court. I knew I just had to be patient and wait my turn as I was playing behind NBA draft picks such as (Devin) Ebanks, Da’Sean (Butler), and Joe Alexander. I just tried to have a positive impact in the game whenever I was in by bringing a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

Who was the hardest player you had to guard or matchup you looked forward to in college?

Two people that come to my mind are MarShon Brooks, who we called “Little Kobe”, he was great, and Norris Cole.

You played in the old Big East that arguably could have been the best conference in the county year in and year out. What was it like to play conference games each year in the Big East?

It was great playing in the Big East, I loved it. You always had to bring your A game every night. I enjoyed playing against the best.

During your time at West Virginia, you brought defense and rebounding to the team. What part of your game have you improved on that you may not have displayed at West Virginia?

I definitely have gotten to display my offense a lot more playing overseas. I was top 10 in my league in scoring my rookie year in Japan and I led the Pro B France league in scoring my second year.

Where have you played overseas and where are you currently playing?

I played in Japan for 2 years, France for 4 years, then Germany, Venezuela and Mexico. I am currently in Argentina on my 8th year as a pro.

From what I’ve read, you are in charge of bringing back alumni for alumni games at West Virginia?

Yeah I started a company J FLOW Entertainment and we are coming up on the 5th year of the alumni game. Playing in front of our fans again and with my brothers is always fun. We also have raised over 25,000 (dollars) for various charities over the past 4 years We have big things coming for this summer along with playing in the TBT Tournament.

I saw you are creating a West Virginia TBT alumni team. Have you started recruiting and what can we expect from a West Virginia alumni team?

Yes, we will play in the TBT this year,  I am very excited. We have named our coaches, Joe Mazzulla, Jarrod West, and Billy Hahn. They are getting their rosters together. We plan on having exhibition games in Beckley and Charleston (West Virginia) to get us ready. It will be a lot of fun playing with my brothers again. I can’t wait.

Former St. John’s/Overseas Elite guard Paris Horne

unnamed
Photo taken by Wendell Cruz.

Paris Horne burst onto the scene at St. John’s in 2007. He played in all 30 games as a freshman and became someone coach Norm Roberts relied on off the bench. His sophomore year, Paris played in 33 out of 34 games and started 31 of them. He led the team in scoring with 14.6 ppg (points per game) a big jump from 5.1 ppg, which he averaged as a freshman. 

As a junior, Paris averaged 9.1 ppg and played in all of the Red Storm’s games. His senior year, St. John’s decided on a coaching change and hired Steve Lavin and assistant Mike Dunlap. That year St. John’s finished with a 21-12 record and made the NCAA Tournament. Horne started 20 out of 33 games and was a key part of St. John’s run to the tournament. That year they defeated Georgetown, Duke, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Villanova who were all ranked teams. They finished ranked 18th overall at the end of the season. 

After graduating, Paris went on to play professionally overseas. He had a stint with the Charlotte Bobcats’ summer league team which was coached by former St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap. He was later waived by the Bobcats, but got valuable experience during his time with the team.

Paris has enjoyed success the past four summers playing in the The Basketball Tournament (TBT) with Overseas Elite alongside former St. John’s teammates D.J. Kennedy and Justin Burrell. Overseas Elite has won four straight TBT championships and has gone undefeated since they began playing in 2015 with a record of 25-0. 

Paris improved every season he played at St. John’s. He was a great defender, slasher, and loved to soar above the rim. He had a great mid-range game and was a 35% percent three point shooter for his career at St. John’s, but he was known for hitting clutch shots. 


What made you decide to come to St. John’s and who was your mentor? 

Justin Burrell actually had a big part of me coming to St. John’s.  He was my roommate in Bridgeton Academy almost everyday he would sell me on coming to St. John and being apart of something new trying to bring St. John’s back on the map as far as making it to the tournament. I have always been a person that likes a challenge and I really felt like we could do it, so I made my decision to come. My father and family were my mentors. 

How would you describe your time at St. John’s?

