Izzy’s Hoop Dreams

You spent the NBA Pre-season with the Charlotte Bobcats. Tell us how that came about?

Well, probably a bit of luck. Not luck, I shouldn’t say that. I had a try out with them the year before, and things went well, but just from a numbers situation they didn’t have enough room for me. So with the NBA lock out this year, when they resolved that and came to an agreement, everything was moving so fast they were trying to fill bodies for the training camp. So that’s why I said it was a little luck, a little good fortune, but also what I did before helped me out. My agent got a phone call and said they wanted me to come to the [pre-season] camp. So thats how it worked out.

In your first real practice match with the Bobcats you scored a double double and you were the top scorer for the game. How did it feel playing against current NBA players and having a great game like that? 

We had been practicing for a while, a couple weeks, and I was playing well…we had a couple scrimmages in practice. So I was going into the game confident. And I didn’t really think, “Oh, I’m playing against NBA guys,” it was more like.. I honestly felt like I was just as good or in some cases better than some of the guys on the team so that’s why I was confident. I was a little nervous before the game just because it was an open scrimmage, they had a lot of fans there that came to the game. So doing it where it’s kinda the first game for real, on a real stage.. to play well was very gratifying.

You met Bobcats owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan while in Cherlotte. What was that like?

Well he was there last time I was there, when I had my first try out with them [the Bobcats]. But this time he was more hands on, more active, you know, I actually talked to him. But it was weird, because you know I kinda guarded myself – anytime he came up to talk to me I didn’t really say anything, because I feel as though if I would have talked to him, the fan in me would’ve come out, you know? Every other basketball fan grew up loving Michael Jordan the player. So honestly, every time he talked to me I just said like one or two words back, because I just feel as though if I said anything more I probably would have said like, you know….it’s JORDAN. [laughs]

You were also invited to the Atlanta Hawks pre-season camp and chose to go to back to Charlotte. As the NBA season approcahed and Charlotte started filling their roster, it looked less and less likely that there would be a spot left for you – do you think you would have had a better chance if you had chosen Atlanta?

No, I’m happy with my decision going to Charlotte camp as opposed to the Atlanta one. The guy in Atlanta told me beforehand…well he told my agent, that it was gonna be pretty difficult – one, coz the coach in Atlanta wasn’t really sold on me, so I would’ve had to fight against that, when I knew the Charlotte people knew me from before. And it kinda played out…you know, I played well, the coaches seemed to like me, but they just signed some other people and the numbers kinda didn’t work out for me this time.

But basically you feel like going to Charlotte, because you’d been there before, and performed well again, it gives you a more solid grounding for another shot with them next year?

Yeah, thats why I’m happy with the decision, because I’m going into this one [2012] putting all my eggs in one basket so to speak – one more year, one last go at it, one chase to try capture my dream to play in the NBA. So I’m putting all my focus towards there and I think going to Charlotte and performing the way I did in pre-season is going to help my chances.

After you were released from Charlotte three days before the start of the NBA season, you signed to come back to the Supercats in SEABL and then a week later decided you would not return after all – tell us what lead to that decision. 

After I left Charlotte it was a lot of different places I was thinking about going to play. But I always  felt at home in Geelong, and I love being here, and just how the season finished last year, I didn’t really wanna end on that note. So thats why I committed to come back. It just so happened my agent was contacted again about potential summer league spot for me – it wasn’t a guaranteed spot, but just something that could happen. I sat down and thought about it…….I just figured, you never wanna live life with any regrets, and I’ve come close so many times now, and I mean like legitimate close, not just me in my own little world close. And each time it just comes out of nowhere, where I just get these invites and I’m not expecting it. So this one time I decided I just wanted to put all my focus on making an NBA roster. Talk about it, believe in it, work hard at it, and capture the goal.

So what have you been doing since it was announced that you would not be returning to the Supercats?

I had a few more offers once I told Supercats I wasn’t going to be able to come back, but I was looking at things short term so I could make it back [to the US] for June/July. I went to Venezuela because they had a good offer and my agent thought it would be a good situation for me. But I went down there, and I think I’m probably spoiled by living in Geelong for the last three years, because you know it was just so different…culturally, and everything was just different. I found myself unhappy there so I was able to get myself out of that contract. Now I’ve committed to go to New Zealand, which I’m looking forward to.

After you left Venzuela, you had a few other offers from other places in South America – why did you choose New Zealand over say, Argentina?

Mainly because I had just left a situation in Venezuela, South America, where I was a little unhappy. And coming from three years playing in Australia, I thought New Zealand would be somewhere I would be comfortable living. And also enjoy playing basketball. So I went for the place where I can get the best of both worlds, where [the quality of] basketball is good and I’m happy just living.

