Elijah Stewart (196-G-1995, college: USC) is a 26 year old 196cm guard from Los Angeles, California playing his fourth professional season and first with U-Banca Transilvania Cluj Napoca (Romania-Liga Nationala). He gained further experience overseas in countries like Finland and Poland and also had a stint in the G-League. He began his basketball career at Westchester High School and then played at USC (NCAA) from 2014-2018 playing a total of 137 NCAA games. He spoke to germanhoops.com after the massive 76-73 win over the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in the Basketball Champions League quarterfinals.
Congrats on the huge 76-73 win over the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in the quarterfinals of the Basketball Champions League. Before I start I have to ask you does your hair ever get in the way of your play?
Of course not. It’s kind of cold outside so my big hair keeps my head insulated well. I think also with my hair it is a type of imitation factor reminding opponents of 80’s basketball.
How enjoyable is it being able to play in front of 10,000 enthusiastic fans now again after 2 years of Covid?
I actually have preferred COVID. I don’t mind playing for no fans. I feel it is the better team that wins on the court. We always had talented teams wherever I played and never really felt we needed that extra support. But the crowd can be very helpful and they really support our team.
IT must be like day and night seeing the capacity of other arena’s in Romania. Does an atmosphere like that sometimes bring you back to your NCAA days?
Yes for sure it does. Tonight it was rocking. The crowd was in it and it was fun to play. It was a blast. This was one of the best games that I ever played in in Europe.
U-Banca Transilvania Cluj Napoca have bene the underdog all season long in the Basketball Champions League and pulled out another big win. Is all this underdog talk and beating teams becoming more normal or is every 40 minute affair still a big challenge?
I feel the whole underdog talk is like chicken little. Everybody has counted us out all season long. They hope we slip and make mistakes like an underdog. We feel like we can beat anyone. We will keep going with it and play hard and keep winning.
U-Banca Transilvania Cluj Napoca had a super start allowing only 13 points in the first quarter. What has been the big staple on the team defense this season that has helped the team be successful?
Making them guard and knowing who the guards are. Not letting them play in their comfort level and knowing what to give up and what not to. I feel like we did a good job executing coaches game plan.
The guests got better into the game in the second quarter scoring 21 points. Big Man Ethan Happ was a menace. He is a big body that knows how to use his body, but did you know about his hook shot going in?
We weren’t so much prepared for his hook shot. Their interaction with their big was a wrinkle in our plan. We felt like it was better if he go for 20 than other guys. We can live with it and happy to give that up.
You had the highlight of the game with an incredible alley-op dunk at the end of the second quarter. Where does that rank in your all-time best dunks in your career?
That is up there. Top 3 in my career. On the stage in the BCL, a dunk like that will get pushed up to #1. That was friendly justice. My defender Justin Simon and me go way back. We are from the west coast and played in the Pack 12 and know each other.
Patrick Richard recently had an incredible shot where you switched the ball in mid air to your right hand and saw nothing but net. Which shot was sweeter?
My dunk for sure. I know Pat would say the same thing. He played a very good game tonight. We are both from Louisiana and have a southern Connection. He was a big help at the start of the season for me getting comfortable.
The third quarter continued to be a close battle. I really enjoyed Karel Guzman’s energy. What do you feel of his game doesn’t get appreciated enough?
Karel can really go. His defense definitely gets disregarded in the BCL. He is a real menace. We put him on the other team’s best player. We put him on Troy Caupain and he scored something like only 6 points in two games. He scored 32 points in another game. He really gets underestimated. He has made me better because we guard each other every day in practice. He gets me ready for tough games.
Dustin Hogue is like this programed Duracel energy bunny. Does that guy ever cool down or does he sometimes have that energy off the court?
He has that east coast energy. Off the court he is pretty chilled. He rehabs like crazy and really takes his body seriously. He gets to the gym an hour before practice and lifts and rides the bike. He is an undersized big and knows that he has to keep his body right. He is crazy. I hope that I never have to play against him.
You were down by 7 points in the fourth quarter and one has to say that veteran Brandon Brown was the unsung hero of the game. He added 8 points with hot shooting and you also made some big shots How valuable is his leadership and calmness on the team?
His play has been big. We missed him at the start of the season and we doubted the team could react and perform. But when he came back, he did a great job keeping the team together. He understood to hold the tempo and facilitate. He is a real floor general that also knows how to shoot that thing.
With the game tied at 68-68 came the turning point. You and Stefan Bircevic made massive three’s and they then did cut it down to one point with a minute to play, but you buckled down to get the win. What was key for getting the win?
Key was not giving up second chance points and covering the three point line well. When there are 10,000 people yelling, it becomes tough. Them missing two free throws was big for us.
Did you get a little lucky that Jonah Radebaugh missed a lay up and three in the last minute?
We got lucky. That is when preparation and opportunity meet. We contested the lay up and had the intimidation factor of the fans.
Are the 13 Ludwigsburg offensive rebounds a danger? There were quite a few rebounds and loose balls that just didn’t go Dustin Hogue’s way. Are you confident that the team will show a different face on the glass in Ludwigsburg?
Many balls didn’t go our way in the first half. We were very lucky that they didn’t convert them to points. We didn’t want to allow so many offensive rebounds. We wanted to keep them under 10, but they got 14. We have to look at film. Dustin Hogue goes against 2guys in the paint. Someone has to help and clean up over him.
The arena won’t be as loud in Romania next week, but it will be a battle. What will be the biggest key for the win?
We have to refine key points of this game. We have to do a better job stopping them to crash the boards, know their tendencies better and don’t let the guys that can score score. Let others be the hero.
Thanks Elijah for the chat.