Van Girard is a 28 year old 193cm guard from Los Angeles, California playing his first season in Europe with the Nuernberg Falcons BC (Germany-ProA). He has bounced around North America in the last 4-5 years getting exposure in the Drew League as well as with the S.California Summer Pro League (And1 Select team)and Newport Beach Sunblockers (WCBL). He also got further experience with the Elite Talent Exchange Glo Japan playing 10 games averaging 12ppg, 8rpg, 2apg, 3spg and with Vaqueros de Saucillo (Mexico-Chihuahua Vive): Score-1 (27.5ppg), Reb-2 (12.9rpg). He spoke to German Hoops recently about basketball.
Hi Van thanks for talking to German Hoops. Before we start I have to ask you about your name Van. It is one of those uncommon names and I actually only have heard it once before with ex NBA player Van Wafer. How much do you like having this rare unique name and with what kind of experiences did you have growing up with the name as well as today?
I’ve liked it a lot. I’d get the occasional joke about “driving a van” or wearing “Vans” brand tennis shoes, but for the most part it was all about my dad. I’m named after him (Van Girard Sr.) He’s actually a well known and respected basketball coach especially around LA and in the NCAA world so everywhere I go people ask if that’s my dad, or if I’m related to him! It’s actually kind of cool because we look a lot alike too.
Thanksgiving is around the corner and the Christmas holiday season is also around the corner. How have you experienced living in Germany as a kid coming from Los Angeles. What have you learned to appreciate the most about Germany and it´s culture?
Germany is definitely different than LA, in a good way though. I really appreciate the history, the culture, and the hospitality. People are welcoming, and Nürnberg specifically is absolutely beautiful. Definitely lucky to be living here.
What did you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball before you came? Your ex teammate in high school Caspar Ware had played here. Did you have any other friends playing in Germany over the years?
I’ve actually always had my sights set on playing in Europe, so I had definitely done a little bit of research. I always compare the type of basketball to how the Spurs play. Very balanced, very strategic, and team oriented. I like that a lot. And yes my buddy Kaiymen Pruitt has been playing in Germany for a while so I’ve heard nothing but good things from him.
You signed in Germany with the Nuernberg Falcons BC (Germany-ProA). What kind of blessing was it for you to finally sign in Europe after toiling in the States in the minor leagues?
It was absolutely incredible. Like I said before, playing in Europe was one of my main goals, and to get to experience the Pro A level after dreaming about it for so long has been a huge blessing. I always tell the kids that I coach back home and that hard work pays off, and it was nice to finally get a real shot!
How heavy has the chip gotten on your shoulder over the years? You’re a very talented guy that has been off the radar for years, but here and there always made some kind of waves, but still didn´t get the full respect from clubs around the world. I assume your still playing with a huge chip on your shoulder now in Germany?
Id be lying if I said it didn’t bother me that I hadn’t gotten an opportunity in the past and caused me to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder, but I respect the game of Basketball and truly believe in the “hard work pays off” slogan. So during those years I didn’t officially get on a team, I looked internally and spent time developing my game, trying to take it to the next level rather than blaming the world. It’s easy to get caught up in being under the radar and out of the spot light. But the reality of the situation is there’s thousands of other talented guys out there. The difference in the long run is who’s going work the hardest and the smartest- and a lot of times that work happens behind closed doors. Ralph giving me the opportunity here, I’m definitely ready to showcase my hard work and continue to learn and get better in the process.
It hasn´t been a good start for the Nuernberg Falcons BC (Germany-ProA). What have been the main reasons for the club not performing better?
It has been a rough start, but I really do think it will get better. The more mistakes we make as a team early on, the more adjustments we can make moving forward. We’re learning and growing more every practice and every game. Now it’s just time for it to all come together. And it will really soon
You once said this during the Drew League. ““I just wanna win, man. I’ll do whatever it takes to win.” How difficult has this season been for you not winning and playing little?
Losing can be tough, and it can be frustrating but one of the best habits you can develop as a player is to trust and respect the process, and do what you’re asked. If it means contributing on the court and filling the stat sheet, then that’s what I’ll do. On the contrary, if it means coming off the bench to bring energy when I’m needed, then l gladly do that too. Would I like to play more? Of course, But My job is to contribute when and how I’m called upon. Not always easy to do but that’s my approach.
