After quite successful stints with FC Barcelona in Spain and Anadolu Efes in Turkey, 2013 Spurs’ draftee Deshaun Thomas is putting up career highs in the Euroleague with Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel this season. While the NBA is still on the radar for him, the 6-foot-7 forward sounds totally cool about building a career overseas.
Would you say it’s been the best year in your career as a pro, even if we’re still in the middle of the season?
Deshaun Thomas: Oh yeah, I feel like it is. In France, my first year in Europe I was trying to make a little name for myself. In Barça, they changed my position to play the 3 and had a solid year. Even though I already had my name on the map, I thought I could build my value up in Europe. Then Turkey, it was a kind of a different situation where I have to figure out how to do other things to be successful. Then with Maccabi, it has been one of my best years for sure. It’s just because the team really has faith in me. Once you have that as an American playing over here in Europe, that’s big and it keeps your confidence at a high level. You come over here and you’re faced with different situations, different cultures and different styles… When you have coaches and teammates that trust you, it helps you a lot.
What’s the lifestyle like in Tel Aviv compared to other European cities you’ve been?
DS: The lifestyle is great. Everybody speaks English. It’s easier to get around and get along with people, the weather is nice. It’s just great for Americans! Some other countries, they were not so good for me because a lot of people didn’t speak English and it was a culture shock. Over here, you feel like you’re living in New York in a way and there’s a bit of Miami in it too
You’ve been compared to Pete Mickeal, an American player who had massive success in Europe. Feel good about that comparison?
DS: I watched highlights of him and it’s kind of a good comparison. Plus he had a great career in Europe and I hope I can do the same.
Would you be satisfied with a good career in Europe? How much of a priority is for you to get to the NBA if the chance opens up?
DS: Playing in the NBA is every kid’s dream, but I take it day by day. That’s a kid’s goal, but as of right now I’m a good fit in Europe. Some guys have tried going to the D-League and given up on opportunities overseas. Me, I think my game speaks for itself. We’ll see what kind of options are out there and if they make sense. Right now, I’m playing well, I like the opportunities Europe is giving me and I’m taking advantage of them.
Was taking one of those two-way contracts a consideration for you at any point?
DS: I didn’t want to go that route. It sounds good, but to be on a team for 45 days to see if you can make it… What are the odds on that? It didn’t cross my mind. I felt if I had a good opportunity overseas, I was going to take it. With me, everything has to make sense. Maccabi made sense to me because it was a good situation to get better and build my value overseas.
You were drafted late in the second round (58th pick) by the Spurs in 2013. For your NBA chances, do you think perhaps it would have been better not to get drafted at all so a team didn’t control your rights?
DS: I mean, who knows? Maybe if I had stayed in school another year, things would have turned out different too. Maybe if I don’t get drafted, things are different. Stuff happens for a reason and you have to learn from those things, but I wouldn’t regret that because I have one accomplished goal and that is to have my name on that draft board with the top players in college. So that’s one thing I dreamed of that I accomplished and I happened to be drafted by one of the great organizations in the NBA, which is San Antonio. Of course, my other goal was to hopefully make a roster and play in the NBA. But just being drafted was big for me in itself.
You went to camp with the Spurs in 2016 and got cut near the end of it. How was that moment when you’re told you’re not making the team?
DS: First, the Spurs experience was a great experience. They didn’t want to lose my rights, but there’s a business side and I had to force their hand to try to be a free agent. So we went through the due process, played a couple of games and it was a good experience. I got to meet Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, [Manu] Ginobili… We had our last game in the preseason and Pop came in real professional and gave me great advice about playing in this league, told me I was a good professional and mentioned a few things I needed to work on. Overall, it was a good experience. Wearing a Spurs jerseys for a couple of weeks was the coolest thing.
I have to ask you about this kid Luka Doncic you’ve played a bunch of times the last few years. What are your thoughts on him?
DS: He’s a young guy with good potential. Personally, I don’t think he will play point guard in the league. I think he’s more of a 2. He’s big and in the NBA a lot of point guards are quick and fast. He’s got very good potential. He’s young, but at that age a lot of players are getting drafted. I think he has a chance to be a solid player.