By Semih Tuna & M. Bahadır Akgün / email@example.com
When John Holland signed with UNICS Kazan for his second stint with the Russian team back in February 2022, he was not expecting that he would have no games under his belt with the team this time and have to leave Russia before dressing up for a EuroLeague game with the team.
However, with the war situation that is still ongoing in the region, he decided to leave the team, which was followed by a move to Frutti Extra Bursaspor. Bursaspor was not among the favorites to make it all the way to the 7DAYS EuroCup final, but Dusan Alimpijevic’s team showed character and willingness to fight for the title.
Although their run came short at the hands of Virtus Bologna in the final, Bursaspor gave us the fairy tale story of the basketball season in Europe by beating teams such as Partizan and Olimpija Ljubljana that were built for being the contenders in the competition.
Having joined the team later on, Holland had a great role in team achieving such a once-unimaginable success, and he sat down with Eurohoops to go over both his career and his stint in Bursa.
Considering the fact that he has a career full of experience at the highest level from the NBA to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, one could easily assume that he would be a member of one of the prestigious college programs in the US. Unfortunately, that was not the case, as he did not receive any offers from the Division I teams. After a stint at St. Benedict’s Prep, he joined the Boston University, where he is still the 2nd top scorer in the college history.
“It’s a long journey. It’s been a long journey” he explains why he didn’t get a Division I offer and how his college career went. “I remember having the dream of just being able to play in the college. I thought I was good enough, but I didn’t get any offers. I didn’t really play summer basketball until later on, until I was junior or senior. I used to play baseball. Baseball was my first sport. So no coaches had really seen me.”
Having gone undrafted in 2011, Holland moved overseas to play for the French team Roanne in 2011. For an American player getting out of his comfort zone for the first time, he was lucky to find a fellow New Yorker Andre Barrett in France. However, he says that the transition was not the easiest:
“I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first year overseas. I didn’t know what was good and bad, but I was lucky because I got Andre Barrett. He is from The Bronx, where I am from. He was my point guard, and he helped me get through the year. He actually made me an All-Star. He helped me out a lot. He made it easy for me, so I always thank him. Every time I see him, I tell him I appreciate him because without him, I don’t know if I could have gotten through that first year. But it was good. I started out in France. There was a lockout, and I did well. It was a good start. To be honest with you, the first real experience I got was when we played for the Olympic qualifiers in Argentina. That’s what I did right before. It was my first experience in the international basketball.”
The year after his time in France, he moved to Sevilla, Spain to play with young Tomas Satoransky and Kristaps Porzingis, who have been NBAers for many years now. Having regard to the fact that they have been playing at the highest level for so many years, Holland looks back at his time in Sevilla with the ACB team as follows:
“Yeah, I mean, you could see the talent that they had even when they were young. Obviously, Kristaps was a 7-feet that could move and shoot. He was a big talent. Tomas is one of the most athletic point guards you could see. He had all the ability. That was a year that I learned a lot about the basketball, because we had a young team. A really young team. We were playing in the ACB, which is one of the top leagues. We had a great coach too that would teach us a lot. Aito Garcia Reneses. I learned a lot that year just about playing basketball and different situations.”
After another season in France, Holland moved to Turkey for the first time before this year by signing with Besiktas. Although the expectations were high and the team had seemingly been meeting them, things went downhill after a certain point, and to this day, Holland does not know what was wrong with such a talented team that got them underachieve.
“We had a great roster. That year we could have done way better than what we did” says Holland. “The first half of the year, we were probably one of the best teams. Then I don’t know what happened. I really don’t know. We lost Efes, I think. We didn’t win again for another month. But all the guys that were there, I still talk to them. I still talk to Jamon, Hilton Armstrong, Chris Lofton, Pat Miller. I also talk to Ryan Broekhoff every now and then. I am still in contact with a lot of those guys. That’s really pretty special team.”
By the time his Besiktas season ended, Holland was 27, and his goal was to chase the NBA dream that he had in his mind since early ages. He believed the best way to do that would be the G League, and one way or another, he reached that dream by playing for Cleveland Cavaliers in 25 games over two years.
And yet, it is not so usual for a player at his calibre to spend five years in the G League chasing a huge dream.
