An Interview with James Gist


The Spurs do things differently. We all know this is true, but it helps to stop and check the score once in awhile. One thing that sets the Spurs apart from other teams is there use of the Austin Toros and international leagues as part of their player development. “Yes, I know,” you say. “Why remind us now?”

As we’re busy thinking about the upcoming draft, let’s not forget that Marcus Williams, Malik Hairston and James Gist are better than almost any player the Spurs will draft in the second round.  It may well be the case that San Antonio will add youth and athleticism to their 2009-10 roster through the fruit of their 2007 and 2008 drafts, not to mention their work through the Toros and friendship with Angelica Biella.

Last July James Gist captured the attention of Spurs Nation with his strong summer league play, and most fans would like to see a reprise this July. I had a chance to catch up with Gist last week.

TV: How was the experience of living abroad for a year?

JG: I don’t really have any crazy stories about living in Italy. For the most part, things went how I expected. When I first arrived in Italy I was a bit upset–I felt that I belonged in the NBA, not overseas. After the first couple months went by I decided to accept that fact that I’m over here and to make the best of my situation. One thing my agent, Bill Duffy, told me was that “life is like a card game at times, your not always given the best cards, but you have to play the hand your dealt. So why not make the best of it.” Around November I took that into consideration and did the best I could to make the situation positive.  Looking back on the decision the Spurs and I made for myself to come overseas, I think it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. This is definitely an experience I will always remember. I am very happy that I made the decision to come to Italy for a year. I grew as a basketball player learning a lot more about the game, but, more importantly, I grew as a person.

TV: Tell me about Biella, the city and the team. From your perspective, how does the level of talent of Serie A compare to the ACC?

JG: The city of Biella fits me because I have a laid back personality and I enjoy relaxing and not always being in the limelight. Biella has about 50-60,000 residents. Everyone I meet or walk by always has a smile, they’re very nice, and say thank you for coming to Biella. The people were supportive whether we won or lost.

As far as the competition goes, international basketball is a lot more competitive than the collegiate level. In college you usually have 1 or 2–if your lucky 3 good players–on your team. That’s enough to carry you to a national championship. In Europe, every person on the team makes nearly a million dollars and they have been playing together for years. Countries stand behind their hometown team. It’s bigger and the competition is greater.

In college when a team or player misses a defensive assignment, the opposing team may not be good enough to execute and punish the team for messing up. If you leave someone open in Europe they will punish you every time. Through my experience I feel like individually one person can’t beat a team overseas, as opposed to the States where teams usually have one go-to-guy that will carry the team the entire game. However as a team, Europe is perfect for learning how to play the game right. Knowing when to make the right passes, when to run on a fast break or slow the tempo down, who to get the ball to when the time is right, all comes in to play when you play team basketball. I think in the States we have more of an individual game, not to say that we don’t have great teams. But during NCAA games you see more isolation sets than you do overseas.

TV:  Last year, you had a phenomenal summer league. You quickly became a fan favorite amongst Spurs fans–they were disappointed not to see you camp with the team. How has your game improved since then? What specific skills did you work on in Biella?

JG: I became more mature as a basketball player. I had the chance to play with and against some good veteran players. They may not have been as young or as athletic as me, but they made it work and found other ways to be effective on the court. That helped me understand how to play the game and the important things I needed to know, whether a small trick and how to effectively use technique without relying on pure athleticism. I learned how to be more physical, improved my shooting, and worked hard on being at full energy the entire time I’m on the court. But most of all, I improved my basketball IQ.  I understand the game much better now than I did even a year ago.

TV: Do you plan to summer league and camp with the Spurs? If not, is a team like Maccabi in your future?

JG: My plan is to play in the NBA summer league this upcoming July, preferably with the Spurs. My overall goal is to be on an NBA team this upcoming season, again preferably the Spurs. If for some reason that does not happen then I’m sure I can play overseas.

