Anthony Ireland is a 26 year old 175cm point guard playing his fourth professional season and first with Juventus-LKSK Utenos (Lithuania-LKL). Last season he played for Trefl Sopot (Poland-TBL) playing 33 games averaging 17.4ppg, 2.9rpg, 2.9apg, FGP: 53.3%, 3PT: 36.4%, FT: 89.9%. As a rookie he played with ES Chalon-Sur-Saone (France-ProA) playing 33 games averaging 9.2ppg, 2.6rpg, 3.4apg, FGP: 45.7%, 3PT: 31.9%, FT: 81.7%. Two seasons ago he played with SEFA Arkadikos (Greece-A1) playing 8 games averaging 7.0ppg, 1.8rpg, 1.6apg, 2FGP: 45.5%, 3FGP: 36.4%, FT: 73.7%, in Mar.’16 signed at Trefl Sopot (Poland-TBL) playing 7 games averaging 19.7ppg, 4.7rpg, 3.0apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 39.0%, 3PT: 54.5%, FT: 62.5%. He played at Loyola Marymount (NCAA) from 2010-2014 and as a senior played 32 games averaging 18.5ppg, 3.7rpg, 5.3apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 40.7%, 3PT: 30.8%, FT: 81.7%. He spoke to German Hoops before the Basketball Champions League game against the EWE Baskets in Oldenburg.
Anthony thanks for talking to German Hoops. You are in Oldenburg preparing for a Basketball Champions League game. Is this your first time in Germany or have you been here before?
This is my first time to Germany. My first impression has been good. At shoot around tonight, I got a first impression of the gym and I liked it. It was very clean and looked new.
What do you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball? Do you have any buddies playing in Germany? I remember your ex teammate Jared Dubois played with Frankfurt.
I know a few guys that play for the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and a few guys that play for Alba Berlin. I talked to Bryon Allen after shoot around and he told me that the BBL is very competitive and that it is good from top to bottom. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night.
You are playing your fourth professional season and first with Juventus-LKSK Utenos (Lithuania-LKL) and are playing your first season of international club basketball. You have needed no adjustment period as you are putting up good stats. What have you appreciated the most about this new experience?
I have learned to take care of my body and watch what I eat. We travel a lot and have less practices. You also have to focus more on the scouting.
Juventus started off on the wrong foot in the LKL league, but are playing better in the BCL league. How much has the bad LKL start affected you mentally because you are the point guard and has to lead the team?
It hasn´t only affected me, but everybody on the team. It has been a bigger adjustment period for the team. A lot of guys came in late and we had a coaching change. A new offensive and defensive system was put in. We are on the rise and getting better and starting to click.
You face a tough Oldenburg team that have played a very strong BCL competition that are very deep and have many imports. What kind of game can we await?
I await a very competitive game from start to end. We are going in with a lot of confidence and are very motivated. In the BCL we have more freedom because we don´t have a lot of time for preparation and scouting. All we can do is play of instincts and off our confidence. A win in Oldenburg would be huge.
You play with new American teammates each season and this year have Jonte Flowers and Laron Dendy. What have you appreciated most about their games and how have you meshed best with them?
We have meshed perfectly. The two guys have totally different personalities. Jonte is the veteran and I try to pick his brain whenever I can. Laron and I play well together and feed off our energy. Our personalities are pretty similar and we come from the same kind of background. We both are playing for something bigger than basketball.
I covered Carl Lindbom 7 years ago when he played with the Fraport Skyliners and since then played in his home country Finland and now is abroad again with Juventus. He isn´t getting much minutes, but does he still have sufficient potential at age 25?
I feel he still has a lot of potential. He can play the stretch four or three and can really shoot the ball. He is a good locker room guy with a high basketball IQ. Even though he came in late, he had no problems picking up on the plays quickly. He is still young and hasn´t hit his prime yet. He still has a way to go in his development.
Let´s talk about your game. I love small point guards and you stand only 175cm. What was the most common phrase that you heard throughout your basketball life concerning your height and ability to play?
Take your pick. I heard the normal comments like I´m too small, I can´t get off my shot over bigger guards at the next level, but wherever I played at the next level, I was able to develop further and had no problems with my height. I play with a chip on my shoulder. I play hard because I am always underestimated. I have to give the extra edge each night at both ends of the court. I see it as an advantage for taller guards to guard me, because they have problems getting low on me.
Very small point guards aren´t a dime a dozen, but they do exist and are often exciting to watch in a sport that has taller players. If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would you chose?