“At a certain point, I had kept going overseas on and on” he explains. “I had a dream, I guess like every kid in the NBA that was playing in the NBA. That’s the dream I had. It was a certain point where I felt like I had to pursue it just for myself. Playing at the highest level in Europe could have taken me to the NBA, yeah, but when? I figured that the quickest way and the best choice would be to go to the G League. It ended up being one of the best things I did with just the experience I had there. I was fortunate enough to get called up and play in the NBA and to do all that stuff. It was very rewarding. Having gone through what you go through in the G League, the travel and everything to finally make it to the NBA and experience that. When I look back at it, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had throughout the whole process. I had great teammates, I was lucky. I feel like I got really lucky. I had great teammates, great coaches and people that were dedicated to winning, getting people better and being the best they could be. I appreciate them. I appreciate my time there. I wouldn’t change it for the world actually. I am a passionate guy. If I have a chance, I’ll go for it. That’s my dream. I am a passionate person and I had a dream. I can’t deny my dream. I can’t not pursue it. That’s the way I live. It’s not about money. Money is okay, but it isn’t everything.”
Two of John Holland’s teammates in Cleveland were European stars Ante Zizic and Cedi Osman. With him being the 15th guy in the team, Holland spent a lot of time with the young players in the team through the workouts and practices.
“He was a rookie and I was over there last guy, coming from the G League, back and forth. We would spend a lot of time together because it is the way it goes. We work out together, we do stuff together” says Holland, speaking of playing with Cedi Osman. “It was great playing with him. We would battle in all the time in the low games we had. It was fun. Don’t let him ever tell you that I never dunked on him, because I definitely dunked on him. He got me too but it was just fun playing those days. Obviously we were also playing in a great team with LeBron and everybody. Also Ante Zizic too, who is now about to be in Efes. Those two people I remember that it was fun. To see their careers and how they progressed was also something nice to see.”
The most notable teammate he had in the team was the King, LeBron James. How was it playing with James for him? Holland speaks of his greatness in simple words.
“To be honest with you, as great as he is, he is just a regular person, just a regular guy,” Holland says. “He is a good teammate. He always makes you feel part of the team. It is not only about the team. He is also ‘LeBron James.’ But still, just a normal dude. There’s really not much to say because he is just part of the team. Obviously a great leader. He is always in the gym. He is there at the same time with a guy like me or a rookie that is trying to prove himself. I think that shows a lot about what he’s about, his greatness and how he leads the team. From me to Kevin Love… I think he does a great job in connecting with everyone.”
Coming back to his time with Bursaspor, we asked Holland how he decided to sign for the Turkish team after leaving Russia for obvious reasons. He provided a detailed answer on how he felt at the time:
“Obviously with everything that is happening in Russia and EuroLeague’s decision, I was ready to get out there and play. They basically canceled my first game, and we never played a game. It was basically bad luck and it is unfortunate with the war obviously. Teammates started leaving Russia. I wasn’t going to be the last person there. I left too, and I was trying to figure what the next move was. Because I wasn’t sure really whether I should just go back home or I should keep playing. Because I really hadn’t played. I wanted to play. My agent gave me this opportunity coming from Bursaspor. I didn’t really know much about it, but I knew that they had an opportunity to advance in the playoffs of the EuroCup. He said I could probably really help the team. I thought it was a good opportunity and when I got there, I really kind of understood how great of an opportunity it really was. Because you could see how good and together everybody was. When I got there, it was already like a family. I just tried to add to that. It was kind of like a perfect match.”
It proved to be a great fit for sure, and the Bursaspor fans are looking to have it for a longer period, but with his contract expired, John Holland is not sure about his next move. However, that does not change the fact that Bursaspor holds a very special place in his heart no matter what happens:
“I don’t know how it’s going to go. I cannot even call it. I gotta see. That remains to be seen. I loved my time in Bursa. I think it was amazing. If we continue, it is amazing. I gotta talk to my agent, my family. I am not sure about that yet. But what I am sure is that if we continue, it’ll be great. No matter what happens, Bursa will always have a special place in my heart.”
*Moreover, John Holland provided us with great insights from the team’s success in the EuroCup throughout this season and his time there. However, we are happy to share with you the news that we will be publishing this part in a special content within the following week. Tune in for a great series of interviews on Bursaspor’s great run in the competition!