My time at St. John’s was pretty much great. I enjoyed the full life of a college athlete!

Your senior year you guys beat a bunch of ranked teams and made the tournament, what was that experience like?

My senior year beating all those ranked teams felt so good. It felt even better because we knew that this was our last season together and unfortunately in our early years we had a few injuries to guys that could have changed things for us in the past . Playing in the NCAA Tournament was unbelievable, just playing in that type of atmosphere would get anyone pumped up for a game.

What is your fondest memory or game from your time at St. John’s?

My fondest moment may have been my sophomore year season. To see the jump we took as a team from our freshman year to our sophomore was incredible.  You could see the potential we had! My fondest memory of games would have to be the Duke game at the Garden our senior year and my sophomore year game against Rutgers when I missed 1 field goal. I went 12-13 I believe and I have a lot more but those are the two that stick out to me!

How did the team come together before the tournament after losing D.J. Kennedy to an injury?

After losing D.J. in the Big East Tournament it was tough for us, but coach Lavin and the staff always prepared us to be ready for anything and just have the next man step up . It just hurt because D.J. has always been apart of our success and he was a senior having a solid season so far for it to end like that made us more motivated.

Have you been following the recent teams at St. John’s and what are your thoughts on Mullin’s system?

Yes, I always follow the Johnnies and coach Mullin’s team. I like them a lot and the system is great to me. You can see the players really enjoy playing together. I think the system works for the guys he has. He’s putting everyone in a system that works to their strengths.

Coach Dunlap brought you in on a training camp invite with the Charlotte Bobcats. What did you learn about yourself and game playing against the competition and fighting for a roster spot?

I learned a lot during the time I spent with coach Dunlap and the the Charlotte Bobcats. At the time, I learned that you have to bring your game everyday because just about everyone in the league can play at a high level, so you have to work everyday to get advantage. I learned about myself that I could play at the level if I got the right timing and opportunity. During that time, I got to battle some of the guys like Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, Ramon Session, and a few other guys to help push my game to another level. I enjoyed every moment of it.  I thank coach Dunlap greatly for even giving me the chance to experience that!

Where have you played overseas since St. John’s and where are you playing now?

Since St. John’s, I played in Germany, Greece, Turkey, Japan, Romania, Finland, and Morocco. I’m currently in Morocco now!

D.J. Kennedy, Justin Burrell and yourself have had success with winning the TBT Tournament with Overseas Elite. How is it playing with your former teammates again and what do you think has been the key to your success?

Playing in the TBT with D.J. and Justin has been great for me. Those guys are like my brothers and being on the team together is pretty easy for us because we all know each other’s games for the most part. I think the key to success for us is just the unselfishness and all of us having the same common goal! Also having God on your side alway helps!

 

Written by Tom Ballato.

Former New Mexico Lobos center Alex Kirk is having success in Japan

Alex Kirk spent four years at the University of New Mexico before forgoing his finale year of eligibility for the NBA Draft. Kirk who committed to New Mexico in 2010, was rated the number 97th overall prospect and the 7th best center in the ESPNU 100 coming into college. He started 21 of 34 games as a freshman averaging 4.7 points per game (ppg) and 3.7 rebounds per game (rpg).

img_8404
Alex Kirk at University of New Mexico. Photo shared by Alex Kirk.

Kirk redshirted and sat out his sophomore season due to a back injury, but came back even better during his redshirt-sophomore season. He started 33 out of 35 games and averaged 12.1 points and a 8.1 rebounds, which was a team-high. That year New Mexico won the Mountain West Conference title, but lost in the NCAA Tournament to Harvard. Kirk had a team-high 22 points in the tournament game.

In Kirk’s finale season at New Mexico in 2013-2014, he continued to build off his previous success.  He started all 32 games that year and New Mexico won the Mountain West Conference title again. Kirk finished the season averaging 13.3 ppg and 8.7 rpg and finished with 85 blocks on the year. New Mexico made the NCAA Tournament, fell short to a strong Stanford team.

