Darion Atkins is a 25 year old 203cm forward from Maryland that is playing his third professional season and first with Strasbourg IG Basket (France-ProA). Last season he played with Hapoel Unet Holon (Israel-Winner League) playing 37 games averaging 13.6ppg, Reb-3(8.3rpg), FGP: 59.5%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 61.6%. In his rookie season he played for the Westchester Knicks (D-League) playing 52 games averaging 8.5ppg, 7.2rpg, 1.7apg, 1.3bpg, FGP: 46.0%, 3PT: 16.7%, FT: 55.9%. He played at Virginia (NCAA) form 2011-2015 playing a total of 123 NCAA gams and as a senior played 33 games averaging 7.6ppg, 6.0rpg, 1.1bpg, FGP: 51.4%, FT: 52.0%. He then played at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament playing 3 games averaging 20.0ppg, 10.3rpg, 3.7 bpg, 1.7spg, FGP: 60.0%, FTP: 85.7%. He spoke to German Hoops before the Basketball Champions League game against medi Bayreuth in Bamberg,
Darion thanks for talking to German HoopsWelcome to Germany. Is this your first time to Germany or have you ventured over the boarder since you joined Strasburg to explore?
This is my first time in Germany. I have realized that I am so close to Germany living in Strasburg and will visit again soon.
What do you know in general about Germany about it´s basketball and the country in general? Do you have any friends balling in Germany?
I know two people that are playing in Germany with James Robinson who I play tomorrow and is one of my close friends and Bryon Allen who plays with Oldenburg.
You are playing your first international club tournament after playing your first season in Europe last season with Israel. You had a solid start with 14 points and seven boards against Olimpija. How is this league different to the France Pro A and what do you want to gain here with your game?
The Basketball Champions League is different and unique. There are many good teams from different countries. It is very exciting to be a part of it. I hope just to help my team win as many games and get as far as possible as well as playing at a high level. I believe that if we stay humble, we could go far. Sky is the limit for our team. Teammate Zach Wright reached the final 4 last season with Monaco. I personally want to play well and prove that I belong. I still have a lot to prove.
You match against a very talented German team medi Bayreuth that crushed Rasa Radom in the first game. What kind of game can we await and what will be key to winning?
We can´t take any team lightly. I think it will be like in any other game in that the team who wants it more will come out with the win. We will have to come out the right way and if we play our game then everything will take care of it´s self and we will come out on top.
You joined a team that one could call the Buffalo Bills of the pro A. Is that inability to win final series something that is lingering within the club?
I actually have heard of that. Coach Collet told me about that when he was recruiting me. Coach has done the best job possible the last years to put together good teams, but they all came up a bit short. I hope that I can be part of a team that will finally get the job done in the final.
You are playing on a very talented basketball team that has many scorers and guys that can decide a game. What is your role on the team this season?
My role for Strasburg is to come in as a defender and rebounder that has a high motor. Coach Collet has a lot of confidence in me, but also on the offensive end where I will take that open shot and set good screens. I am a good piece to the puzzle.
Let´s talk a little about your game. Last season you broke out and had your first season where you averaged in scoring in double figures. To what NBA player would you describe your game and are you a different player than what you were at Virginia(NCAA) where your scoring wasn´t as present?
Since turning professional, I have always had to prove myself as a scorer. At Virginia(NCAA) I had that special role to defend and be a rebounder and be the best defender in the country. I want to prove that I can be a different player at the professional level. Coach Collet continues to have faith in my game at both ends and I will continue to work hard and implement the pieces the right way. I feel I can be that three and D player that can defend multiple positions 1-5 and be able to knock down open shots. I feel I fit well here and can be a contributing factor at both ends. Coach has really pushed me very hard and am very thankful for that. That is something I can´t take for granted.
You’re a guy that can fill up the stat sheet, but do you feel is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away on the court?