That is right. Right now I would compare my game to Isaiah Thomas of the Cavs. I played against him in prep school when he was at South Kent. I remember seeing eye to eye. Being the height I am I have to do extra work. In the summers, I am in the gym bulking up and working on my quickness. You can´t teach speed. I am pretty athletic and jump well. I make up for my height disadvantage with my jumping ability.
You’re a scoring point guard, but have proved on occasion that you can find your teammates, but what is a hidden strength in your game that isn´t noticed right away on the court?
A hidden strength is my passing ability. I feel that I can get in the lane and create for others and make the right plays. My goal now as a professional is to lock in on defense. If I want to reach the next level, I need to be a pest on defense and create havoc for my opponents.
Last season you played with Trefl Sopot (Poland-TBL) playing 31 games: Score-4(17.4ppg), 2.9rpg, 2.9apg, FGP: 53.3%, 3PT: 36.4%, FT: 89.9%. How vital was it coming to this team the season before in mid season after a short stay in Greece? Would you say you made your breakthrough there?
I feel that was my breakthrough last season in Poland. I came to that team at the end of 2015-2016 and finished with 8 good games. They wanted me back and I went into last season wanting to put together a complete season there. We won games last season, but missed the playoffs. I feel I made the next step there and was able to reach the next level.
You were the only American last season and proved that you could be an impact player without American teammates. What did you learn about yourself last season that enabled you to be so successful going the non typical route with mostly Polish players?
Last season being the only American forced me out of my comfort zone. The Polish players and Serb all spoke English, but it was different having no Americans around. On the court the focus of the opponent was always on me. I enjoyed the challenge and my play helped my teammates have good seasons as well. I remember in pre season at a tournament my coach saying if I had seen the rosters. I noticed every other team had 3-4 Americans, but I was the only one on my team. That was when I realized that it was a job and I had to take care of business. Off the court I was able to grow as a person as I had to involve myself more with their culture.
You did the same thing with Trefl Sopot (Poland-TBL) at the end of the 2015-2016 season coming from Greece putting up excellent stats with no Americans. What was your secret to staying positive coming from your Greece gig where you couldn´t make an impact?
That season was mentally tough. After Greece, I went home for about a month and stayed in shape waiting for a call of a team. When I got to Poland in March, I was eager to prove myself and get on the court. I knew nobody on the team and knew nothing about the Polish league. I was very motivated and just went in wanting to prove to myself that I could still play. I was able to turn it around with a good finish to the season.
You started the 2015-2016 season with SEFA Arkadikos (Greece-A1) playing 8 games averaging 7.0ppg, 1.8rpg, 1.6apg, 2FGP: 45.5%, 3FGP: 36.4%, FT: 73.7%. The club was filled with other talented guards. What kind of learning experience was this for you?
That was a big learning experience. I couldn´t really control what happened there. I was playing for a young Greek coach who had a 35 year old Greek point guard playing ahead of me. The two were close. I don´t know if the coach didn´t like my play, but the coached liked the veteran and I didn´t get the minutes. I always practiced hard and one game I played very well and I thought I might get a chance, but never did. That was it. I then decided to leave.
You scored seven points and had three assists in 19 minutes in a 78-61 loss to top Euroleague team Panathinaikos. Panathinaikos had many ex NBA players and Greek legend Antonis Fotsis. What things on your game did you realize after that loss were still a work in progress if you ever wanted to reach that level?
I don´t feel that there was so much difference basketball wise, but the big difference was the experience. I had played something like 5,000 pick and rolls in my life and those Greek Legends something like 35,000 pick and rolls. I know that the more I play, the more experience I will gain to reach that level one day.
As a rookie you played for ES Chalon-Sur-Saone (France-ProA) playing 33 games averaging 9.2ppg, 2.6rpg, 3.4apg, FGP: 45.7%, 3PT: 31.9%, FT: 81.7%. What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Europe where you knew that you were very far away from home?
My rookie season with Chalon was a very good experience. I had been used to being away from home for a while. I had gone to school in Los Angeles while I came from Connecticut. That isn´t the same as the States and Europe, but the adjustment still wasn´t bad. The food was different, but nice was having some Americans there as we celebrated Christmas together. The biggest change was the time factor as it was difficult getting a routine with my family.
Chalon was stacked with so much talent like Marcus Dove or Eric Dawson to name a few. How vital was having so many experienced Americans around that made your basketball life easier?