There have been a few skeptics who wonder why anyone would “choose” to play in Australia or New Zealand if they have offers from European or South American countries who are known in the basketball world to pay more money. What is your response to this?

Well…the thing about that is…I’ve never….I’m not someone that’s motivated by money. That’s just…I don’t know…I can’t give you an answer why, thats just me, that’s just who I am. And what you gotta understand is when you’re playing professional basketball, you’re only playing for a small amount of time when you play somewhere like Europe, but you’re THERE for the whole entire time. You’re there six, seven, nine months wherever you are. So you need to go somewhere where you’re happy, somewhere you’re comfortable, somewhere you like the place – because if you’re unhappy you’re just not going to play well, that’s just plain and simple. So with me, I’ve always picked places where I was happiest, where I think, “I could live there.” You know? And on top of that, I do a lot outside of basketball. I don’t play basketball to make a “good” living, I play because I love it.

So after the New Zealand Basketball League season is over, what next?

Still sticking with the same plan. Still focused on getting on a summer league team. Im gonna start right away training, I wont take any time off after the season. I’m actually gonna train here in Geelong for two weeks after it, then I’m gonna head back to Atlanta and continue my training, and just hope that then I’ll get the call…no, not hope, coz this is gonna happen. Everything will work out this time, and I’ll get on a team, and then later I’ll make an NBA roster.

When does the summer league start, when would you expect to get that call?

The first one that starts is that first week of July. But as far as NBA goes I’m not a “high profile player”. So what they’ll do is, they’ll commit to their younger guys on their roster, they’ll do the draft and anyone who’s drafted will be on summer league, then they’ll get those free agents who are just outta college, those younger guys, and people like that….[chuckles] and THEN on to a guy like myself. So I’ll be the last one to find out if they want me. I expect it in June, but it could be as late as July. They have another summer league that starts the second week of July. It runs for two weeks, the actual playing, but obviously you gotta practice first.

You’ve said yourself that this is probably your last shot and you’re putting all your focus into making an NBA roster – if it doesn’t happen this time, do you have a back up plan? Would you play overseas again? 

Honestly I have no idea. In my mind, I’m gonna make an NBA roster. There’s a chance that IF I don’t start the NBA season with a team, depending how summer league goes, how pre-season goes, there’s a chance I’ll do the NBA development league. If I feel as though I’m REALLY close again, I’ll go to the development league. If no-one really gives me an opportunity during pre-season or summer league, then I’ll play overseas.

What are your career plans for after your retirement from the game?

Well, I always work when I’m not playing basketball. I work for a company called Barton Executive Services. They’re a recruiting firm, they recruit CEO’s, vice presidents, presidents for big consumer product companies – companies like Coca Cola. I’ve been doing that for years now, and whenever I retire I’ll do that full time.

What advice would you give to any players of any age on what it takes to get an NBA level?

My advice would be what you hear all the time – first of all, you gotta work hard, you know, you have to out work the next guy. Second is, I think you have to believe in yourself. Because if you really think about it, I mean how many people play basketball in the world, and it’s like three hundred and something NBA players. So the numbers say that its very very unlikely that you can make it. So YOU have to believe, you have to work hard. And third, honestly, its just a little luck…I shouldn’t say luck, actually, its timing. Its more timing. Timing is everything. Better players have missed out on the NBA because they’re not in the right situation at the right time, and some people have been fortunate to get on because of right place, right time.

Finally, can you tell us what a typical day is like when you’re in pre-season camp for the NBA?

It’s pretty much all basketball, all the time. We get up in the morning at say…8. We have to go in and lift weights, you lift weights for an hour, then go up to the court around 9 or so. Practice start around 9.30am so you go about 30 minutes early just to do some casual shooting before the coaches get there. First practice is roughly two hours, so you do that til about 11.30, come down, stretch, do a lot of icing, get in a cold tub afterwards. That’s probably another hour process.So you do that, then you have lunch which is provided at the arena, so you go in there and eat from like a buffet – they have a couple different meats, some vegies, pasta, rice, fruit, dessert. Good food.So you get back to the hotel around 2, relax for a little while, get off your feet, coz the next practice is around 6 so you have to be there probably around 4. You get like two hours, it goes by fast, soon as you lay down in the bed it feels like you have to get right back up. Most of the guys would nap in that time.Then come back for the second practice which is the harder practice, but same kinda gig. It’s around two and a half, maybe three hour practice. So finish around 9, then just go get some dinner either at the hotel or restaurant close by, then just have a quiet night ready for the same thing the next day. It ended up being every day for us, we didn’t have a day off. I think if everything wasn’t so rushed [due to shortened season from lockout] you would normally get maybe one day off a week.We did some community stuff too, the NBA Cares stuff, that was cool. It was good interacting with the kids and see how they react to hanging out and seeing an NBA player, I really enjoyed that