JJ Mann is a 25 year old 198cm forward from Smyrna, Georgia that is playing his third professional season and first with Belfius Mons-Hainaut (Belgium-Euromillions League): He started his basketball career in 2010 with Belmont (NCAA) where he played until 2014 totaling 140NCAA games. He started his professional career in 2014 with the Redwell Gunners Oberwart (Austria-A Bundesliga) playing 38 games averaging 13.4ppg, 4.5rpg, 1.2apg, Steals-1(2.0spg), FGP: 46.6%, 3PT: 40.7%, FT: 82.1%
Last season he played with Phoenix Hagen (Germany-BBL): 30 games: 11.3ppg, 3.5rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 49.7%, 3PT: 38.2%, FT: 91.3%. He spoke to German Hoops recently when he was in Bonn preparing for a Fiba Europe Cup game against the Telekom Baskets Bonn.
JJ thanks for talking to German Hoops. Welcome back to Germany, but before we talk about Fiba Europe Cup and the Telekom Baskets Bonn let´s talk about food. Wiener Schnitzel can be found all over Europe, but where have you had it best in Austria, Germany or Belgium?
The best Wiener Schnitzel I have had so far was in Austria. Havent seen as much of it in Belgium but I would have to give the top spot to Austria.
Belfius Mons Hainaut has a 2 game winning streak. Congrats on the wins against Leuvin and Aalstar. Is the team finding a groove now in the Belgium league?
Thanks! We are starting to come together much better and hopefully the 2 game winning streak can turn into a longer win streak.
The club has found it´s rhythm on defense and second in Belgium in points allowed. Is this a good basis to keep building on which in turn will get the offense to possibly keep growing as well?
We take pride in our defense and it is something that coach puts a lot of emphasis on. We are at our best when we play as a unit on defense. We will continue to get better on defense which will hopefully lead to some easy buckets on offense. We will continue to get better on both sides of the ball all year.
In Fiba Europe Cup you are 0-1 losing to Swedish team Sodertalje. Now you face the Telekom Baskets Bonn. You split last season with Phoenix Hagen as it was two shoot outs. Can you still look back fondly on your 30 point game despite getting the loss?
I still remember that game for sure. I wish it would have been in a win. But I think I will have a extra level of comfort going back to that gym.
The Telekom Baskets Bonn are playing some good basketball currently having a 5-2 record. What will be key in getting the win?
A couple keys for us will be staying consistent with our game plan for the whole 40 minutes and rebounding.
You are playing your third professional season after being a rookie in Austria and last season with Phoenix Hagen. Often players come from Belgium to Germany, but you did it the other way around. What do you feel did your game learn from the BBL that will help you in Belgium?
I guess I did sort of do it backwards but I am very happy with where I am. I did learn a lot from playing in the BBL last year that I think will translate to this season. The physicality of the game was an adjustment last year. Being ready to play every game and approaching every game with the right mindset. And I have confidence knowing that I can play in the BBL and will bring that here to Belgium.
Is your role this season more defined than last season with Phoenix Hagen where you weren´t necessarily the number one scoring option?
We had a lot of great scorers last year in Hagen. We have some great scorers on this team as well this year. But I would say my role is a little more defined this year on the offensive end and I plan on doing that role to the best of my ability.
You can fill up the stats sheet, but what is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away?
I try my best to be a complete player but I would say a hidden strength is rebounding. I´m not the most athletic guy but I find other way to be a good rebounder.
How often has veteran Lionel Bosco given you fits in practice with his quickness while giving you smiles during games as his teammate?
Bosco is definitely a tricky guy. Our team changed and grew a lot once he arrived after his national team duties. He gives myself as well as whoever is guarding him fits in practice. And he carries it over to the game and I´m sure glad he is on my team!
How much potential does American rookie Tre Demps have who had a stellar career at Northwestern and is holding his own this season?
Tre Demps is a great player and we are lucky to have him. I think he can be a top guard in Europe as he continues to learn the game over here and gain experience. He has the full package and its been great playing with him.
How valuable has veteran Justin Cage been for you. How has his unending experience already helped you two months in?
Justin Cage is awesome. He is the best defensive player I have ever played with. The only player he can´t guard is me. But from day one, he has been a great help transitioning to Belgium and to the team. He is our captain and he is the heart and soul of our team. He does so much for this team that he does not get credit for. He is a stud.
Last season you played with Phoenix Hagen playing 30 games: 11.3ppg, 3.5rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 49.7%, 3PT: 38.2%, FT: 91.3%. What was your fondest memory on and off the court?
On the court it was probably when everyone got in the zone and we would just rain threes from all over. With Ivan, Brandon, Dave, myself, and Adam, it was probably the best shooting team I have ever been on and some games we would all get hot and feed off each other and it was really fun. Off the court, we were all friends and had a lot of good times together. I enjoyed celebrating some holidays with everyone.
How often did you shake your head in disbelief in how an amazing shooter David Bell was?
We would always shoot 100 3s before practice and David Bell always managed to have more than me. I´m not sure how accurate his counting was, but he can light it up!! I learned a lot about shooting from him. The best way to learn is from the best!
First it was DJ Covington that suffered a serious injury and now the club is faced with serious money issues. How have you followed the whole Phoenix Hagen saga?
I have stayed in touch with some of the guys. I hate that they are having any issues at all. Hagen is such a great club with a great fan base and I hope they can get everything figured out.
As a rookie you played with the Redwell Gunnars Oberwart. What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Austria where you knew that you were very far away from home?
I would probably say having to go to the grocery store and get food and cleaning supplies for the apartment. Not knowing the language and what exactly everything was. It was a fun game of “I hope this is what it looks like it is”
How did Oberwart legend Jason Johnson who played 16 years there help you most as a rookie? Did he take you a bit under his wing?
Jason Johnson is a legend. His work ethic and dedication to the game was contagious. He was always the first one on the floor and sacrificing his body and he taught me a lot. He was the definition of a true professional and I am honored I got to play with him.
You won quite a few college titles at Belmont with A-Sun tournament twice and the OVC once. Which title meant the most to you?
Each year was different and was a new team and had new challenges. All of them were awesome but the best one may have been my junior year because that was our first year in the OVC so it was pretty sweet changing conferences and winning the title.
You played three season at Belmont with current NBA player Ian Clark. Did you have that feeling then that he would reach the NBA?
I always knew Ian was good enough to play in the NBA, he just needed the right set of eyes to see him and give him the opportunity to show how valuable he could be to helping a team win. Its been great to see him be successful in the NBA.
How did head coach Rick Byrd groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Coach Byrd is no doubt a Hall of Fame coach. His x’s and o’s are unbeatable. He set a great example of doing things right off the court which carries over to doing things right on the court. Also, he is one of the best competitors I have ever met and he taught me to be a fierce competitor.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Trevor Noack?
Trevor is my boy but the one on one trophy would have to go to me.
Who was the toughest player that you battled on the court that is in the NBA now?
The toughest player I battled with was Solomon Hill. His combination of size and strength was very difficult to deal with
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore, which 4 heads would you choose?
I would go with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kawhi Leonard, Magic Johnson
Lebron finally brought an NBA title to the Cavs. Where does he stand at the moment in the never ending debate with where he stands as the best of all-time?
Lebron is a beast. But I still think he has some work to do to crack the top 5.
Where do you rank Kevin Garnett with the best power forwards that ever played the game?
KG was a force and an awesome competitor. Anyone could see that just by watching one game. He is in the top 4 PF in the game.
What was the last movie that you saw?
My wife and I watched The Finest Hours. Great movie.
Thanks J.J for the chat.