In 2014, the 7-foot center Alex Kirk has decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NBA draft. It was a tough decision, but Alex was fully supported by the university. Alex went undrafted in the 2014, but ended up signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers for their NBA Summer League team.

Alex got a contract and signed with Cleveland in 2014 before the NBA season. He appeared in 5 games for Cleveland and spent time on assignment with their NBA D-League affiliate the Canton Charge before being traded to the New York Knicks in a three team trade in 2015. The Knicks waived him after the trade and he returned the Canton Charge to finish out the year.

img_8406
Alex Kirk with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo provided by Alex Kirk.

In the summer of 2015, Alex signed overseas in Italy. He has gone on to play in Italy, China, Turkey, and is currently playing in Japan. Alex has had success in Japan going on to win the Japanese B-League title in 2018.

I talked to Alex about the game he loves and his career thus far.

Who were your biggest influences that got you into the game of basketball?

My biggest influence that gave me the game was my dad. He was a high school coach when I was born and always made sports very available through out my childhood. Never forced basketball on me in any way, but when I told him I wanted to make something of myself using basketball he pushed me everyday. Having him coach me in high school was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It wasn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. Without him I would definitely not be where I am today!

You went to college at New Mexico and ended up going undrafted in the 2014. What was the draft process like and what was your biggest learning experience? How many teams did you work out for, did you play summer league?

Yes, I left college one year early after spending four years at New Mexico. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I left a place where I had a very successful and comfortable life, but it was the best decision I have made in my basketball career. After leaving, I trained down at IMG Academy with Dan Barto and company and definitely made huge changes to my body and game. I think I worked out for 14 teams and it was crazy. Starting with the combine all the way to draft day I was never not on the move. For me the biggest experience I had was how hard the pros work on their bodies and how much that had to do with their performance in the season. Draft day was obviously tough, but it worked out in my favor with agreeing to go forward with Cleveland that night.

You signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. While with the team you spent time on assignment with the Canton Charge (NBA D-League affiliate) and played in a handful of games for the Cavs. What parts of your game did you develop while with Cleveland? Your biggest takeaway from your time in the NBA?

So much was developed and learned during that period of time. Still I’d say I learned more about my body and how to keep taking care of myself. On the court, just learning the NBA game was a huge task, but I had a great group of vets that took care of me every day until I was traded. Watching Kyrie and Lebron everyday was a huge bonus, but the team was always extremely good to me. The biggest takeaway from that experience was the fact that I know and learned that I can play at that level. Knowing I had stuff to work on, but overall I knew I had the skill level and basketball mind to play there.

After your year in Cleveland, you’ve played in  Italy, China, Turkey, and now Japan. What parts of your game have you improved on since your time in Cleveland? Also how would you describe your time your last few years playing overseas?

Overseas has been a rollercoaster ride, but it has been really successful and I love playing overseas. I have improved a lot since Cleveland and I’d say mostly just learning the game and all the different offensive and defensive systems. Also, definitely polished off a lot of offensive skills because as an import overseas you have to score in many ways. Overseas is a challenge just like anything else, but if you take advantage of opportunities you can really get to some cool places around the world.

img_4090
Alex playing in Japan. Photo provided by Alex Kirk.

You played for Eberlein Drive in the TBT Tournament. Do you plan to comeback and play each summer as long as you aren’t playing overseas or under contract?

I have played or tried to play every year since the second year of the tournament. I have played for a few different teams, but I really do enjoy playing with Eberlein Drive. They are really good guys and they work really hard every summer just to give us a chance to play and be successful. I will continue to try and play for sure just never know the schedule and how the summer will plan out.

Has your success overseas garnered any interest from teams to return to the states? Whether that be sign in G-League and work your way to a return to the NBA or summer league?

Yeah, there has been some interest. Nothing big or else I would have acted on it. If the right opportunity came up I would definitely take the risk. I wouldn’t just come back and play in the G league, but if something came up I’d be ready for the opportunity.

 

Written by Tom Ballato.

