By Semih Tuna / email@example.com
Bonzie Colson has a starring role for Pinar Karsiyaka in the Basketball Champions League this season. From his incredible game-winner in the season opener all the way to the play-ins, he defends his MVP honor with pride.
Colson spoke to Eurohoops and shared stories from his career, from his steps as an actor in high school to the NBA and landing in Europe to earn the Basketball Champions League MVP award last season. He also talks about the hardships he’s been through due to injuries, that cost him probably an explosive career in the NBA.
The Karsiyaka star also mentions that when COVID-19 arrived, he was between the NBA and Europe and his goal is to return to the NBA and explore his chances there.
– Hello Bonzie. First of all, how are you?
– I’m fine, we just got back to Izmir. I arrived 15 minutes ago. It’s been a long week, the whole week has been spent traveling. We had two tough losses. Even though we lost, I think we’re getting better. We lose in a different way. We need to fix some of our mistakes. We left the Bahcesehir match behind us. Now we have the Tenerife game on Tuesday. We will focus on that game.
– When I did some research, I saw that you were interested in theater and acted in musicals such as Guys and Dolls, Grease and Aladdin during high school. Where does this interest come from?
– I was in a high school called St. Andrew’s School. It’s a college preparatory high school. Many athletes such as Michael Carter-Williams studied there. We had a good relationship with one of our teachers. We were doing different things at school, and he was preparing plays. Michael Carter-Williams was also in the role of Aladdin when I was there. Some of my teammates said, “Let’s try something. Let’s take part in a play” they said. Along with a few of my close friends, we also played the role of a bodyguard in that play. It was just the beginning of the year. So the season has not started. We did it to try something new. Many athletes were also doing different things. It was pleasant. This is how I first started. Then I did a few more things. I didn’t get big roles for a while, but I think it was in my third year, I was in Guys and Dolls. I had a bigger role. I also had some solo scenes. We were singing at the beginning of the game with two of my close friends. It was very enjoyable. In my last year, we played Grease. Again with my close friends. We all did it together and our teacher was very good too. It taught us how to act in theatre, it allowed us to try something new. Our coach at that time also wanted us not to just play basketball. He wanted us to do a little bit of everything. As I said, our theater teacher, Thanks to the games, we were able to do something other than basketball during high school. We wanted to try something different and looking back it was really great.
– I think “it was a mind-blowing performance,” your teacher says about your performance in Grease.
– (laughs) Yes…
– You were named Gatorade Player of the Year in high school, but I think the real Elite Basketball League was what changed your route. You got offers from places like Florida, Pittsburgh, Iowa, Minnesota, but you decided to go to Notre Dame. Was it because of the coach? As I understand it, the coach admired you at first sight…
– Yes, I got a lot of attention when I was in high school and that interest later turned into offers. Offers came from all over. I was grateful for that too. I visited Pittsburgh. I visited UCONN and a few other schools. Later, when I visited Notre Dame, I had a great bond with coach Mike Brey. Undersized at that time, they said that as a 4-man, I was very suitable for their team. I was able to contribute points, rebounds, energy. Players such as Luke Harangody and Zach Cooley were also playing in those positions, although they were short compared to their positions. That’s why I thought it was a very suitable team for me. Players like Zach Auguste and Pat Connaughton were also from Massachusetts, like me. There was also such a connection. I thought the school was very nice too. Notre Dame also had a good education. So I just didn’t think in terms of basketball. One of the best universities in the country. I knew when I quit basketball I would need a diploma. The opportunity to bond was also really important. I knew it was a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision. It’s been a great opportunity for me. I still seize the opportunity when I can visit. We still talk to my teammates even today.
– An article in Sports Illustrated states that you have an “anomaly physique”. 1.98m. height and arm width 2.12m. This is actually not very normal physics. You played at 4 and when you played 5, your team was scoring more than other line-ups. You placed second behind Trae Young in a “player of the year” rankings in your senior year at university. You outdid players like Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. Then, unfortunately, an injury that will keep you away from the field for 2 months… How much did this upset you?
– It was definitely difficult. In my third year, I was one of the top 3-5 players in the country at that time. I was thinking of getting into the NBA Draft. General managers were also talking about the need for another year. I’m ok, I said. I went there to get my diploma. I was already in this process for four years. So even if I got into the draft, I would finish school without finding a manager. I just wanted to know how I was seen in the draft. In the end, I decided to stay at school. We had a great team. Our guard was my close friend Matt Farrell. Rex Pflueger was on that team. Martinas Geben was also on that team. So there were really good players. I thought we could go further and make a splash with a great final year. I was thinking maybe we could make it to the Final Four. I had a great year. I had many successes across the country ahead of the season. Thank goodness I got individual awards. Unfortunately, I suffered a stress fracture afterward. I have a broken foot. I have never been injured in my college career, but in a way, it took me back. Still, I tried not to get confused. My teammates definitely stood by me. Of course, that situation was devastating for me, but it strengthened me.
