Milwaukee Bucks guard Xavier Munford, 24, is from Hillside, NJ, and attended national powerhouse high school St. Benedict’s Prep in nearby Newark, but he never started a game for the squad, which was coached by Dan Hurley. He went to junior college before eventually playing for Hurley once again at the University of Rhode Island.
Then, after several seasons in the D-League, he was part of the Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff run during the 2015-16 season. Last year, he split time between the United States and Spain, where he signed with FC Barcelona. Perhaps most notably, he played with USA Basketball under head coach Jeff Van Gundy (twice) and won a gold medal over the summer before inking his current deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Munford spoke with HoopsHype about his experience playing on a two-way contract, his stint with the Bucks, how his time overseas prepared him for the NBA, what it was like to play for Coach Van Gundy and much more.
This has been a wild season – you’ve had a coaching change and you’re playing with one of the biggest stars on the planet. How would you describe your experience?
Xavier Munford: It’s definitely been wild. I didn’t know what I was going to get with the two-way contract. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to play with the Bucks and the (Wisconsin) Herd. Every day, I keep trying to get better and learn the system. I’m trying to incorporate my game into a style that works for Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
What are some of the takeaways you’ve had from the two-way contract?
XM: You have to stay ready. You never know when you’re getting a call. A lot of guys on the Bucks went down and got hurt, like Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon. I have to make sure I’m going to take care of business when my number is called, no matter where I have to go. No matter who I’m with, I just have to keep getting better.
What are some things people may not realize about your experience with the Bucks?
XM: The first game in Herd history, I hit a game winner and that was so great. We actually didn’t run the play correctly so we went off our instincts and something good happened. It was an amazing feeling. I had an opportunity to play with different teams, but I thought that the Bucks were the best situation for me because I was familiar with the guys and the coaching staff, since I was already in training camp and [knew] their system.
You have very different roles on the developmental team and the NBA team. What are the main differences?
XM: I had a really good season with the Herd and I knew people would play me a certain type of way so I needed to adjust to get shots and get my teammates open. But when I’m with the Bucks, defenders aren’t going to key in on me as much so when I have an opportunity, I just try to be aggressive and take the right shots and make the right plays. I want to be a pest on defense, play with tons of effort.
What were the main ways you scored with the Herd that you can use on the Bucks?
XM: I tried to focus on taking good shots and not forcing anything. The coach did a good job of simulating the same type of offense that the Bucks ran. It was an easy transition because of that. The coaches put me in the right spots. My three-point percentage obviously gave me a lot of confidence, but that was something I was working on the whole summer. I was working on my jump shot and my range and I took the same shot every time to get it feeling consistent to where I wanted. Any team could use someone that can make a shot. I worked on off-the-dribble shots, catch-and-shoot attempts, slide into plays, shakedowns, different type of movements. I need to make the best play based on what the defense gives me.
Were you able to tell from the bench that Giannis Antetokounmpo fully cleared Tim Hardaway Jr. on that dunk in New York?
XM: It was a shocker. We all looked around at each other and we didn’t really know what happened. We didn’t know until we got back to the locker room and John Henson was inactive and told us. That’s the way you attack the basket. That was an amazing play, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen in practice because he goes hard every day. He really wants to be the most valuable player on our team and feels once he does that, he can be the MVP of the league. That was sick, though.
Your high school has produced a lot of NBA players, and you played with Tristan Thompson. But you didn’t get much playing time when you were there. Did the NBA feel like a realistic goal?
XM: It’s just a testament to my story. I always believed that I was a great player. My goal was to play in the league and I always kept that dream alive. During my career, I kept getting closer. When I was in the D-League, I knew I was right there and just needed to make a couple steps. Even in high school, though, I always believed. My close friends and family always believed, too, which really helped me and gave me an extra push to be confident. Although I wasn’t playing much in high school, I knew it was possible.
How did your experience overseas help you further your career?
XM: I learned a lot about the different cultures overseas and learned a lot about the game and how the game is played. I incorporated a couple things that helped me because the spacing and the rules are different overseas. It’s more of a tough game, the paint is clogged. It makes you take care of the ball better and make the right passes against defenses.
I’d love to hear about what you learned winning a gold medal under Jeff Van Gundy for Team USA.
XM: That was one of the greatest experiences of my basketball career. It was a good group of guys that all bought in. Everybody was selfless. They just wanted to represent the country. And the coaching staff was great. I learned how to practice, which he preaches is a lost art in the game. He helped give us attention to detail and how to go hard. It bettered our game and helped our careers. It’s special that the first time I played for Team USA, we won a gold medal. It was so great and I wanted to do it again in the qualifying games.
I’m so glad to have absorbed all of the knowledge from Van Gundy and the other coaches. He gave me the confidence to know that I am an NBA player and he enjoyed my game. He coached me heavily throughout the tournament. I was one of the main guys he was getting after, yelling [at]. I took it into account and it made me so much better. He was super influential.
You’ve played with Marshall Plumlee on Team USA, in the G League and in the NBA. What is your dynamic like and how is it helpful to your games?
XM: It’s great to develop chemistry between a guard and a forward. He knows when to screen a guy and he knows when I’m going to get him open and hit him with a pass. We developed that and he’s a great person off the court, too. It’s so good to have someone you’re familiar with setting screens for you. It makes the game fun. He’s a big guy, a good teammate, vocal and he’s also a great rebounder. Darrun Hilliard can make a big impact in the NBA down the road too. He’s a great player, savvy playmaker.
What advice would you tell someone about how to break into the world of professional basketball?
XM: You definitely have to believe in yourself and if you don’t do that, it’s going to be really hard to make it happen. You have to understand there will be obstacles, ups and downs. Just stay level-headed, never give up hope, learn how to sit on the bench and be a role player. You have to understand what you can bring to the table and do it to the best of your abilities. The main thing is to play to your strengths.