Willie Dean is a 36 year old 188cm point guard that is playing his 14th professional season and second with BK Ventspils (Latvia-LBL). He has played in 11 countries in Greece, Italy, Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, France and Latvia. He started his basketball career in 2008 with Boston College(NCAA) and then moved to Purdue where he played from 2000-2003 playing a total of 91 NCAA games and as a senior played 30 games averaging 17.8ppg, 5.1rpg, 2.2apg, FGP: 41.6%, 3PT: 31.8%, FT: 78.2%. Last season he played for STB Le Havre (France-ProA) playing FIBA Europe Cup: 9 games: 13.0ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.9apg, 1.2spg, 2FGP: 58.7%, 3FGP: 33.3%, FT: 84.6%; French ProA: 15 games: 9.3ppg, 2.9rpg, 4.4apg, 2FGP: 50.6%, 3FGP: 12.5%, FT: 87.0%, in Mar.’16 moved to BK Ventspils (Latvia-LBL) playing 18 games: Score-2(15.9ppg), 3.6rpg, Assists-2(5.1apg), Steals-3(1.8spg), FGP: 52.9%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 81.3%. He spoke to German Hoopsbefore the Champions League game against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg in Oldenburg.
Willie thanks for talking to German Hoops. Welcome back to Oldenburg. You don´t have the fondest memories losing a Eurochallenge quarterfinal best of 3 to the EWE baskets in March 2013 with Khimik-OPZ Yuzny (Ukraine-Superleague). What memories do you have of this series?
I remember that we were in the game, but Rickey Paulding had a big game that got them through it.
Who was more annoying on the court Julius Jenkins or Ricky Paulding? Jenkins had big games in game one and three and Paulding steered 24 points in game three.
The most important game was game three where Paulding showed up. We had done a good job keeping him quiet for the first two games, but his contribution in game three allowed them to advance.
What memory do you have of ex teammate big man Miro Todic from that team?
Miro was a real good dude. I remember him as being very versatile and he could play the positions three and four and stretch the floor. He was a very good physical player.
You started your professional career in 2003. Have you seen any other places in Germany or has Oldenburg been the only place you have spent time with?
I played against the Artland Dragons when I was with Bulgarian team Lukoil.
You are 36 years old and still putting up stats as if you were 28. What motivates you to keep going and going?
I love to play the game of basketball. There is this misconception in Europe that once a player turns 30 that he can´t play anymore. I am living proof that that isn´t the case.
Besides keeping your body in shape why do you believe that you have been able to have such a long career?
I think that part of it is luck. Nobody can predict injuries and basketball is just an unknown thing. You go to play each day hoping for the best and too always come out after each game without a serious injury.
Often a player´s game goes down with age. What has been your secret to having the fountain of consistency in you?
I noticed that the older I got, the more that I had to do in the summers in terms of fitness. When I was younger, I could take off longer periods of time. When your older you have less time to be able to come back. You are more susceptible to injury as your body isn´t used to getting back to that high intensity.
You won four titles in Bulgaria and one in France and Italy. What drives you on to keep playing? Does winning titles increase a bit more with age?
Basketball is a team game. The teams success is measured by how much you can accomplish. I believe that individual awards don´t belong in basketball. Basketball isn´t an individual sport, but a team sport. I never understood why they give individual awards to players in a game that is a team sport.
You have played in 11 countries for 14 teams. Do you at times feel like a basketball globetrotter? What do you say to critics who might suggest that you change too much during seasons from one team to another that might be on account of your character? I guess you could say it hasn´t hindered teams from various countries to offer me jobs.
Every team that I ever played for wanted me to stay. The reasons for me not staying with teams over my career had nothing to do with my character. In many cases, they weren´t able to afford me further at that moment. It was nothing against me, but just part of the business.
You are playing for a team with a rich basketball tradition. What kind of experience has it been for you playing for this team and does one feel the tradition in and around the city?
It´s a very small town so everybody knows about the team. There is a lot of pressure on the team to hold down the tradition, but we are up to the challenge and we work very hard together each day to keep the tradition up.
BK Ventspils have a 10-1 record in the LBL league. What has been the secret to being at the top? Does the competition level suffer a bit to really give the team tough opponents on a regular basis?
