By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
When Isaiah Canaan came to Europe in 2020 after six years in the NBA, he discovered that there’s a whole different vibe in the game overseas. A new style he’s got to adjust to. Smaller spacing to operate in. Constantly evolving strategies and plans.
Eventually, he also found out how fiercely passionate, sometimes to a fault, the fans can be. One shushing move in a road game of Unics Kazan vs. Barcelona and a flexing display after a big rivalry win of Galatasaray over Fenerbahce were enough.
“I didn’t realize that in Europe fans and people take those types of things so personally”, Canaan told Eurohoops just before the official beginning of the season with his new team, Olympiacos Piraeus. Α certified bucket-getter with a venomous jumper, he arrived at the Reds in the summer to cover the shooting guard position that was left vacant after new Dallas Mavericks player Tyler Dorsey informed the club that he wants to pursue an NBA contract.
Comparisons between those two were inevitable right from the start. “A lot of people think I’m supposed to be like Tyler [Dorsey]. I’m totally different from Tyler,” Canaan said. “And I’m going to bring a totally different type of style of basketball and have a totally different style of game.”
In a long interview, Canaan explained what he wants to bring to Olympiacos and why he won’t curb his inner instincts when he feels like celebrating a big play or vividly showing his emotions on the floor.
Meanwhile, he also dug into his memories from his NBA run and his stint at the Houston Rockets in particular, described what was like having James Harden as a mentor figure, and discussed the lessons he took from playing with Rajon Rondo.
– Welcome to Greece and Olympiacos. First thing first: I’d like you to give me a short assessment of the preseason games.
Preseason games have been a lot of getting to learn the team, getting to learn the coach, the system. This is a different style of play. It’s a new team for me. We’ve been doing a great job of figuring out things with all the Americans and our Greek guys that were with the national team in the majority of the preseason. We just got them back last week. It’s big chemistry-building for us and just getting familiar with everything.
– What do you think of your own performance in these games?
Preseason is just a time for me to get used to everything, and get comfortable. Really just get familiar with my teammates, with my coaches. What they like, what they don’t like. I know what I can do. Preseason records don’t really matter, preseason stats don’t matter. It’s my time to mess up. That’s how I approach preseason. It’s my time to get back to game rhythm, and game shape. It’s like a practice. A big practice for me.
– I asked because watching these preseason games, your move was great but you struggled to make your shots fall in.
If I’m going to miss, I’m gonna miss. It didn’t really bother me to make a miss. Ι wasn’t going to get any trophy for having 30 points and I wasn’t getting kicked off the team for having zero points. It was more for getting familiar with, learning about everybody, and learning about my teammates. Once the season starts, it’s time.
– From what I was watching on social media, Olympiacos fans had zero worries about what you are doing. They totally trust that you’ll find your shooting form. Do you receive such messages?
I don’t worry about that. I believe in my abilities. I’ve proven what I can do in big games and non-big games. Preseason for me is more for building with my teammates. It’s my time to mess up, it’s my time to miss shots. It’s a big learning process for me.
This is only the second team that I will be with for four seasons, outside my short time with Galatasaray. It’s a big adjustment for me. Really looking forward to it. And a lot of people think I’m supposed to be like Tyler [Dorsey]. I’m totally different from Tyler. Nothing against him, he’s a great player and he did a lot of good things here. But I’m Isaiah Canaan. And I’m going to bring a totally different type of style of basketball and have a totally different style of game.
– Sometimes we do this in Greece. A player comes to fill a roster spot that a previous player occupied and we say he’s the “Anti-” Are you bothered by such comments?
It doesn’t bother me. It’s just a natural instinct of a human. People, fans, love the game and watch the games. It’s just the natural instinct for them to compare two players that came and go. I just want everybody to know that we aren’t the same player. We have two different types and styles of basketball. This team has brought me here for what I can do. Not what me and Tyler could do.
– They didn’t bring Tyler Dorsey Vol. 2 they brought Isaiah Canaan.
They brought Isaiah Canaan. I want everybody to know I’m totally different. Everybody will see that as the season goes on.
– Speaking of fans, that shushing move you made vs. Barcelona was arguably one of the top moves, one of the highlights of the season, at least for me. It was cool to see the interaction with the fans, regardless of the outcome. I like when players are genuine during the game and make such reactions. Are you planning to do something similar in OAKA at Panathinaikos in case you hit a big shot?
I’m all about feeling the game. If the game presents that to me… I play with that type of passion, I play with that type of energy. I’m a fighter. I don’t care who’s in front of me. I’m going to war with my brothers, with my team. And I’m trying to win. I’m trying to defeat you. If the game presents that, I don’t shy away from those moments.
I didn’t realize that in Europe fans and people take those types of things so personally. It’s just a part of the game. I played six-seven years in the NBA and that happens all the time, it’s nothing personal. I love that. That brings my fierceness out of me. I’m that type of player. It’s not an every-game thing. If it’s a big game and there’s a lot of the line on this game and those moments present themselves? I don’t shy away from those types of things.
And Panathinaikos fans tried to spit on me last season and threw a coffee cup at me last season. So I’m looking forward to going back against them again this season.
– You generally like to interact with fans. There was that video with you and Dee Bost after the win of Galatasaray against Fenerbahce on the road and you guys were flexing in front of the fans.