The biggest problem the team has it can´t put up points on the board as well as it should. The club has many talented players as well as young talented Germans. Do you feel the lack of putting points has become a mental thing for the team?
I don’t feel the lack of scoring has become a mental thing for our team. We have many talented players who all can score. Our issue is we have be able to “set the tone” defensively early on during games and hold that intensity over the course of the game. Push guys off screens, take away passes, fight in the post early, etc. as seen against Koeln, we have the potential to do it, we just have to buy into what coach is asking of us and let our offensive talents work itself out. We can’t let our scoring dictate how we play defensive. Games start off 0-0. We can’t wait until we score to play Intense.
I never really understood why Matt Gibson left. It didn´t get any better with his departure. Do you feel the team gave up too early on him?
I honestly don’t think I was here long enough to have a valid opinion on that. From what I’ve seen Matt’s a great player and Ralph is a great coach so I’m sure whatever that was made was better for both parties.
Experienced pro A player Virgil Matthwes came in later to help shore up the playmaking. How much of a joy has it been playing with the experienced American?
Virgil has been a tremendous help to the team. Brings great leadership on and off the court, and personally has been spending time giving me advice to improve my game as well. He has good energy and a knowledge of the European style. He’s a great resource.
I have followed young German Matthew Meredith since years in the youth leagues and see him as a very versatile talented player. What has been your impression of him on the court and where do you see his journey going as a professional?
Mathew is definitely a versatile and talented player. Very humble and extremely hard working. I often find myself trying keep up and work harder than him. I think as long as he keeps his work ethic and continues to play, he’s going to be really good.
You haven´t played as much as a role as you may have liked as your averaging only 10 minutes. Is it more a sense of still learning the style of the Pro A or other factors that has led to your little minutes?
I think I’ve adjusted well to the style of play so far, it’s just a matter of getting in where I fit in and contributing with what I am given.
Let´s talk about your game. You’re a guy that can do it all. You’re an explosive scorer and can guard four positions. To what NBA player past and present would you compare your game too?
I think I compare myself and have been compared closest to Kawhi Leonard. Very versatile player, rebounds well, fairly quiet but very aggressive, and is a winner.
You’re a guy that can fill the stat sheet, but what do you feel is a hidden strength in your game that still doesn´t get noticed on the court today?
I have very quick hands on defense and offense. So on defense I seem to get multiple deflections during a possession, and on offense I seem to get quick taps on rebounds for extra points.
George the voice coined you as Teen Wolf, because your all over the court jumping around like Michael J Fox was as Teen Wolf in the 1985 movie. You will jump over seven footers with no problem getting rebounds. Would you ever consider breaking out a wolf costume somewhere down the road during a Drew League game?
lol Haha if the drew league game fell on a Halloween day then I of course would. But it’s too hot in the summer in LA to dress up in more than shorts and a tshirt. But who knows. In Germany I can probably pull off that costume if given that name here too lol
Last season you played with the Vaqueros de Saucillo (Mexico-Chihuahua Vive): Score-1 (27.5ppg), Reb-2 (12.9rpg). What kind of experience was this and how important was this gig for getting a new kind of self confidence back?
It was really good for me to get out and prove that I could perform at the professional level. Very thankful to the fans and coaching staff for giving me that opportunity to showcase what I could do. Learned a lot about my game it was great To go into summer after a successful season in Mexico with a newfound confidence and new things to work on.
You really had no real professional gigs the last three years since playing in Japan at the Elite Talent Exchange Glo Japan. You played a lot in the Drew League in Los Angeles, but still didn´t get any chance. Did you ever think of quitting? How did you mentally stay focused the last years?
Oh absolutely I thought about quitting. Several overseas tours, or tryouts with no success? absolutely had moments where I felt like I was wasting my time. But never stopped working hard JUST IN CASE. I used to work 730am-4pm at my previous job. I would get up at 5am and do skill work from 530-7am, go to work, lift weights during my lunch break in our office weight room, then at 4pm after Work go back to the gym for cardio. Then turn around 2x a week to coach AAU Basketball. Long days. Lol but I had a very supportive wife and cast of family/friends that knew I can make it if the right opportunity presented itself and kept encouraging me not to quit, and I’m glad I didn’t.
You have been a regular at the Drew League for years. What are your fondest memories here over the years and has it bothered you that a rare player like you didn´t get noticed earlier?