I feel that a hidden strength in my game is the ability to get my teammates on the same page and keep the moral up in tough times in a game. I am that guy that can put the foot down in certain situations in a game like when we need many stops in a row. I bring energy that helps my team win.
You are playing with veteran David Logan who has had a stellar and long career in Europe. What has impressed you most about his game besides his work ethic?
His work ethic is amazing. He is a great scorer and teammate that has played for such a long time. He teaches the intangibles on the court with communication and keeping all on the same page. We know that when the shot clock is down, we have to get him the ball because he will get you buckets. He plays his role very well and we rely heavily on his game. He also does a good job keeping the balance in that when teams key in on him, he knows how to get everyone around him involved.
Center Chris Otule has had a very interesting career and has fought against all odds and had a very good basketball career despite having only one eye. Did you know about this coming in or was it something you learned later and what has impressed you most about his story?
I didn´t know that about his eye until I heard it in conversations with him. He has an amazing story. It is a testament of his will and fortitude to keep playing the game and always adjusting. He is so dominant in the paint and unstoppable more often than not. He is very hard to guard. Sky in the limit for him. He is still young and has a lot of good things ahead of him.
Last season you played with Hapoel Unet Holon (Israel-Winner League). What was your wake up call to playing your first season overseas where you knew that you were far away from home?
To be honest, I didn´t really think much of it. My dream was always to play in the NBA and if that didn´t happen then in Europe. I really didn´t think about it too much, but just came over and my finance was with me. I got my start in Israel and I loved my team. Even if our season didn´t end great, we still had a great season. No one thought that we would finish first or that we would gel. We had so many key guys go down, but other guys stepped up like Jordan Taylor and Tru Holloway. We were all on the same page and hung in there. Tony Younger was so invaluable for us.
Last season you went 1-2 against top European team Maccabi Tel Aviv, but had impressive stats with three double doubles and a 26 point 13 rebound game. Do games like this give you that confidence that you could play for a Euroleague team sometime down the road?
For sure I believe that down the road I could play for a Euroleague game. I feel I can play at that level and that I belong there. I don´t want to get ahead of myself or not be humble, but that is what you do when you play big teams in big games and that is compete. All that is on my mind is too compete and the rest takes care of it´s self. My goal is still the NBA and I will continue to work hard every day on my craft and continue to develop in many areas and try to be the best player possible. What kind of work you put in is the type of player you become.
How important was Tony Younger for your first season abroad? How vital was it having that American who was playing in his 14th season in Israel?
Tony Younger was so vital for me and the team. He had answers to everything. His wisdom kept us level headed when we were down or got to high on ourselves when we were winning a lot. He helped bring up the team moral or checked guys when guys were getting off the same page. There are guys his age that don´t have his wisdom. Teams will win titles with a guy like him on board.
AS a rookie you played with the Westchester Knicks (D-League) playing 52 games averaging 8.5ppg, 7.2rpg, 1.7apg, 1.3bpg, FGP: 46.0%, 3PT: 16.7%, FT: 55.9%. How was that one season in the G-League. Was there ever any feeling you might get that NBA chance during that season?
There was a small feeling at a time when I had played some good games, but I never got that call. In the G-league players are too individualistic. NBA teams look down their bench and think what special thing that G-league call up will bring. NBA teams already have their scorers, but will look to you for a special role. It was rough proving that you can play at that level. Important was not to show what you can´t do, because the NBA sees everything as they are present each night.
You played NBA Summer League from 2015-2017 with teams like the Spurs and Warriors. Every player always has the NBA dream, but after seeing what the NBA is about are you concentrating now more on Europe or are you still keeping that NBA door open?
The NBA door is still open for me. I just take it one day at a time. I will just continue to work hard and try to get better. If the NBA is interested is one thing, if not I will continue to focus on Europe.
You were teammates with Jimmer Fredette who averaged 37ppg in China last season. What kind of experience was it being his teammate and why do you feel couldn´t he make his NBA breakthrough?
