The San Antonio Spurs just added another player with plenty of overseas experience… although this time with an American passport. After playing in Russia, Spain and Turkey, Brandon Paul will be one of the most seasoned rookies in the NBA next season.
We recently caught up with the 26-year-old guard to discuss how he got here and his expectations with San Antonio.
This is your first summer as an NBA player with a guaranteed contract. How do you feel about that?
Brandon Paul: Great. It’s a blessing. When you look at that, a franchise like the Spurs, it’s the best organization with the best coaches, so it’s the best-case scenario all around.
Most of the coaches in San Antonio have some kind of international experience, whether as coaches or players. Do you think they valued your background as a player more than other teams in the NBA?
BP: I think so. The Spurs, they have had success finding gems in the dirt so I’m hoping I can just come in and help the organization to try to be successful. I think my time overseas has definitely helped me mature. It helped me understand that this game is played at a high level and you have to be focused in every aspect. I think my overseas background definitely helped me.
For those who don’t know your game well, what kind of player are the Spurs adding?
BP: Just a guy that loves the game, is eager to learn, to play and guard multiple positions. It’s exciting to be a part of a winning culture. I’ll do anything to win. The fact that they picked me out of I don’t know how many other guys who are playing this game, it definitely boosts your confidence. It makes me feel more excited about the season and more confident about my game.
At what point, did you know the Spurs were really interested in signing you for the season?
BP: When I came back from Turkey, I basically landed in San Antonio to do a mini-camp and I played well over there. I had a conversation with RC [Buford] and he was telling me, “Stay locked in, work on your game. We don’t know what is going to happen in the next weeks, but we’re definitely interested and we’ll be in touch.” I could tell that he was genuinely interested, that he was being serious.
You’re joining a title contender. But when you played in Turkey, it was for Anadolu Efes and there was similar pressure, right?
BP: Yeah. Anadolu Efes is the winningest team in Turkish history. Now I come to the Spurs, which is the winningest team in recent NBA history. So I don’t like to pat myself on the back a lot, but to play with these teams is definitely great! I’m looking forward to joining another winning team and I definitely think we have a great shot this year. A lot of guys are coming back, so I’ll be able to work with a lot of good guys.
You are going to play with plenty of future Hall of Famers: Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili… Is that a lot of pressure sharing a locker room with those guys?
BP: No, I don’t think so. It’s more motivation. Being in the same conversation with the guys you just mentioned is actually big time. But I’ve done so much in my career, I’ve done so much fighting to get to where I am now. And I noticed where I was beginning, they talk about how hard is it to get to the league. Just by speaking with other people, I think it’s even harder to stay. So I’m not working for the contract I have now, I work for the next contract.
You played in the Development League, you played in Europe. What advice would you give to a player in a similar situation as you were undrafted and trying to make it in the NBA?
BP: I just recommend guys to follow their intuition. Just make sure they are brought to a situation where they’ll get better. It’s so hard these days, there are so many paths. I think it’s good for us to develop, whether it’s actually in the D-League or going overseas.
You have played in three countries with different cultures – Russia, Turkey and Spain. How did those experiences help you grow as a person?
BP: It’s definitely hard, especially for an American, to go living a different culture and having to adapt. But I definitively think each one of those was a learning experience. You get to learn a lot about yourself because you have a lot of time to be conscious, sit back and reflect on your life, on your career and what you want to do maybe after basketball. But at the same time, basketball never stops. I’m over there in those places. I’ll practice. We’ll travel, we have a game, then I have to take note for the next time. Just work on my game. I was fortunate enough to come out of those situations with a lot of experiences. Sometimes, you don’t get enough out of those situations, but I feel I got a lot – even in situations that were not exactly ideal. When I was in Russia, that was probably the toughest time as far as my career goes. But it’s definitely humbling just to be able to come back and tell my story. A lot of guys have different stories and I just want to be able to help others that may be in the same situation as me.
What happened in Russia? What were the hard times you mentioned?
BP: Obviously the language barrier. That was tough. I got some good Russian teammates that looked after me and I had a couple of American teammates that made sure I was OK. But I wasn’t getting much playing time and I wasn’t in the best situation. I ended up having to get out of that, coming back to the D-League. But like I said before, it was great to experience that. I think it made me even hungrier after that.
You’re not going to have (at least at first) as much playing time as you had in Spain, in the D-League or in Turkey. Are you willing to adapt to a new role for a contender like the Spurs?
BP: I’m just excited to come in and do what I got to do to help the team be successful. I know Coach Pop is known for playing a lot of guys, giving guys rotation. I don’t want that to be my main focus. Obviously, I want to come in and compete for minutes. I think I can play coming in, but my main goal is just to continue to get better. I know that the Spurs have an amazing staff. I met a lot of the guys and the girls on the staff. Just to be able to come in and learn from them, I know that I’ll get better.