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.Â 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.Â 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:Â 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.Â 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:Â I’m a little bit of both. I have the potential to develop into a 3 offensively, but defensively I’m comfortableÂ 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.