JaJuan Johnson: “From day one, our goal was winning the EuroCup”

2018-03-30T17:58:22+00:00 2018-03-30T17:59:06+00:00.

Semih Tuna

30/Mar/18 17:58


While Scottie Wilbekin stole the show in the 7Days EuroCup semifinals, JaJuan Johnson is also one of the key members of Darussafaka Dogus, he is having a stellar season and he feels ready for the title and the EuroLeague.

By Buğra Uzar / buzar@eurohoops.net

After playing for Besiktas and Cantu, the US forward knows that the biggest challenge of his professional career can open the door to him and also to his club, Darussafaka, to the top European competition. He is in Istanbul with a contract that runs until the summer of 2019 and that’s why his EuroLeague fate is tied to that of Darussafaka.

As he states, winning the EuroCup was from day one the main goal of the Turkish club and now they are ready to rise to the occasion.

-Congratulation on your achievement in your EuroCup, reaching the finals. Were you expecting this kind of success before the season?

“As a competitor and as a player, you always expect the best out of yourself. When we first come here, in the training camp in Italy, one of the things we talked was winning the Eurocup and this has been our goal. To be in the finals is a huge accomplishment for our team”.

-What about your opponent in the finals, Lokomotiv Kuban? They are having an amazing season and they are unbeaten in the EuroCup so far

“They have been playing well all season long, but our team has been proving we can compete with anybody in Europe. It is going to be a tough matchup but I think our guys have shown that we can compete with anybody”.

-What will be the key to the series against Kuban?

“Like all the other series, it starts with our defense. Our defense then our offense. If we will be able to get some stops then some easy buckets, I think it would be huge for us”.

– What are the keys to this success of Darussafaka?

“One of the biggest things is staying together as a team. Caring for our body. Our training staff, our coaches, all do a good job on us getting a good deal of rest, help on the messages we need after practices, but also pushing ourselves to be in the best shape we can be”.

-How do you find the motivation, playing a lot of games on a tight schedule and on some occasions traveling to the other side of the continent?

“It is what it is. Our players, we all are competitors, we all want to win. Also we have coach Blatt who is saying that this is a part of being a professional. And sometimes you have some tough trips but you still have to go out and do your job at a high level”.

-You mentioned coach Blatt. How is working with him? I know that you were excited for the season to work with Blatt. What would you like to say after all this time?

“He has been everything I thought he would be. It has been a great experience, I have learned a lot even though I am 29 years old. I am still learning the game. I picked a lot of thing out of him and his experiences. It has been great for me and I think it has been great for all other players, to able to work with a coach like him. I think everybody has bought into the system and it is showing on the court”.

-You guys play on a really high tempo, almost like an NBA team. What would you like to say about that? Are you enjoying the uptempo basketball?

“Yeah, I am definitely enjoying it. I like to run up and down, play defense, and it definitely fits my style of play, and that is all about coach Blatt and his system of play. Our guys respect him and we just want to get out there, play our best”.

-You are also having a great season in Darussafaka. A lot of guys see you as a EuroLeague-caliber player. What is your take on playing on the EuroLeague, since winning the EuroCup also means you are in the EuroLeague?

“It is definitely a goal of mine. Play in the highest level of Europe, that is the only thing I haven’t been able to do in my career. Having the opportunity to play in the EuroLeague would be great. I am enjoying time in here, Darussafaka. EuroLeague would be definitely great for me”.

-Did you shut the door to NBA? Which conditions do you need to play in NBA again? What kind of offer you have to get?

“For me at this point, some kind of guaranteed deal. But the door… I don’t think it is closed. I am defitinely open to an NBA return. If the opportunity presents itself and it makes sense for me and my family, it is definitely a goal of mine and that would be nice to do it one day”.

-Almost in every game, we are seeing amazing dunks from you. Is there any talk about them after games, is there any competition about it?

“No competition but this is probably the first team everybody gets excited about everybody’s plays. If I have a great dunk, or Howard (Sant-Roos) has it. For example, Stanton (Kidd) had a game winning three, we are encouraging him, posting it on the Instagram and really supporting each other. I think everybody shows the love off the court and it helps us on the court”.

-During practices are you having some kind of small dunk contest?

“You know, we just gotta be aggressive and sometimes you go out and have a great dunk. But we work out and that is the most important thing”.

-You also have a lot of young Turkish players on your team and they are getting a lot of minutes. What would you like to say about their performances and improvement?

“They proved a lot. They are one of the most talented young guys I have ever played with. They push theirselves and play hard. They do a very good job for our team and they help us win a lot of games”.

-What about Scottie Wilbekin? There are a lot of rumors him being a naturilazed player for the Turkish National Team. Do you think he can help the Turkish National Team in the future?

“Yeah, obviously. He helped us a lot, he saved us a lot of times, and I see he is playing on a very high level right now. I think he would be a great addition to Turkish National Team. I think it would be great for both sides”.

-I must ask you about his 41-point performance in the second game against Bayern, it was a unique performance.

“I’ve heard people scoring people 40 points but I never been a part of the game someone scoring 40 points. That was just amazing to see an I was happy he was on my team. It was just so great”.

-As a player who played in the NBA which has a strong players union, do you think European basketball needs also to have a similar union?

“I think they need something. I think at this point players should have a little more voice than we have now, just to express our concerns and other issues we might have. I think it would be just great for both sides, to have an open conversation and the communication to make the game better for both of the players and the leagues”.

-Do you like living in Istanbul?

“Yes, I love living in Istanbul. This is my second time in Istanbul. I like the people and like the food. There is a lot of to do it in here. I am really comfortable, it has been a great situation for me”.

-In an older interview, you said that you love seeing iconic places like the Eiffel Tower. In Istanbul there is a rich historic culture. Did you have a chance to see iconic places like there?

“I have seen the Sultanahmet, the Galata Tower, taken a tour of the Bosphorus and the Taksim Square. I have been in a few places but now just kinda waiting for the weather to get better to go out. My family comes to town. I enjoy seeing this kind of things in my off days”.

-Maybe you will get the EuroCup Thropy with you? 

“This would be great, if we get the Cup, that would be amazing”.

-As a player, who inspired you? 

“Playerwise, growing up I enjoyed to watch Kevin Garnett, I was a big fan of him. When I got drafted by Boston, I got to play with him, talk with him. Outside of basketball, I would say my mom. Just because she had a tough work ethic, she used to wake up early, support me and my sister… Just to see her drive that work ethic, work harder… Once I was able to take the basketball more serious, it definitely helped my career”.

-Final question, do you have a favourite Turkish food?

“Lokum and baklava”.