TV: One of the things Spurs fans debate amongst themselves is whether you’re a long 3 or a high energy, small ball 4. Assuming you come to the NBA next season, what position do you think is a more natural fit?

JG:  I’m a little bit of both. I have the potential to develop into a 3 offensively, but defensively I’m comfortable  guarding small and power forwards, as well as some point or shooting guards if necessary. I’ve played in the post area my entire life so naturally I can play the 4, but I can see myself developing into a solid 3 man in the near future.

TV: The Spurs feature a “stretch 4” in their offense. That is, a forward that is able to knock down threes and create space for Tim Duncan. Based on your play for Biella, it looks like you could fill that role. How does a Robert Horry type role appeal to you?

JG: Robert Horry did great things while playing in the NBA, so those are big shoes to fill. I want to come into the NBA and start my own legacy, if possible. I plan to work hard and do whatever I can to help the team I play with win games. If I work hard enough maybe I will hit game winning shots and win championships too.

TV: I was at the Draft Combine a couple weeks ago. Every player there expected to be on an NBA roster next season. Obviously, that isn’t going to happen. What advice would you give to guys who will soon find themselves in your position? That is, of being asked to play abroad for a season or two to improve their games prior to coming to the NBA. What advice might you give Greivis Vasquez?

JG: I would say that if a team suggest you do one or two years overseas, take that opportunity to learn and grow and experience new things. In the end it will pay off. Before I came over here I thought I knew everything and thought I was more grown up than I actually was. This was my first time living by myself with no family or friends nearby. I had to try and learn a new language so that I could communicate with people here, and I had to adjust to my surroundings. Now that I’ve completed my year I’m better ball player and, more importantly, a better person. As for Greivis, I wish him nothing but luck in whether he decides to stay in the draft this year or go back to Maryland. (Ed. Note: Vasquez has decided to return to school.)

Thanks for your time, James. Good luck.

  • Gene

    I’ve never seen him play, but after reading that interview, I really want to see what he can do with and for the Spurs. James sounds incredibly mature.

  • este

    If he wants to be a Spur he better stop doing what he’s doing in the photo. Pop no likey the dunk.

  • Hollywood

    I think if he refers to it as a “dunk shot”, then he might not get in Pop’s doghouse.

    Overall, great interview, and great to hear Gist mature overseas.

    I still think the Toros-Spurs synergy is overrated at this point. The fault might be more with the Spurs for basically playing 3 Card Monty in the way they shuffle players in and out of the roster more out of fear of losing a player then in actually committing to the development of that player. All that work we’ve put into Hairston and he isn’t even Spurs’ property at this point, and neither is Gist. Instead, we have the rights to Marcus Williams, probably the weakest NBA ready player out of the three.

    I’m sure others will disagree. For the moment I see more panic than poise in their actions.

  • cmk_78212

    Ha! He says he can defend the point or the 2! (along with 3’s and 4’s) That may be a little bold, but even if he isn’t as laterally quick as Bowen in his prime, he must be quicker than Udoka.

    Since he went oversees this year, I think we still have his rights, though I believe we have to make him an offer each year to maintain those rights. It doesn’t seems like a bad deal. Go play in Europe for more money, but still be either a free agent or a signee of an NBA team each year to prevent you from getting “stashed” over there without the ability to get out (like some other Spurs draft picks)

  • Tydus

    I remember seeing this guy at Maryland, and if his game has gotten better then I welcome him into the silver and black. Also, just by that interview, his maturity level is at the Spurs standard that Pop and R.C. have created. I say bring him over and let him show what he can do.

  • VI_Massive

    Was this a phone or email interview? If it was an email interview, how long was the lag between question and response? It seems like he had some time to compose these comprehensive, well-thought out answers. Either that or the guy is an eloquence machine.

  • Timothy Varner

    We exchanged a handful of emails. He was moving between Italy, Greece and the U.S. so it took a few days to pull together.