He is a great player and scorer. That is what he does. He showed he could score in College, G-League and China. I don´t know why his career hasn´t kept him in the NBA. He is a player that can be a vital part of an NBA team that will shoot the crap out of the ball. I always thought that every ball he shot would go in. But he also can find his teammates if called to play the point. Everybody has their own opinion about players. I feel he could be successful in the NBA and if he doesn´t go back he will be successful wherever else he plays.
You saw so many great players in the G-league and also played with Thansis Antetokounmpo who´s famous brother plays for the Milwaukee. Bucks. Currently he is with top Greek club Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens (Greece-A1). What thing in his game still stands out in your mind today?
I havent´t seen TA play since the G-league, but I remember him as being super athletic and was all over the place. He really knew how to use his energy well dunking and blocking shots. He has a high motor and could be an NBA player.
After never averaging more than 7,6ppg at Virginia, you then played at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament averaging 20.0ppg, 10.3rpg, 3.7 bpg, 1.7spg, FGP: 60.0%, FTP: 85.7%. How refreshing was playing this tournament and being so successful and do you feel like you were on some NBA team´s radars then?
It was refreshing. It wasn´t only refreshing putting up those stats, but just having the opportunity to play free and not have to think of anything else. I did take many defensive qualities from coach Bennett to the Portsmouth tournament, but I was able to play offense. At Virginia(NCAA) there were enough guys that could take care of offensive things where I wasn´t needed. I felt that at the Portsmouth Invitational I had the green light something I hadn´t had before. I had many NBA workouts after that and am sure that teams had question marks at my name.
You played at Virginia(NCAA) from 2011-2015. When you were a freshman you played with future NBA player Mike Scott who was a senior. How did you benefit most from his game as you started your NCAA career?
I tried to take things from his game like his seriousness, businesslike approach and how he approached each game. I knew then that my career wouldn´t go the same way his would even though I thought it could. He put his team on his back and even though I wasn´t the type of player that he was, I tried to implement his work ethic into my game. I didn´t get a chance as a junior, but my senior year I got my turn in the rotation and I decided to change things like dying my hair and my phone number. I came in with that last hurrah mind set The different mindset that I had worked out for the best.
Was beating Virginia Tech twice your senior season including your 16 point game one of your more memorable experiences as a player?
No that wasn´t my most memorable at Virginia. My junior year reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 and losing to Michigan State in New York at Madison Square Garden. We didn´t finish the way we would have liked my senior year, but were picked to go to the Final 4 at the start of the season. The atmosphere throughout the season was cool.
How did head coach Tony Bennet Groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Coach Bennett gave me that mind set of having perseverance when facing adversity. My career didn´t go the way I wanted it to at Virginia, but I always stuck with it. That mindset molded and shaped me into the player that I am today. I face adversity in a positive way which goes a long way in basketball.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now?
I will keep it in the family and stick with Mike Scott
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
Lebron, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and is still three away from Michael Jordan. Where does Lebron stand right now in your opinion in the never ending debate of who is the best of all-time?
People will say down the road that Lebron is the greatest of all-time.
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
No I don´t. I believe that he always does all he can for his team to win. He is a beast.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What players do you see playing a major role in the NBA?
Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, De´Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr
Where will the journey of the Houston Rockets go this season with Chris Paul and James Harden in the back court. Do they have enough to make a serious run at the title or is something missing?
They will get going in the playoffs, but the Western Conference final will be the Warriors and Thunder.
How do you rate the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade? Who got the better deal and which team will profit better in the long run?
The Cavs got the better deal now and the Celtics in the long run
Where will the journey of the Oklahoma Thunder go this season with Westbrook, George and Anthony? Can they make a serious run in the west?
The Thunder will reach the final and could win depending how well use their energy.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Blade Runner 2049. It was slow and dramatic, but I recommend it.
Thanks Darion for the chat.