It was huge having them as teammates as a rookie. They taught me the business side and how it works overseas. They told me that Americans have the most pressure to perform on a nightly basis and that you can´t take any nights off. Jason Rich taught me how important it is to have a good pre game routine. Eric Dawson taught me about saving money and Marcus Dove was a huge energy player that also taught me a lot as a rookie.
You were teammates with one of my favorite guys Illian Evtimov who never met a basket he didn´t like. Do you remember him putting on some amazing shooting clinics in practice?
He had great games, but he didn´t miss in practice. He was a great shooter. I remember him talking trash 3-4 feet behind the three point line and sinking everything. He would shoot and call that the ball would swoosh through the net and not just drop straight down, but turn and go out of bounds. He also taught me a lot. He was a very disciplined and family orientated guy that was strict on massages after games.
You played at Loyola Marymount (NCAA) from 2010-2014. You had endless huge individual games even if you didn´t win any, but can you explain why you seemed to always pick Gonzaga and Santa Clara for shooting clinics?
I liked playing against them. I always came to play against Santa Clara because of their point guard Evan Roquemore who would win a lot awards as did I did during those years and that pushed me. I always got up playing against Gonzaga especially at their place. The games were always nationally televised and my family could watch. I had to play my best.
You put up huge stats at Loyola Marymount and are in the schools basketball record books. Were you in a way playing with a chip on your shoulder which pushed your whole career simply with your height issue and not having played at a more known basketball school like UCLA or USC?
I had been recruited by bigger schools, but I had committed early to Loyola Marymount and wanted to stay faithful to them. I had a great game against UCLA: I always wanted to play at the highest level and always knew I could. I didn´t play at the top school, but that motivated me to always work at my game. I was able to spend a lot of time in the gym in school. I wanted to bring it every game.
You played two seasons with Jarred Dubois who currently is a player development coach for NBA team Toronto Raptors. What memories do you have of him and was he one of those guys that really pushed you in practice?
He was older than I and was the main guard when I started there. I had to bring it each practice because he really pushed me. We really went at it each practice and it was physical. Whenever I saw him working on his game, I pushed myself to work on my game.
How did head coach Max Good groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career at Loyola Marymount?
Coach Good is like my dad. We had a great relationship. He recruited me. He was always hard on me the whole 4 years, because he didn´t want to show favoritism. He never let up either being hard on me. Even when I had great games, he never gave me praise. He would tell the worst to your face and best behind your back. Even if he cursed at me in practice, I knew that he genuinely loved me and only wanted the best for my career.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Ayodeji Egbeyemi?
We call him daisy. He was a character. We would play 3 dribbles. He would win a few, but I would win the spot. He was a long athletic guard that was a very good defender. He was always a good matchup.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now?
It was Damian Lillard who played at Weber State. It was a good experience. I remember playing him in my sophomore year when he was a senior. At the time we played him he was averaging something like 25 or 26 points a game and our whole defense was for him. We did a good job on him. He went 17/17 from the free throw line, but had an off shooting night. He hit a big shot bringing the game into OT, but we eventually won the game. You could tell that he was ready for the next step. He was never wild or panicked, but stayed mellow.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Shaq
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?
They are tough to compare. You tend to appreciate guys more when they aren´t playing anymore. I didn´t see Jordan play, but my dad says that Lebron is better. I honestly think Lebron is better, because he is more the complete player that can play positions 1-5.
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?
I don´t feel that he was stocking his stats. He just did what he had to do to win games. His teammates allowed him to get many more rebounds simply because he could get out on the break quicker than a center rebounding the ball. I am glad I was able to witness that season.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
I really like Kyle Kuzma and train with the same coach he has during the summer. I know the amount of work he puts in. I also like Jayson Tatum.
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 don´t have a chance to knock off the Golden State Warriors. All these teams are trying pack super teams, but will they have the better chemistry and better unselfishness than the Warriors? The Warriors will be hard to beat.
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?
We have yet to see because Isaiah Thomas hasn´t been on the court. The Cavs are struggling now and need him to make plays. We will see in June when everything is on the line who made the better deal.
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?
I would love to see it. I think they could. I love Carmelo. Westbrook has to be Russ and not worry about them but just play his game. Russ will lead and they will follow. Then Russ can tell KD that they didn´t need him.
What was the last movie that you saw?
How to be a player. A 90´s comedy that will give you a laugh before sleep.
Thanks Anthony for the chat.