You would think so, but that isn´t the case. When you have the best record, everyone is out to get you and prove you wrong. Many teams find that extra energy to compete against us which is something you wouldn´t have thought possible when looking at their roster.
BK Ventspils is 3-4 in the Champions League and playing better than their record shows. What has been the biggest difference in this competition in comparison to the LBL league?
The biggest difference is the budget of the teams. In Germany teams might be able to afford 6 Americans while in the LBL league maybe 2-3 Americans. The teams are also deeper in the Champions league.
In the 2013-2014 season you played the majority of the season with Krasny Oktyabr Volgograd (Russia-VTB, starting five): 20 games: Score-5(18.4ppg), 4.8rpg, Assists-4(7.0apg), 1.2spg, FGP: 51.2%, 3PT: 36.5%, FT: 83.9%, in May’14 moved to EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy-SerieA): 1 game: 2pts, 1ast. You came and won. In the short time you were there what did you feel was so special about that constellation of players?
The special thing about the Milan team was their depth. We had very good Italian players like Melli who is with Bamberg now and we had American keith Langford. He was pretty dominant then and still playing well today. We also had a very good coach.
In the 2010-2011 season you won the France Pro A with Sluc Nancy. How much fun was it playing with diminutive point guard John Linehan? Where do you rank him in all-time best guard teammates as a professional?
He is probably the best full court defender I have ever seen. He made guys not want to dribble the ball at him. Guys would be resistant to bringing the ball up the court.
You were with the Washington Wizards (NBA) in preseason in 2007. What kind of experience was that for you and did you feel you realistically had a chance of making the team?
I know that basketball wise I should have made it. It was just the wrong time for me. It was a time when Gilbert Arenas was about to enter free agency and the club wanted to open up as much cap space as possible. They didn´t keep anyone. Not even guys from the previous season. For me it was a great experience learning from guys like Antwan Jamison, Caron Butler, Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Hayward.
You won the Bulgarian title from 2008-2010 with Lukoil Academik Sofia. Which title was most difficult to win?
The first one was the most special. We had accomplished two things that season that had never been done before in Bulgaria. We had an undefeated season and reached the last 16 in ULEB Cup.
You put up huge stats in this time. Was this your strongest phase as a professional in terms of your game?
I think my strongest season was with Volgograd where led the VTB in efficiency was first in assists and second in scoring.
What was your wake up call to being a rookie in 2003 in Europe with Ilysiakos Athens (Greece-A) where you knew that you were very far away from home?
My wake up call was not getting paid all the time. That was one of the reasons that I never went back to play. But loved Athens and it was the most fun I had in Europe. The Greek league don’t have their finances in order.
You played three and a half years in Russia. What was the craziest experience that you ever had there with weather?
We went to play in Siberia and it was -40C
You started your college basketball career in 1998 at Boston College and then transferred to Purdue where you played from 2000-2003. How did head coach Gene Keady groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Coach Keady preached discipline and details. He enforced it and made you aware of it. He helped me develop further as a player at Purdue.
What memories do you have of then freshman David Teague? He won the scoring title in Germany in 2010 and once lit up Alba Berlin for 35 points. Did you already notice then that he had a scoring gene growing in him?
Yes he always had that’ scoring instinct from the first day that he came. I saw him as a recruit. He was a great scorer and was pretty tall for a two guard which allowed him to shoot over smaller defenders.
Who was the toughest player that you faced in the NCAA that made the NBA?
The best guy I ever saw, I didn´t play against. I was red shirted and saw Jamal Crawford put on a show at Michigan. I knew form that game that he would be going to the NBA.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore, which 4 heads would you choose?
I like big men. My top three would be Kareem, Hakeem Olajuwon and Jordan.
Lebron finally brought an NBA title to the Cavs. Where does he stand at the moment in the never ending debate with where he stands as the best of all-time?
He and Magic are the top two most versatile of all-time for me.
Where do you rank Kevin Garnett with the best power forwards that ever played the game?
I see him at the top with Tim Duncan, Karl Malone and Kevin Mchale.
What was the last movie that you saw?
I saw two documentaries Vaxxed and 13th.
Thanks Willie for the chat.