A.J. English (192-G-1992, college: Iona, agency: Slash Sports) is a 29 year old 192cm guard playing his fifth professional season and third in Germany with the Syntainics MBC Weissenfels. He began his basketball career at ST Thomas More Prep school and then played 122 NCAA games with Iona where he averaged an overwhelming 21,0ppg in his last two seasons. He turned professional in 2016 and had two tour of duties with the Fraport Skyliners and also played in countries like Italy, France, Greece and Poland. He spoke to germanhoops.com after the 81-75 MBC win over the Fraport Skyliners.
AJ thanks for talking to germanhoops.com. Congrats on the big 81-75 win over your ex team Fraport Skyliners. They are in great danger of moving down. How much do you feel for your ex team?
I definitely feel for them. It was good seeing guys like coach Klaus Perwas, Tez, Dennis the athletic coach and Marco Voeller who I played with. I wasn’t even a full year there and built such special relationships with them and they helped me so much in my second stop after Italy. Tez is a real leader. I’m not counting them out. They are still figuring it out.
It was a very tight game in the first quarter as you had the slim 21-19 lead. It seemed like absolute everything revolved around Will Cherry. Do you even remember his brief time in the NBA when you were shooting out the lights at Iona (NCAA)?
Not really. Now I have started hearing about him. He had a game with 21/10/5 stats You have to tip his hat to how he played. He made tough shots. I can see why he made the NBA.
The Fraport Skyliners got away in the second quarter leading 46-35 at the break. Their bigs Haarms and Brenneke did a lot of damage in the paint. Were you guys a bit overwhelmed by their play?
No not really. We had scouted all the players. Those bigs are talented and play their roles well. They roll hard and get offensive rebounds. Haarms was a big time player in his conference in school. I felt we came into the game well prepared. We took the punch then and were able to come back.
In the third quarter MBC kept fighting and cut the Frankfurt lead down to 61-55. Especially Goran Huskic and Jamel Morris were huge. Talk a little about how important they are for the team?
Goran is a big physical versatile player that fights every possession at both ends. I really love to play with him. Jamel is top 5 in scoring, is a lefty and can do so much with the ball. He has a great IQ as well. He watches a lot of basketball. He knows everything about players. He pushes me so hard in practice and puts in so muchwork in practice.
In the fourth quarter you served up the perfect pass to German Kostja Mushidi for the dunk. This guy was on the NBA radar when he was younger. How do you rate his athleticism? You see it every day in practice?
I think he belongs in the NBA. He is 23 and I’m really shocked how physical he is. He can play the positions 1-4. He has long arms and told me he is close to a wing span of 7,3. He dunks when you don’t think that he could. I feel that if he can strive to be mentally focused that he could play in the Euroleague or NBA. He scored 18 points in the first half in a game. He does so many of the important little things. He has been a huge surprise factor this season. I love playing with him. He has a great attitude.
The Fraport Skyliners caved in as usual in the fourth quarter which has been a real problem this season. Could you sense with their body language that they were totally insecure with their situation?
I don’t know. You could see with the veteran guys like Tez and Cherry that they don’t show it. Cherry hit big shots and Tez made steals. They fought until the end. At the end the ball just bounced our way. They really missed Jamel Mclean. There are still 12 games left. I don’t think that they are too worried about their situation. I remember my first time in Frankfurt, we were in 14th or 15th place and came back being something like one possession away from making the playoffs. I saw it every day with Tez. He was so consistent. Every game was big for him. You don’t know what can happen. They still have a lot of games to play.
Frankfurt came back exerting one last bit of energy as Matt Haarms and Will Cherry to tie the score and then Jamel Morris iced the game with 6 points. What was key in crunch-time for the win? Did MBC want it more?
I wouldn’t say that we wanted it more, but we just had the right people making plays and the ball bounced our way. They had their chances and we had our chances. I’m just glad that we fought until the end and won the game.
Did you talk to your ex teammate Quantez Robertson at the end? Did you have any soothing words for him?
He was all smiles and laughing when we talked. I was in high school when he was already a pro. He is still playing at a high level and is still if not the best defender in the league. He watched me grow up and took me under his wing when I came from Italy. His kids were babies and are practically grown up now. I love Tez to death. I always wish him the best. I want to spend some time with him in Frankfurt.
What will you always remember most about his Tez’s incredible game and character when his name pops up?
