Billy Baron on COVID-19, overseas life far from family, Crvena Zvezda

2020-10-17T15:56:13+00:00 2020-10-17T19:18:37+00:00.

Stefan Djordjevic

17/Oct/20 15:56

Billy Baron discusses his and Zenit’s struggle with coronavirus, his two years with Red Star and setting the bar high early with his new tam.

By Eurohoops team /

Zenit St. Petersburg guard Billy Baron was the first guest of Eurohoops’ weekly EuroLeague Live Show. The American player, who is currently in home quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus, talked about coping with COVID-19 that has affected him and seven other members of his team, EuroLeague changing the initial “0-20” protocol to postponing games, his experience with Crvena Zvezda, and his aspirations with Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here are some of the things Baron said on:

Testing positive for coronavirus/EuroLeague’s initial rules to hand 0-20 losses to teams that are unable to register eight players for coronavirus-related reasons:

“Yeah, I thought it was really unfair. The way we started the season and we are also 4-0 in the VTB League. We were really coming together and I don’t think that we’ve put on a great game yet. The fact we were getting wins without really playing great showed the type of team we could potentially have. We beat Barcelona at home and we were already short a few guys. Getting that win and beating Efes on the road was a great start to the EuroLeague and then to get that call that you’re positive… All of a sudden, you’re like: ‘I can’t even leave the house for two weeks? What am I gonna do?’

Personally, I was: What am I gonna do, how I’m gonna feel and then you start thinking about what’s gonna happen with the team. It was so many people that we couldn’t put together a roster to go compete in Spain. And on top of it when you are kind of feeling like crap and you’re at home, piling on losses and forfeits on top of it… It just didn’t feel right.

Because… not only are we taking those losses at the time – thankfully EuroLeague changed that decision – but you’re also off the court for an extended period of time. And athletes know it takes a long time to get into shape. You can work out over the summer and do all the stuff you want but when preseason comes, you hit a wall. You get sore, and you are in the ice bath, and you’re doing all that stuff – that takes weeks to get over. And you’re still not really in game shape to go up and down and play 25, 30 minutes. That takes a couple of games to get used to. So, finally, after six games, you kind of felt like ‘I’m finding my rhythm, finding my legs… And then to just be at home every single day, not doing really anything active – you lose that.

I don’t know who’s gonna be back for the Milan game,  have no idea what’s gonna happen but let’s say you can practice one or two days before the playing Milano… I mean, that’s a disadvantage as it is. Every team, it’s not just us. Every team is gonna go through that. And then to take two forfeits while you’re out… It would be huge, especially since it seems only a couple of games are going to decide between 4 and 5, and 15 and 16. It’s gonna be super close and every game is crucial. I thought it was tough to hand out forfeits like that, especially since this league establishes the best team in Europe basically whoever is the champion at the end of the year.

Baron’s full interview and the EuroLeague Live show with Antigoni Zachari, Johny Askounis, Alex Madrid and Antonis Stroggylakis:

EuroLeague changing the protocol (canceled games will now be rescheduled):

“[I felt] Definitely relieved. I was happy to see them make that decision so quick. That they were listening to the current situation and what was going on. I know that the clubs agreed on this protocol whenever it was. But, obviously, the situation got picked up with the coronavirus and the cases have been picked up. And you already had two teams in the first three weeks forfeiting two games? That’s obviously not gonna be it. There’s going to be more teams. I think that EuroLeague did a great job adjusting to that and listening to the feedback they were getting from the forfeits, and I commend them, that’s a great decision that they made.

Even if at the end of the year we have to play against Valencia (editor’s note: one of the two initially forfeited games of Zenit) and it’s a tough schedule… I’d rather have that than take a “0-20 loss” and feel that there’s nothing you could do anything about it.

Spending his first year overseas without his family and his baby son:

Tough man. Tough. I’m a family guy. As of right now with the government, we haven’t found a solution to get them into the country. I’ve been talking with a lot of guys who are over here in Russia and they are struggling with it as well. We’re doing something that we love in playing the game, yes, but that’s secondary when it comes to being with your family. You know you got to provide for your family so every now and then you got to make that tough decision to come over here and you understand that you will be separated for a certain period of time. But you know what you’re doing it for in the long run. It’s tough every single day to wake up… the house is empty… My son’s birthday is coming up in three days, I’m going to miss my son’s first birthday. It’s like “what am I doing?” right? It’s tough, it’s really tough.

We’re working with the club here, we’re working with the president of our club and the team’s general manager. I know that teams are working together. I know I speak for all the foreigners over here that are without their families that we really hope we can find a solution and get them over here soon and get things a little bit back to normal for us personally.

His two years with Crvena Zvezda:

What an experience. I have stories that I’ll be able to tell for a while. Although when I tell these stories – if I tell these stories – back in America, people aren’t going to truly understand the culture, the basketball culture that there is in Belgrade. They have no idea. And they aren’t really supposed to have an idea because it’s so different. What an experience there is to play there. All those rivalry games. My ABA playoffs, my first year when we won them. It was just nuts. It was just so crazy. And then to actually come on the right side of those games and win. Have all the fans having your back. Come back for year two and try to repeat the same thing in ABA. Making a name in EuroLeague. Belgrade is a great city. It’s not as big as people would’ve normally thought.  But it’s a great basketball city. And when you wake up in the morning and you are playing Partizan that night, you’re feeling that energy walking into the gym, it’s a whole different vibe man than anything I’ve played. I’m glad I was able to do that, looking back on it.

I think in the future if my son picks up the game of basketball, I’m going to make a trip to Belgrade, take him there, show them where I played. Kind of tell him the bedtime stories that old people tend to tell. Have him realize the basketball culture there is and how serious people take it. Overall, great stories to tell in the future.

I remember my wife came to the playoffs game, which was crazy. And she was pregnant with him. Maybe he got a bit from that energy when he was in the womb.

The death of Michael Ojo:

I’m in a group chat with some of the Americans from last year and Charles [Jenkins] sent a message in the group chat: “Wow, Ojo died” and I’m like ‘What?’. So I ask the manager that works for our team, what happened. And in 10 minutes I get the confirmation of what happened. And I’m “What the hell?”. I can picture him still talking to me because we were basically right next to each other in the locker room for these two years. He was a great guy. Big-time jokester. He’d always try to hustle, if you needed something he’d charge you 10 euros for it as a joke. It was his personality. Biggest guy I ever played with. When he hit you in practice with one of those screens you had to talk to him and tell him to relax a bit because he could take you out months at a time with one of those screens.

Just to see a guy, the shape he was into. The guy had won the genetic lottery. Just jack. To hear that happening to him. It was just crazy. I still can’t wrap my mind around it. He really was such a great guy, a great personality to have in the locker room. Especially over such a long season. How he was able to keep things light in the locker room and joke around. All that stuff helped out from game to game. That’s my guy, he still is to this day. It doesn’t feel real.