  • GMT

    Thanks for the interview. It was a good read. I really hope to see Gist on our roster next season. I’m wanting a realistic front court of Duncan, Oberto, Mahinmi, Thomas, Bouroussis, and Gist. I don’t see Gooden as being worth the MLE, and Bonner’s late/post-season drop off was really discouraging, not to mention that Bouroussis is basically Bonner version 3.0.

    If we don’t draft a SF and settle with Hairston or Williams, I think we should draft a backup PG. I hope we’re able to land Casspi, though.

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  • Latin_D

    This was a great interview, Tim. Congrats, and thanks for sharing.

  • Area Man

    If the Spurs sign Gist, Nichols and Bouroussis over the summer, then I’ll be content. Moreso, if they draft a point guard in the second round.

  • gospurs44

    I agree with Hollywood about the Spurs-Toros development pipeline being overrated. Though in the early stages, we have Hairston and Williams to show for it. In theory the idea is good but the rules prohibit any real progress. For example, if a player in Austin is playing well but they’re not on the Spurs 15 man roster any team can sign him. All the time the Spurs put into that players development is all for not. I do see the importance of a player “playing” and gaining experience in the Spurs system but at some point I would like to see said player getting hands on experience with the big club. How long do we need to see someone dominate the D-League? I would rather see a young player with potential (Gist, Hairston,Williams) making a mistake, and learning from that mistake, than a player who may have maxed out their potential (Vaughn, Bonner, Udoka) making the same mistake. Until the NBA has some kind of “farm” system like MLB, I don’t know how successful it can be. I hope the Spurs give this kid a good look! Keep up the good work!

  • Smokefree

    Good for James. Sounds like he has really matured. That IMHO was the reason he didn’t end up in the NBA in the first place. The thing that you really wonder about, is why he couldn’t have learned those things about “team ball” and “not ever missing assignments on defense” and “going all out 100% of the time, while he was in college”.

    Part of it may have been, as he alludes, the fact that he didn’t have a bunch of sycohpants and groupies CONVINCING him that he did know everything.

    It’s just a damb shame that coaches at the college level can’t do a better job of instilling what James has in essence had to learn in very round-a-bout fashion.

  • Smokefree

    And all the BEST to James in his career BTW. His only real problem at Maryland was consistency–because he had games on court against top-flight ACC c0mpetition, when he was virtually unstoppable.

    CONSISTENCY> if he’s really learned that lesson, you guys have better grab him and but quick.

  • este

    All the Hairston’s and the Splitter’s and the William’s the Spurs have in the pipeline have got to start bearing fruit this coming season. Mahinmi, Gist etc. have got to make an impact or the Spurs are just wasting picks and spinning their wheels.

  • Roberto

    The interview is ok, but the debate NCAA/Europe is sterile. Good european teams can give a hard time to NBA’s best. Period.

  • Rye

    Certainly, Gist is intriguing, but every time the Spurs bring in an athletic, long player with an impressive physique people get carried away immediately, as if it’s the next Howard or Stoudemire.

    Gist, if he makes the team will likely spend the year in the D-League and be the 14th man on the roster, and really what’s his ultimate upside? Josh Powell? Maybe slightly better. The Spurs have long needed an athletic combo forward, and I’ll be interesting to track Gist’s summer league/training camp progress, but like Nichols, he’s not the answer.

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  • dtm

    all these posts with all the young players that the spurs possibly can have on their roster is making me real hype about next season…

    at the same time, we’ve been hearing about the prospects and callups only to be let down by popp to not give them more opportunities as he feels they aren’t ready.

    i think the “when we win, we’re experienced and when we lose, we’re too old” statement doesn’t fit anymore after the last 2 seasons. besides tony, we’re old. even a healthy manu is old, imo.

    if we’re going to compete (with the lakers) who have young, long, athletic players at every position, the spurs need some new additions otherwise another first round exit to a lowly mavs team could happen again.

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