Matt Howard: A winner’s mentality

matt-howard_400x400
Photo of Matt Howard taken from his Twitter page.

Matt Howard played four years at Butler under head coach Brad Stevens. During Stevens tenure at Butler, he brought four conference titles and five NCAA tournament appearances from 2007 to 2013. Stevens lead Butler to back to back NCAA Championship games in 2010 and 2011, where they were inches away from becoming champions. Brad Stevens along with Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, and company put Butler on the map and to the forefront of the college basketball landscape.

For those who don’t remember Matt Howard, he was Butler’s big man with crazy hair. That is just part of what he was at Butler. He played every game like it was his last. His winner’s mentality along with his ability to crash the boards and out hustle opponents was something special. He was a defender that didn’t backdown from anyone and set good screens to get his teammates open. His game improved each year at Butler and by his senior year, he had become a threat from beyond the arch.

Howard averaged 13.8 points per game during his time at Butler. He was named the Horizon Conference Player of the Year in 2009. He became a key part of Butler’s success and was a leader on and off the court. Howard made a name for himself in the NCAA tournament, out hustling his opponents and doing the dirty work. Following graduation, Howard went undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft. He has enjoyed a successful seven year career overseas which includes two Summer League stints with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies. After suffering a big injury last season, Howard hasn’t felt good enough to get back into basketball and play again.

If this is the end of the line in Matt Howard’s playing career, we will all remember how much fun it was to watch him play at Butler. I’m sure he’ll pursue his next endeavor the same way he approached basketball, with a winners mentality.

 

When did you fall in love with the game of basketball?

MH: I always enjoyed playing with my siblings and neighborhood friends growing up. We played all kinds of other sports, but basketball is the one that I stuck with and played organized exclusively. It was the one sport I’d watch the local high school team play and then have to go play or shoot some shots afterward because I wanted to emulate all I’d seen. That’s where I probably realized what I loved.

While at Butler, the teams you played for put Butler on the map with back to back runs to the NCAA Tournament championship. What did you learn about yourself and the team during your time at Butler? You always played with this grind and grit, you might not have been the top ranked player on the court, but you outplayed and hustled them. Did that also give you an edge in your opinion?

MH: I think it is true that you play with an edge when you’re viewed as the little guy. We talked a lot about being the tougher team and wearing teams down at the some point in the game. We knew at the end of games if it was close, we were gonna find a way to win and that trust and chemistry is hard to break. Most games, it’s true, that I wasn’t the biggest/fastest/strongest, so I took pride in out competing opponents and being in good enough shape to maintain that for the full 40 minutes.

How was it playing under Coach Stevens and do you still have a relationship today?

MH: Yes, coach has been great through the years in being a willing mentor and voice when I’ve needed guidance or in the pursuit of getting better in my knowledge of the game. I was fortunate to have played for him and that coaching staff for four years at Butler. He is elite at both understanding his players and getting to know how they tick and he obviously is great from a tactics standpoint, especially making adjustments during the game. His calm demeanor and quiet confidence translated to us on the floor. Very few coaches can put all of this together, but he has. He is a constant learner and that’s part of how he’s able to stay ahead of the norm.

Where have you played since graduating? You’ve played in the top league in Israel. How would you describe your career so far and what have you’ve improved on your game since college?

MH: I played 7 years in Greece, France, Germany, and Israel. I’d say my career the first 3-4 years was similar to how I played in college my senior year. More at the 4 position and picking and popping with some 5 sprinkled in.  (He played power forward and a little at the center position) After that I started to have injury issues and movement became more limited. As a result, I leaned on being a great screener, hustler, defender, and rebounder to make up for that. Like that I really had to be quicker making reads and decisions and I felt my reading of the game became better during this time.

Are you still close with your Butler teammates (Mack, Hayward, etc)?

MH: I’m not as close as I’d like to be. I enjoy watching both whenever I can. Both have beautiful families and are good guys. Shelvin’s wedding was a highlight of the summer and they rocked it!