Big rival games mean a lot to the fans and mean a lot to the organizations. I just love to play with passion. The passion that I love and the energy that I bring to the game… those moments make the player. There are people that like it and there are a lot of people that don’t like it. That’s me, that’s who I am. I’m going to do whatever it takes for my team to win.
I’m all about respect. There are people who disrespect us as players all the time and then we respond to that… it’s a problem?
It’s just part of the game. I don’t take it personally. I don’t go home and worry about what someone’s going to say to me. I have a family. I’m here to do my job and that’s to win basketball games and play my game.
– Speaking of videos. There’s a cute video of James Harden doing a celebration dance and then hugging you after a close win over the Magic. What impressed me is that there were other Rockets players there and he went straight to you. He seemed really excited and fond of you. Was that the case, were you friends with him?
Absolutely. Me and James Harden are good friends and I can still talk to him today. He was the leader of that team when I got drafted coming out of college. He was kind of my veteran. He kind of took it under his wing. With that style of game he plays, I learned a lot from him every day in practice. He goes out there and tries to do whatever he can for his team to win. I try to do the same thing. He got flashiness in his game. I bring those sparks to the game. We are good friends. He was a veteran for me and I learned a lot from him.
– Who is the James Harden of this Olympiacos team?
– This isn’t an ISO-type team, so it’s hard to say who can just ISO and just go crazy. I feel when times like that happen. I did come from the NBA and I can take isolations and turn those into a 15-point stretch when you can score 15 points in a row. We got guys who are great scorers on this team. Sloukas is a great scorer, and Sasha is a great scorer. Shaq is a great scorer. We got great shooters. Alec Peters is a great shooter. Myself. We got a lot of weapons on this team. It’s not just an isolation team. We got guys who can really put many points on the board.
– There are so many connections between Olympiacos and your Houston Rockets teams, it’s insane. Can you name all the Olympiacos players you’ve played with?
Tarik Black and Papanikolaou.
– Patrick Beverley also played on Olympiacos…
Yeah, he did play. I didn’t know he played here until I came.
– Do you know who else played here?
– And he was a champion in 2012.
Don’t tell me.
– He played one game with the Rockets…
– He was close to retirement: Josh Powell. Also a champion with Olympiacos in 2013 and, ironically, the player who came to replace Joey Dorsey.
Wow, Josh Powell, Joey Dorsey, Tarik Black, Papanikolaou, and Patrick Beverley. It’s crazy, right? These Rockets are the most Olympiacos team in the NBA.
I was still young. I was still young and learning. That’s amazing that all those guys played here. That means that Olympiacos and the Rockets got good ties together.
– Did you talk to any of those guys before joining Olympiacos?
Actually, I didn’t. Those guys are well off in their careers now. We’re actually good friends with Patrick Beverley, I still talk to him. But he never told me he played for Olympiacos.
– He was young and a big fan favorite here because of his style. He had that “dog attitude” on defense and displayed everything he is here.
– You played with Harden, you played with Dwyane Wade, with former MVP Derrick Rose on the Timberwolves. Who’s the player that influenced you most throughout your career?
Throughout my career, the one I learned the most from was Rajon Rondo. He was a part of that Chicago Bulls team when Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler was there. Rondo taught me how to evaluate the game and read the game. After every game I played, I got back and watch whether it was good or whether it was bad. See things I could do better, see ways I could help my team better. He really taught me how to prepare for the game, study the game, and my approach to every game.
Him and Francisco Garcia was another one. He kind of taught me how to be a professional. How to approach this game and how to approach this situation I’m given.
– It fascinates me that you didn’t mention a shooter, a pure scorer but you mention the pass-first point guard who isn’t famous for his shooting. Quite the contrary.
I’ve played with James Harden. I’ve also played with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. I played with a lot of great scorers and Hall of Famers as well. But as far as learning the game of basketball. And in the European game, you have to understand and really know what you are looking for, what you are trying to get out there because of the style of the game, which is totally different than in the NBA. I took what they taught me as far as learning the game. That kind of helps me take the next step.
– You gave me an assist. It has become a sort of a trend recently. People comparing the NBA and EuroLeague. Giannis, Luka, and Jokic are asked about it, especially after the EuroBasket. How do the rules in Europe make the game harder in some aspects? You’ve also talked about the differences between European basketball and the NBA. What was the most difficult thing for you to adjust when you first arrived in Europe for Unics?
Understanding the spacing. Three seconds in the key is a big thing. There’s a lot more space on the NBA floor. Because you just can’t put Moustapha Fall in the middle and just let him sit there. He got to go out a little bit.
Learning the spacing. Learning the different styles of each team. There are game plans for every game. That was the biggest adjustment I had to understand. The spacing, plus learning the style and the rules of Europe.
– You survived hurricane Katrina, you have told the tales many times. When you were in Houston, you survived another hurricane, hurricane Harvey. You survived a very scary, horrific leg injury. What did you learn from these experiences? How do they help you grow as a person and as a player?
Always have faith. Always believe. Always trust in yourself. Trust in your instincts. Just understand that material things don’t really matter when it comes to life. You got to value life. You got to value every opportunity. Never take anything for granted. At the end of the day, God has a plan for you. If you continue to believe in him you can overcome anything.