Tuomas Iisalo and T.J Shorts took their loyalty bond to Paris

2023-10-16T15:00:17+00:00 2023-10-16T13:47:45+00:00.

Aris Barkas

16/Oct/23 15:00


Moving from Germany to the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the duo composed of the Finnish head coach and the deadly guard is already making a splash in the EuroCup

By Cesare Milanti / info@eurohoops.net

Paris is always a good idea, isn’t it? That’s what both Tuomas Iisalo and T.J. Shorts must have thought entering the 2023-24 season, opening a new chapter of their basketball lives after long and profitable years in Germany. They are already making an impact as Paris Basket has won its first two games in regular season Group A of the BKT EuroCup with Shorts as its go-to star.

The head coach, after his shooting guard career ended in his native Finland, coached in Germany with Crailsheim Merlins from 2016 to 2021. As Iisalo left to take over the bench at Telekom Baskets Bonn, Shorts arrived in Crailsheim after single seasons in Latvia with Ventspils and with Hamburg Towers.

Their paths crossed a year later when Bonn needed a new point guard. From then on, Iisalo and Shorts have shared an amazing path full of victories that led them to the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. And as they said to Eurohoops before beating Umana Reyer Venice on the road in Round 2, both feel ready for the challenge of the BKT EuroCup.

Being immersed in a new culture

Coming to France after seven and three years in the Basketball Bundesliga, respectively, both Iisalo and Shorts are experiencing something new, cultural-wise.

“The Parisian and French culture is very different from the German and Finnish ones,” Iisalo said. “It’s enriching, it’s a challenge for the whole family but also a privilege to be able to experience different types of culture and show your kids different types of aspects of life. I think it was the right time to go to a different league, to learn about ways in another country. The whole situation in Paris appealed to me a lot, and I think it’s a big challenge, but one that I’m very excited about.”

Tuomas Iisalo was followed by his playmaker, who became MVP of Round 1 in his EuroCup debut. Shorts underlined the cultural environment around the sport growing not only in the French capital but overall in the country.

“Basketball as a culture in France is growing a lot,” he said. “here are a lot of people invested in the game, and a lot of outside eyes just watching. The street life, in terms of outdoor basketball, is everywhere. There are guys who can probably play in professional leagues, but they don’t because of situations. But they know the game, and from my point of view, there are a lot more eyes watching what you’re doing in France, in comparison to maybe my previous years in Germany.”

It’s a whole different story than what he was used to in terms of attention to the daily basketball routine. “Maybe if you have a good or bad game, there are opinions out there: people want to say something. And for me, that’s a good thing for the sport, because the more eyes you can get into basketball and in the country, the more it will grow, the more it will become a more global thing,” the 26-year-old point guard said.

Founded in 2018 after acquiring the sporting rights of HTV Basket and starting from the LNB Pro B, Paris Basketball’s project is part of a growing and developing process that includes the whole French landscape. More particularly, Shorts believes the French capital is already becoming crucial in building mutual affection between basketball and people.

“I think even in Paris alone, with the building of the new arena, the different culture in terms of streetwear and clothing stuff, the stars that have been there… We have social media stars and French rappers coming to our games,” Shorts noted. “It’s a lot of people who want to come watch us, and it’s more like we’re gonna put on a show. It’s not necessarily just basketball. We want to appeal to the fan’s eye, giving them what they want. There’s a lot that goes into that, but I think France has done a good job up until this point in growing basketball as a whole.”

Bringing the Bonn brigade to Paris

Other than Shorts and Iisalo, there were other additions to Paris coming from Bonn: Sebastian Herrera, Tyson Ward, Collin Malcolm, Michael Kessens, and Leon Kratzer.

First of all, the Finnish head coach described his movement to Paris. “We had a great season with Bonn, and I was very focused on this, keeping it going to try to enjoy that as much as possible. In this profession, it’s very easy to live in the past or in the future, but we had something special,” Iisalo said.

“Every summer, we set out to build the best possible basketball team, and in this case, it’s a little bit different because we were also working not only in the short term but also for a longer team,” Iisalo added. “We have three guys in our roster, in our 12 – Mo Diawara, Enzo Sharvin and Nadir Hifi – who are gonna be cornerstones for us moving forward, but as everybody knows you’ve got to have patience for young players, bringing them in and giving responsibilities with the right doses.”

To make those young future stars comfortable – and the results are already here, considering Nadir Hifi’s 14.0 points and 5.0 assists per game over his first two BKT EuroCup appearances – the need for continuity was prioritized. That’s what Shorts was thinking when he decided to join Iisalo and his fellow teammates in Telekom Baskets Bonn.

“Coach [Iisalo] make his players a better version of themselves, better on the court and better people off the court,” Shorts says. “You see how much he puts in, and it’s almost like you want to pay him back for what he has invested in you. From myself, last year I felt I was playing my best basketball, so it was almost a no-brainer in terms of continuity. He has been putting into me the belief, the self-development, and all the stuff that goes into basketball, being comfortable in the situation to know when I come into a new place, new league, new country, I can still be myself: the person he recruited and developed up until this point.”

However, Iisalo believes there’s a gap between last year’s group in Bonn and this new chapter in Paris. “It’s very interesting to see when our current guys meet up with others from the previous teams: there’s always this bond because they’ve gone through the same experiences,” he explained.

At the end of the day, Iisalo always wants to win.

“My personal feeling is that when we go into a game, we should always win that game. No matter who we are playing against, I always have the feeling we are supposed to win,” he says. “I understand on a logical level we won’t win every game during that season, but then again I have this expectation for each game, trying to do everything for that to be possible.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League