What are your plans when your career ends? Do you want to coach?

MH: I think I’m in the midst of figuring that out right now. Trying to determine if I want to get into coaching or if the family is better suited in a more stable situation using my finance and MIS degrees. Hopefully I’ll know sooner rather than later.

 

Written by Tom Ballato.

Former Hampton Pirate and Los Angeles Laker Devin Green gives hope to those students who attend HBCUs

Hampton University located in Hampton, Virginia, was founded in 1868. It is a private university and is a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Their mission is to serve and educate the black community. This is something that Devin Green was educated about at a young age by his godparents, who raised him from fourteen years old. He would watch Hampton play North Carolina on television and started learning about African American colleges. When it came time to select a college to play for Green ultimately chose Hampton.

Devin Green played at Hampton University from 2001-2005. He finished his career at Hampton with 1,757 points. Green said, ” I chose Hampton because they were the first school to offer me a full ride scholarship.” He had offers from Miami, St. Joseph’s, and Notre Dame. “I was a late bloomer, by my junior and senior year (high school), I had a lot more offers. Hampton offered me a scholarship my sophomore year. They came to all of my events and there was a big trust factor.” Playing early on was important to Green and the coaching staff was high on him playing as a freshman in college. The fit was mutual.

“I was blown away by the situation I was in.” -Devin Green

Devin Green
Devin Green supporting his brand H3 Collection..

By the time Green graduated, he knew he made the right choice. His goal at the end of it all was to go to the NBA and the experience helped him by playing all four years. According to Green, he was on the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns draft boards. He worked out for the Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers prior to the 2005 NBA Draft. Green went undrafted that year, but this did not stop him from reaching his goals.

When I asked Green about being overlooked coming from a small school, he replied, ” I wouldn’t say I was overlooked. I would say there was a lack of exposure in going to a smaller school. I played great in big games. My freshman year I was on a college insider’s Freshman All American list. Everyone on that list played at some point in the NBA. I was always on the NBA radar and scouts would come to my games.”

During his tenure at Hampton, there was a coaching change between his freshman and sophomore year that affected Green from a statistical standpoint. Even though he went undrafted, Green said, “Hampton put me exactly where I was supposed to be.” Coming from Ohio, Green had the assistance of NBA players during his summer workouts. He grew up with Lebron James and the former Milwaukee Buck, Michael Redd was a mentor of his.  His work over the summers helped him improve and he eventually landed a deal to play for the Lakers.

Green’s time with the Lakers set the tone for his career from a work ethic and professional standpoint. “My improvement from college to after my first year in the NBA skyrocketed.” Green played under coach Phil Jackson and was surrounded by the likes of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom just to name a few of his teammates. Green spoke highly of the Laker organization. “Being a Laker, in an organization with tradition and that is family oriented was amazing and I was surrounded by greats.”  Green went on to talk about how old players (former Lakers) comeback and want to be a part of the journey and process. “Magic Johnson and James Worthy were there and Scotty Pippen was on the preseason coaching development staff.” Green’s time with the Lakers lasted only one season, but he learned so much about life and the game. This allowed him to add to his game. He had a high IQ for the game and his time in Los Angeles only helped.

“All of these Hall of Fame guys helped and I will be able to give back to the next generation.”

Green had training camps with the Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks in 2012, which was the last NBA team he played for. After the Lakers. Miami signed him to a partially guaranteed deal, but he didn’t end up with the team. All three of these destinations, he spent the summers and preseasons working with these teams. Green discussed that again he played for great coaches and was surrounded by talent, (Shaq, Dwayne Wade, Penny Hardaway and Pat Riley in Miami, Kurt Rambis was the head coach for Minnesota, and Greg Popovich in San Antonio) which was all great experience. After these stops, Green’s basketball career headed overseas.