Winning the 2016 championship was really fun, and being in talks in the MVP candidate race for that season, but really just having somewhere to play for fun in the summers with great players, and inviting some of the kids I coach to see me play locally is what I enjoyed most about the drew league. I definitely would have liked to have been noticed earlier but I’ve grown a whole lot as a player over the past few years, so I think I’m prepared and the timing now is perfect.
NBA legend Baron Davis said this about you. “It’s hard to find a guard that can guard 4 positions, score the ball, and assist. Hopefully, this is the summer that some scouts come out and give him a look. He’s one of the most underrated players in this league.” When you hear words like this does it motivate you even more to keep your basketball dream alive?
Absolutely. I used to watch him and look up to him when I was a kid! So to have him say that? Definitely motivated me even more. As mentioned before, there were times of frustration in which I thought I was wasting my time, and in those times I’d call Baron to vent my frustration and usually he’d either give me some encouraging advice, or give me the “big brother treatment” and say “shut up and go get in the gym and workout. Stop complaining. Be ready when your time comes”. Lol Both were helpful.
Is it sometimes difficult to accept how different the career paths have been with you and Caspar Ware? Do you sometimes wonder how far you would have gone and where you would have been today if you had received his opportunities?
Honestly that’s never crossed my mind. I’m happy for Casper. He’s earned every ounce of his success. If anything he inspires and motivates me to go after my dreams the same way he has.
You played at Cal.St.-Dominguez H. (NCAA2) winning the CCAA tournament in 2011. What did you appreciate most about playing there and having the experience to play college ball?
I appreciated the ability to play ball so close to home and to have had the structure that a lot of college students aren’t exposed to.
How did head coach Damaine Powell groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Best thing coach Powell taught me is to always be ready and when your name is called “get the job done”.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Robert Willhite?
Haha we had a lot of intense 1v1 battles. Most of which ended with us wrestling/fighting haha. But I think we are still tied for wins.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA or Drew League that is in the NBA now?
Metta World Peace(Ron Artest). I remember the first time I played against him. He’s built like a truck and insanely quick. Made it difficult to guard, but also exhausting to get by him on offense. He was probably the toughest I had to matchup against. I probably lost at least 3 gallons of water in sweat during that game trying to hold him. Lol
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
Kobe, Lebron, Westbrook, Vince Carter
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?
That question makes me laugh a bit. It’s always going to be a discussion but I don’t understand how you can compare MJ(shooting guard) to what Lebron James(SF/PF) has accomplished when they play entirely different positions? The Kobe/Jordan debate is a better debate to me. Lebron/MJ? Tougher because you can’t compare many players to MJ other than Kobe. But on the other hand you can compare Lebron to many legends of the game. With all that said, Lebron is still in the league and shows very little sign of slowing down at 32, so who knows.
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 could be bias because I’ve been a huge Westbrook fan since his year at UCLA and even more when okc took a run at the Lakers in the playoffs a while back in his younger years but I think that isn’t a fair assessment. He fills the stat sheet and every rebound he gets is another possession for his team. He plays with a fire that inspires his team to win. It would be a fair assessment if his team wasn’t winning and he was just stuffing his stats.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
I think this year we had some really good talent coming out. I’m a Laker fan so I think we have a good pick with Lonzo if/when he can become more consistent and “we” can hold him to a “rookie” standard rather than the next Magic Johnson so quick, he’ll be fine. I also really like the quickness in Dee’ Aaron Fox. Also Kyle Kuzma is showing what impact he has on a team right away too.
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 have a really good team with good pieces as well. With Chris Paul, James Harden can really focus on his tremendous scoring ability and let CP3 handle the majority of the PG duties. But I think they will still need more to get a serious run at a title. They have other good players with Eric Gordon and a buddy of mine Bobby Brown, but I think they need more of a big man presence to bang in the paint for those games where shots aren’t falling.
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?
That’s a tough one. Of course right now, with Boston’s current streak and Isiah Thomas being injured; Boston got the better deal. But Isiah at 100% is a tough player. Have to wait and find out when Isiah comes back.
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’m hoping they can figure it out and make a run. They definitely have the talent and since none of these star players have won a championship, it would be nice for them to get it done. Lots of potential but we’ll see.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Well. I have a toddler so most likely it was moana or the imoji movie? Lol
Thanks Van for the chat.