– Do you think those two months have affected your standing in the draft? Because as far as I understand, it has never been a fair situation for a player who can affect the game so much, not to be selected in the draft.
– Of course, it did. If I hadn’t been injured, maybe I could have been selected from the first round, you didn’t know, from the second round with that performance. I couldn’t play for about 6 to 9 weeks after my surgery. Then I came back, but my foot was broken again. The second was broken. “Damn,” I said, “I have to deal with this injury again.” Of course, this also happens during the drafting process. At that time, I was shooting, swimming, constantly working out. Maybe even at the end of the second round, I could have been selected. Maybe there were teams interested, I even think Thunder is one of them, but in the end, it didn’t happen. But of course, there is a reason for everything. The following year I nevertheless fulfilled my dream of playing in the NBA. In a sense, everything worked out.
– You had the opportunity to showcase your skills in Canton and Wisconsin in the G League. Afterwards, you played in the same team with great players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Pau Gasol in the NBA. Can you explain this feeling a little bit?
– It was great. They called me in January. It was close to my birthday. I stayed there until the end of the season. It was great to learn from them. I practiced shooting with Giannis, I played sports, I watched what he did to become a great player. I got ideas from Pau Gasol. I’ve always watched Khris Middleton’s footwork and how he creates space. I always tried to learn something at this level. I’ve always asked Giannis, George Hill, Malcolm Brogdon. No matter who it is, I always tried to learn and get ideas from them. They were great, experienced players. I learned a lot. When I had the opportunity to play, I played well. I did what I had to do.
– Traveling to Europe after your Bucks career… At what point did you decide it’s (the NBA) not working anymore?
– I wouldn’t say it wasn’t working anymore. I was young, well I’m still young, so I decided I could do a year overseas and then come back (to the NBA). Scouts are still looking overseas, I could try something new. Then COVID hit, so I knew I was kind of in-between Europe and the NBA. So far has been a great opportunity. My goal is still to get back to the NBA for sure but I think it was great to do that and I’ve been doing well.
– You spent your first experience outside the USA in Turkey during the COVID-19 season, wearing the Darüşşafaka jersey. There was a crisis situation that the world had perhaps not faced before. What did you expect, what did you find?
– Several people I spoke to, like December-January, were saying that in a few months, something incredible would happen. And I was like, “What’s going to happen?” “Nothing is going to happen.” Then COVID-19 came. In a way, I was aware of it, but I didn’t know how. We had to return to our homes in February-March. It was so weird. Nobody expected it to be like this, to last this long, to affect the lives of so many people. But it definitely interrupted what many people could do in their lives. Of course, it affected us all.
– How was your relationship with the team and the coach back then?
– It was my first year. I was learning how to live in a new country, how to eat and drink, the traffic in Turkey. I was living on my own in another country. The era had changed. I was talking to my family and friends. It was something new for me. My family and friends were supportive. It was a good year for basketball. I was learning what it was like to play in Europe. It was a different style than I’ve played my whole life. So I had to learn quickly. The coach was also great at putting us in positions where we would be successful. Well, we were a team. Of course it didn’t take long because of COVID, but I think we could move forward in Europe. I think we lost to Bologna. We even played that match in Serbia because of flight conditions. But it was a great year. I enjoyed it, I learned a lot, I learned how to be a professional, to live in another country. It was nice.
– You went to France after that season. Your father also played there. Did that play a part in your decision, even a little bit?
– He never played. He never played. I think my father played in the minor league. I played in the first league, he doesn’t talk much about it because he played in the second league. (laughing) COVID-19 was still in effect in Europe and we didn’t know what was going to happen. The transfer market was also very mixed. Strasbourg made an offer and a great opportunity arose to play in the Basketball Champions League. The general manager and technical team trusted and believed in me. It’s been a good year. It was pleasant. We enjoyed playing together. I got a good fit there.
– You exceeded all expectations there. You were named MVP in both the Champions League and the French League. All the attention was on you. Teams in Europe were looking for a player like you who could influence the game in many ways. You were a sought-after player with many features such as your physique, arm width, defense and offense. To be honest, it was a bit of a surprise for the people who chose Karşıyaka. I know you got other offers as well. What made you choose Karşıyaka?