When asked where he has played, Green laughed and said, “Where haven’t I played”. Green has made stops in Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Venezuela, Belgium, China, Algeria with the national team, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Mexico, and the NBA Developmental League (with three teams). He has had some good experiences and bad experiences overseas. His favorite spot was in China playing for the Shanghai Sharks. “It was an amazing experience. My head coach was my trainer prior to the draft. The strength and conditioning coach worked with the Rockets.” It was a familiar environment and worth ethic he was used to and he enjoyed the city of Shanghai. “Yao Ming was the president of the team and he brought that NBA mentality.”  Ukraine was one of the toughest places where Green has played. “It was a cold, dark place and they didn’t do a good job finding a solution to the barrier (translator). I had a bad experience, but at the end of the day, it’s not America.”

“We expect the American standard from people who aren’t American.”

Green just finished up his season in China and is enjoying his time off stateside. He averaged 27 ppg (points per game) and 10 rebounds at 36 years old.  He plans to start training again soon and plans to continue to playing in China this upcoming April. Green is also the founder of H3 Collection, which makes apparel inspired by HBCUs. When asked if he plans on coaching when his career is over, Green replied, “I plan to keep my options open.” He wants to mentor kids and go into the HBCUs and develop talent in sports and entertainment.  A position where he can give hope to students attending small schools, a position he was in not too long ago.

 

Written by Tom Ballato.

 

The start of the Mullin era at St. John’s with alum Ron Mvouika

Mvouika
Pictured is Chris Mullin and Ron Mvouika. Photo courtesy of Ron Mvouika’s Twitter. I do not own the rights to this photo.

In March of 2015, Chris Mullin accepted the men’s basketball coaching position at St. John’s University. He had his work cut out for him replacing former head coach Steve Lavin’s prized recruiting class that featured D’angelo Harrison, Sir’ Dominick Pointer, and Phil Greene IV.  There were some players that remained at St. John’s from the Lavin era and some other who left once Mullin took over. When it was all said and done a total of eleven students graduated, transferred. or left to go play professionally. The rebuilding process was underway in Queens.

Mullin started filling out the roster. He started with four transfers, Durant Johnson (from Pittsburgh) and Ron Mvouika (Missouri St.), who were graduate students, Darien Williams (City College of San Francisco) and Tariq Owens (Tennessee).  He then recruited five freshman, Marcus Lovett Jr., Kasssoum Yakwe, Yankuba Sima, Malik Ellison, and Federico Mussini who came from Italy.

It was a tough first season at St. John’s for Chris Mullin. One of Mullin’s top recruits Marcus Lovett Jr. was ineligible and eventually ended up redshirting to start the season. The team finished with a 8-24 overall record and had a 1-17 record in Big East Conference games. The team lost a bunch of close games, but Mullin got his team to play hard night in and night out. One of the bright spots from that season was upsetting Syracuse at home 84-72.

Mullin’s first year at St. John’s experienced growing pains, but with St. John’s currently 12-0 and headed in the right direction, it is hard not to look back and say it was all worth it.  I spoke with Ron Mvouika (who was a graduate transfer in Mullin’s first year) about his time at St. John’s and about his post colligate career.

What made St. John’s the right fit when you transferred in?

When Coach Mullin first got back to St John’s, the program was in a rebuilding process. They’ve lost all the great seniors that they had such as Phil Greene, D’angelo Harrison, Sir’ Dominick (Pointer), and guys like Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan, who decided to go another route. So we were starting from scratch. I was a 5th year graduate student and my job was to come and bring my experience to the table and do my best to lead the younger guys. We had a very young team coming in so I knew my role was going to be major on and off the court.

St. John’s is now being called Transfer U. You were one of the pieces along with Durant Johnson that transferred in that started St. John’s becoming a transfer landing spot. What are your thoughts about building a roster full of transfers?