I will always remember his intensity. He pushed me 110% every drill each day. I also learned so much from coach Klaus. I got so much positive vibes watching Tez each day. Even when I had my tough injury, he was talking to me telling me to stay locked in. He always put a good word in for me with Frankfurt when they were looking for a guard. No matter the situation how good or bad, he always puts on a hard hat and comes to work. I appreciate him so much.
Welcome back to Germany. You had two tour of duties with the Fraport Skyliners. Do you rank your time with Frankfurt some of your best time as a professional?
Yes for sure. It was my first time in Germany and I was in a big city. There were so many talented guys like Shavon Shields and Isaac Bonga. We were all so young. I always tell people that Frankfurt and the Fraport Skyliners will always be a second home to me. Whenever I have a lay over in Frankfurt, I am always excited. It is always a relief. Because I know exactly where I’m at.
Does your buzzer beater against Tuebingen rank as one of your finest moments as a professional?
All my great games were great moments. That game in Tuebingen was my first buzzer beater. That was for sure a great moment. Playing for Gordon Herbert was great. I can’t pinpoint one moment. The whole year was special.
You were teammates with Isaac Bonga who is in his 4th NBA year but having problems sticking there. Have you followed his career and do you see him celebrating his real breakthrough there?
I still talk to him. He works very hard. I think his whole situation in the NBA doesn’t have to do with his game, but more being caught up in trades or older guys coming in. It is crazy to think that he is still so young. He had some 30 point games in the G-League. Him being able to score like that says a lot for him being a versatile facilitator. It is important that he keeps having a positive attitude. I think that once he gets comfortable with his shot, then he will be a big surprise. Whenever I talk or work out with NBA guys, I always say give Bonga a chance. I really feel that he can have a big role in the NBA with his IQ and athleticism.
You left Frankfurt in Feb 2018 and in the last 4 years played only 17 games until joining MBC. How tough was this time? What was key for helping you get through this?
It was really tough. I tore my ACL and my knee cap was messed up. Staying in contact with guys and keeping relationships was really important. I already had problems with injuries in Frankfurt and didn’t know it and played through it. Being home more with my family and 4 year old daughter was also important. They kept me having positive thoughts. Now I’m healthy and was the leading scorer in Poland before coming back to Germany. I guess I’m doing something right.
I always saw you more as a shooting guard. Your playing the point with MBC. You have played two solid games. How comfortable are you with your role in Weissenfels?
People don’t realize me being able to be a point guard, because I shoot the ball so well. But actually I’m more of a point guard. I began as a point guard in school. When you see my clips from Frankfurt, you see Gordie had me play off ball and had me on ball screens. The MBC coach understands that I can play point guard. He told me you can be a big point guard for us. Playing point guard allows me to be more versatile. I love to play point guard. Unless there is a better player to play the point, I’d rather play point guard.
How do you feel has your game grown in general since your second tour of duty with the Fraport Skyliners?
I think that it is like day and night. I’m a way better player now. I’m a lot stronger. Dennis told me today at the game that I did a great job with my body. Key for my physical progression was during my injury. I looked at myself in the mirror and asked myself exactly what I needed to work on to better myself. I locked in on things that I needed to work on. It helped. Now I feel great. I feel so much stronger and can finish games. During my injury, I was looked over, but now I’m showing everybody what I’m capable of on the court.
How vital was Gordon Herbert for your early development?
I always tell my teammates how important he was. He taught me so much in a short amount of time. I also can’t forget to mention coach Klaus Perwas who doesn’t get the credit that he should. It was only fitting that I gave coach Klaus a high five and hug after the game today. It was so many little things that I still use to this day. Look at all the guys that Gordie coached through the years. So many left Frankfurt and are having great careers now. It isn’t a coincidence that he is the German national coach now. He pays attention to so much detail. Every drill I had taught me to go about it like it was your last game. I learned that you always have to go hard and never take any short cuts.
In 2018-2019 you spent time in Greece and played against top Euroleague team Panathinaikos losing by 25 points. What memories do you have playing against top guard Nick Calathes?
He is a great point guard that is big. He saw the floor so well. He has a great understanding and showed that he can control the game without scoring. But it was nothing new for me. I had seen what he could do when he played with Florida (NCAA).
Who wins a one on one today you or Sean Armand?
I will always take me. We had great battles in school. Sean will always be my brother, but I will always put my money on myself.
Did you see the sequel to the classic Coming to America? Shouldn’t they have left it alone?
Yes for sure they should of left it alone. The original is historic.
Thanks AJ for the chat.