– I wanted to win. Karşıyaka had a great season last season and reached the BCL final. I also wanted to win a championship. With the great game they played last season and the players returning, I knew I was a fit piece for what they wanted. It wouldn’t be bad at all to have a championship my age. I wanted to win. My only concern is to win. I am a winning player. I’ve been a winning player since high school. It was the same in college. I want to win the championship. We’re still working on that, but we have the parts available and we’ve got the parts needed to win. Our path has been a bit stony so far, but we still have high hopes, we believe in each other and I wanted to win. I thought this was a great opportunity for me too. Also Ufuk Saricaso is having a coach like… He’s a great coach. It prepares me for the steps I want to climb in my basketball career. It was a very good fit for me. I’m happy being here.
– Karşıyaka started the season as one of the favorites in the Basketball Champions League. But to tell you the truth, you’ve had ups and downs throughout the season. What happened?
– We had injuries, which affected us a little. Semih (Erden) was playing great, he was dominating the field for a long time and he was injured. This hurt us. Michael Roll was also injured. We figure out how to win. It’s been tough so far, we’ve had ups and downs, but we’re standing together, we’re still learning lessons. I think the last two defeats were different from before. We felt different. This time we feel that we are very close. The feeling we have now in defeats is different than before. I think we are getting better in this team, we are learning, our team chemistry is getting better. We trust the coach’s system, we are more in harmony with each other. This is how it goes right now. Our hopes are still high. We still believe that we can achieve all our goals. We do it a different way. It will never be easy. It was tough last year, it’s tough this year too. But we are ready. Everyone is ready.
– How would you describe your game? Your dominance at the end of the Hapoel game as a 4 was impressive, your controlled the game. It was like that for 40 minutes. In this respect, it is possible to watch you at much higher levels. How do you see the possibility of returning to the NBA?
– It has been my target since I came here. That’s my goal and also having played in Europe will help me when I get there. Playing in the NBA is easier than playing in Europe. There is more space. The three-second rule doesn’t exist here. There are many different rules. That’s why players are constantly changing places. Scoring is easier in the NBA. Because first of all, much more space is opening up. Also here are more systems. Every country has a system. A running game is being played in Spain. There is a game based on the physical struggle in Turkey. Every country has a different style of basketball. The NBA is opening up. There is a system, but you can’t be as aggressive as here. In Europe, you can be aggressive, push, hit, do a lot of things, but in the NBA you can’t do that. That’s why some of the players who play here look good there.
– Luka Doncic said that scoring points in the NBA is easier than in Europe.
– I agree with Luka Doncic in this sense. I think the players on both sides generally agree, but my goal is to go back there. I think my experience here, shooting, defending, playing with high energy, corner threes, the determination will help me.
– Players always say “no matter what position the coach plays me in, I will do my best” but I want to ask your real opinion. In which position are you more comfortable? Number 3 or number 4?
– I even played five in college and I was going to the screen, struggling and my basketball has completely changed over the years. I work a lot during the summer. Every summer I try to work on my weaknesses and develop something new. Especially when I go to my own city, I struggle with my cousin every day. That’s why I’m always trying to do something new, playing sports and scraping with my nails. Right now I can play 3-4 numbers, but I think it is a big disadvantage if I’m playing number 4 because the player in front of me is usually slow. When I play 3, I do what I can do in both positions. Again, I play post-up, dribble, shoot, but when I play number 4, I think it is a disadvantage for the opponent because we can run, we can circulate the ball, we can change players on the screen, we can be active in defense. This is how we play. As a team, from time to time, I think it’s better for us to play #4. I don’t pick-and-pop, I don’t shoot on the dribble… But I can definitely say that I’m more comfortable at #3 right now. Of course, it took some getting used to after college. Because people who follow me closely know, I was playing number 5. It was different but I like this quiz. I like to play in different positions, I want to do even more. I want to be a great player. I want to be dominant. I’m playing number 2 right now. I found my rhythm right now. I feel the confidence to do a little bit of everything. I think this is important. In previous years, I did not use the curtain, I was waiting in the corner, but now I use the curtain to direct the ball and do different things. I’ve been improving my game over the years.
– So, what do you do in your spare time?
– I am on the phone with my family and friends. Sometimes I read something. I’m watching Netflix. I watch YouTube videos about real estate, I’m interested in real estate. I’m trying to keep myself busy. It’s going well.
– My last question is: What do you think of the fans? They love you very much and you give them love on the field. What would be your message to them before the Tenerife game?
– I want all our fans to come and shout, cheer in the stands, do what they always do. Because we need our fans behind us. Players like me feed off that energy. We feed off those screams. We know the hall will be full. We love them so much, we know they love us. We’ve had our ups and downs this season, but they have continued to be with us. This shows true support. For this city, for ourselves, we will give our all on the field on Tuesday. We need them too. Karsiyaka fans in Bodrum, Izmir, and everywhere should come and support us.