Coach Mullin’s first year was exceptional because he didn’t have a choice, but to get a roster with transfers and foreign players. Mullin got job a few months before the summer and 9 times out of 10, players are getting recruited over the year or years. The coaching staff had to come up with something fast. Coming up with something fast, but good enough to at least compete with the best of them because the Big East could arguably be the best conference in the nation. We had a very bad and tough year, but a lot of positivity came out of it and I guess landing transfers was one of them. It’s not hard to land and persuade a player to come play in New York City, at Madison Square Garden for two NBA hall of famers. I don’t see anything wrong with it, as long as the new players understand and want to buy in into the school tradition, history and philosophy. Schools don’t have any problems letting a player go if they don’t play well or don’t fit in the system. I don’t see why it would be a problem for a player to leave and go elsewhere if that’s the best decision for him to do so.

You only played one season at St. John’s, but became a fan favorite due to your enthusiasm and hard work in a down season. How would you describe your time in Queens?

I loved everything about my time at St John’s. The losing was the hardest part about it, but I knew what I was getting myself into from the beginning. My approach of course, was to try to win every single game. I also knew that we were going to be that team who will have to go through all the losses to help teams in the future win. I felt like as long as we were bringing our bricks to build that big successful wall that we have today, I can look at myself in the mirror and be proud of my squad and the coaching staff forever. Some people never understood why my love for St John’s is so big and I will use this outlet to express myself, but St John’s gave me an opportunity to play basketball again. Everybody wrote me off after I had back surgery. I had no school and no where to bounce back, after Missouri State wrongly closed the door on me. I have no hard feelings because it was part of God’s plan. I love the city of New York, it’s my second favorite city in the world behind Paris. I always felt like a New Yorker at heart, so when Coach Mullin, Coach Matt, Coach Greg called me to make it official, there was nothing else to talk about and I will be forever grateful towards these guy and the program, forever.

How did Coach Mullin run the offense while you were there to accommodate all the newcomers?

Coach Mullin offense is really easy to adapt to simply because he gives players freedom. He’s not like these coaches that will ask you to make 15 passes before taking a shot. The style of play is very free and open, as long as you respect spacing, you run the floor and you defend hard. He comes from the NBA and brought his NBA experience into the game and made a couple of arrangements into the college style of play and it worked out very well. Every players dream is to play for a coach that will let you be yourself at all costs so it was really easy for pretty much everybody to adapt. Coach Mullin will sub you out the game if you don’t shoot the ball, that says a lot about how he views his players and how much he trust them.

How is your professional career going so far? Where have you played and what have your roles been?

Coming out of college, it was quite hard. I played for the French National team, but didn’t get the right contract or fit for me. I ended up getting drafted to the G-League, but it also didn’t end up well, simply because these guys made me play at the four position knowing that I’m a guard. My ability to play different spots (positions) was always a strength of mine, but at the four spot, at that level, I had no chances. I ended up going back home and didn’t have anything for almost a year, but I’m a fighter, people who know me know that I never lost faith, knowing that God would provide an opportunity for me to bounce back and play.

I am currently playing for Bayer Leverkusen, a Legendary club in Germany in the Pro B division, and we are playing well this season so far. We are 10-1 and on the right path to go up a division at the end of the season. My role on the team other than score the ball and be the playmaker is to lead, bring my experience on the table, a very similar role that what I had in St John’s, so I can’t complain. I’m still working hard and still having big dreams in mind when It comes to basketball and with hard work, Faith and God’s will, I will be end up where I deserve to be one day.

 

Written by Tom Ballato.

 

 

Let’s Drive

The Basketball Tournament (TBT) last summer ended with Overseas Elite defeating Eberlein Drive in the title game, taking home both the 2018 title (their fourth consecutive title) and the two million dollar prize. Runner-up Eberlein Drive are planning to regroup and are anxiously waiting until they get their next opportunity.

Eberlein Drive was founded by Jake Hirschmann, who entered and played with his friends in the very first TBT Tournament. The original members of Eberlein Drive grew up, and their families still live on, Eberlein Drive. It is a cul-de-sac in Fraser, Michigan.

After the first tournament, Hirschmann reached out to Matt Mitchell who played in the tournament too. Mitchell played college basketball at Olivet Nazarene University, a NAIA level in Illinois. They both saw the best opportunity to succeed in the TBT would be in a front office role. Before year two of the TBT Tournament, Jake reached out to Matt and asked if he would consider helping him build the team. Jake and his friends would help secure the votes needed for the team to earn entrance to the tournament and Matt would recruit and fill out the roster.

“It seemed like a good match and we haven’t looked back since.” – Matt Mitchell

Eberlein Drive has been around since the very first tournament. In 2017, they changed their team name to the Stickmen. The Stickmen were a combination of Eberlein Drive and actor/booster Michael Rappaport. They changed their name back and are going to continue to build their own identity going forward.

With chemistry playing an important role in the TBT Tournament, Mitchell emphasized, “Eberlein Drive is looking forward to bringing the core group of players back in 2019 and feel their chemistry will be even stronger than last year”.

Image result for eberlein drive

I spoke to general manager Matt Mitchell about his role on the team and the future of the team going forward.

As far as filling out the roster, you’ve had your share of former college and NBA players. Talent is one thing, but what goes into it that makes you feel certain players can work together for such a short period of time?

I’ve been doing this for five years now and have learned a lot. Early on, I thought I needed to have the biggest and most marketable names, which I thought would help me earn entrance into the tournament encase of the voting aspect of the TBT.  Just because someone has NBA experience or at one time was a very good player, it didn’t necessarily mean our team would function as a cohesive unit in such a short period of time.

My strategy has changed quiet a bit. Clearly we have to have a talented roster and as your can tell, our roster this year was by far our best and arguably the best in the entire field. However what I’ve realized is most important is finding the “right players”. Character, leadership, and a team first mindset are all the things that I analyze now when we build out the roster.

You’ve had Donald Sloan, Renaldo Balkman, Lou Amundson, Willie Reed, Alex Kirk, and James Michael Mcadoo to name a few of the NBA talent, who are some other players that have been mainstays and really excelled for Eberlein Drive over the years?

Justin Dentmon was a phenomenal players for us two years ago. Unfortunately, he had an injury that didn’t allow for him to join us this past year. Another guy that hasn’t played the last two season, but will go down as one of the best in Eberlein history and was on some of our earlier teams, is Tyler Laser. Tyler doesn’t have the same NBA level pedigree that others do, but he is a very talented overseas player. However, he is an awesome leader and fierce competitor. One of the more vital players we’ve ever had is Jerome Randle. He is one of the most hard nosed players I have ever seen. He is a winner and with him as our point guard, I’m confident in our chances no matter who we face! Jerome will have a spot on our roster as long as he’d like.

You guys signed Willie Reed last summer. Before Reed signed on, did you have any other player signings in the works?

Yes, to be honest, Willie was one of our very last roster additions. Him joining our teams did not necessarily affect the signed of any other player. Each year we start with hundreds of contacts and targets, and whittle that down. It is not far-fetched when I say that I believe with the discussions I have and the number of quality players interested in playing, that I could fill out multiple rosters and good ones at that.

With that said, our goal and desire is to return the majority of our roster from 2018. There will be a few exceptions for obvious reason, like the retirement of Lou Amundson. He may still be involved with our team in some capacity as he has come to really enjoy the event and was an integral part of our roster.

How do you prepare the team to be ready in a short period of time? Is there anything you want to share with us about Eberlein Drive that most fan don’t see?

Ideally, we would have a 1-2 week mini camp prior to the tournament every summer. However that has not happened to date. We have been lucky to get 1-2 days with everyone involved. We have plans to do exactly that this year and think it will pay off.

As far as preparing for games in a short time, I cannot take all the credit for that. We have a great team around us and fortunate to have coach David Nurse on staff with us. He does a phenomenal job and always comes prepared. As far as scouting and video for our players to review, I need to give a shout out to Zach Hopp. Zach has become a friend of mine through the TBT and is a student at Kansas. Last year he served as a lead scout and video coordinator for our team. He was staying up ’round the clock to study game film to review prior to each game.

Jake and I are very blessed to some some great guys around us.

 

Article written by Tom Ballato.