NBDL Interview: Joey Meyer

NBDL Interview: Joey Meyer
Jan 25, 2006, 01:25 am
New DraftExpress contributor Charlie Bury recently had the opportunity to speak with Joey Meyer, head coach of the NBADL's Tulsa 66ers. Coach Meyer is in the midst of his fifth season as a head coach in the D-League, and is looking to become the first coach in NBADL history to win three straight D-League championships. In addition to being a successful college coach at DePaul, Coach Meyer helped team USA qualify for the World Championships by serving as an assistant during the FIBA Americas tournament last summer. Coach Meyer and I discussed a wide range of topics, from Ersan Ilyasova and Tiago Splitter, to the future of USA Basketball.

Charlie Bury: It's been somewhat of a roller coaster season for Ersan Ilyasova, coming from Turkey at just 18 years old with very little English, then going through training camp and preseason with the Milwaukee Bucks, and for the last two and a half months playing in Tulsa for the 66ers.

How has Ersan been adjusting to the language barrier and to life in the D-League?

Joey Meyer: Well I think to be honest with you it's an adjustment for anybody, not just somebody from Turkey, but then you add that, and that's always going to be a tough adjustment. The other thing I think you've got to realize, he just turned 18 years old. So he's obviously very young to be living away from home, playing in the NBA and then in the D-League, so I think he's got a lot, a lot of things to adjust to.

Charlie Bury: What are some of Ersan's strength's, and what are some of the things he needs to work on to get to the next level.

Joey Meyer: Well he's a very good shooter. I think they [the Milwaukee Bucks] want him to get stronger so he's lifted four times a week. And travel and playing, and I think that's a real strain on somebody as young as he is. He's had some ankle problems in the past and I think those things flair up a little bit, but that seems to be getting better as the year goes on. Shooting I think I would say is his strength. He's got a much better basketball IQ thank you would think for somebody his age, he has a feel for the game. He needs to get stronger; he needs to work on his footwork... and just a better understanding of the NBA game.

Charlie Bury: You mentioned Ilyasova's injury problems. Is it his ankle? I know he had a pretty severe injury a couple years ago.

Joey Meyer: Yeah he had the surgery on it. He went back home for Christmas for about seven days, back to Milwaukee so they could work on it and everything, but outside of that he's held up really well. He went through our training camp and their training camp (the Bucks) so he went through two training camps, a bunch of two a days and a lot of games with us and minutes and things, and his ankle has held up pretty well. You know everybody had a concern with that, but I've been real pleased with that. I've been real pleased. He's a nice young man that wants to get better, and having his skills and his attitude I think he has a chance.

Charlie Bury: Comparisons on Ersan before last June's draft ranged from Andrei Kirilenko to Rashard Lewis. Obviously they might be a little far fetched at this point in his career, but who would you compare Ersan's game to and what position do you see him playing in the NBA?

Joey Meyer: Well that's interesting. I don't know who I'd compare him to. I'm not real good at comparing him to other people, to me he's Ersan. I think eventually he has to be a three, and I think he's better defensively and moves his feet quicker than people realize. You know I've been surprised when I put him on three men that he does a good job of denying and moving his feet. He just gets a little bit undisciplined sometimes and overreacts to things defensively. I think eventually he's gonna be a three. He's gonna be an NBA three point shooter. I think if he keeps working on it like I know he will, he'll be a threat at that size. What is he 6-8, 6-9 that can shoot the three as deep as he can? And he moves his feet as well as he can, if he continues to work at it I see him being an NBA three.

Charlie Bury: What are the advantages of NBA teams having a guy like Ersan or Martynas Andriuskevicius (who was just sent down yesterday) come over play in the D-League, as opposed to keeping them overseas to develop their games?

Joey Meyer: Well, they're playing the NBA game here. You know with NBA rules, the NBA three point line and the three second defense, they're playing true NBA games. I think they (NBA teams) can keep closer tabs on them. I think the competition in the NBA development league, because of so many guys being assigned, I think we have thirteen that have been assigned now, it's kind of like a real true minor league now. I think the competition level is really good.

The Milwaukee Bucks have just done an unbelievable job of staying in touch. They set up an English class for him down here; they set up a strength coach for him down here. They come down here a lot to watch and they talk to him on the phone a lot and they talk to me a lot. So I think there's just a much better, you know, there are closer tabs on him, and they obviously can call him back up anytime they need him for practice or whatever they need him for.

Charlie Bury: You mentioned the competition level being really strong down in the D-League, but the NBA is planning to expand the D-League to fifteen teams, are you worried that with the expansion that some of the talent might be diluted and the completion level won't be as strong night in and night out?

Joey Meyer: You know I'm really not because I think then there will be two D-League teams to each NBA team. I think teams are seeing how good this is to send their young guys down. We just got Eddie Basden sent down to us, in fact I'm just heading for our first practice with him. I think they (NBA teams) will be more comfortable because they'll know there will be a closer association and they see the success these young guys have. I think there will be more guys assigned, so I think the level of competition will stay very competitive just because of the closer association. I think the coaches at the NBA level will have a better feel when you only have two teams associated with that one team, and not worried about " Well my guy is going to be having to fight for time with three other NBA teams" where as there's only two getting the time. I think this is a good experimental year with it. I think it will just get stronger.

Charlie Bury: How much of your practice time is spent teaching the fundamentals, the footwork, the shooting, the ball handling, as opposed to going over strategies and plays. For a lot of these younger guys do you have to end up re-teaching the game a little bit?

Joey Meyer: Well you know, all that is important. You know, you can't eliminate the fact of learning spacing, and how to move on the floor, move without the ball. You learn that in a five on five situation, and Coach Rogers and I are there before practice and after. I've been real pleased with the group I've got now. The problem I have is I've only got two baskets and I've got about eight guys that want to stay around for extra work (laughs). After practice we have about eight guys staying around getting extra shots and doing things and I've been real pleased with our guy's work ethic and trying to get better individually. At practice we set aside time for individual work, but we do a lot of individual work after practice. Our guys, I don't even make it mandatory and a lot of them really stay after, work on their ball handling skills and shooting skills, and as I say this is a real chance for them .I tell them all the time this is a real chance for them to get better.

Charlie Bury: Is it ever difficult for you as a coach to balance trying to win basketball games, but at the same time, giving the younger guys the playing time they need to develop their games?

Joey Meyer: Well I've always played a lot of people. Some people would say I played too many people, but I always try to give people some opportunity; and now with the added thing of NBA players, which you know they’re supposed to play, so you got to make sure they’re getting their minutes and then you've got to get minutes for other people. So that is a balance, especially now. When you had ten guys it was easier. Now you have ten D-League guys, and you can have two NBA guys. It's hard to get a 12 man rotation. So there's going to be nights when certain guys just don't get that opportunity, and that's when you got to just explain to guys and guys have to understand their roles. And that's hard for them to understand, cause they are saying "Dang I'm not even playing in the D-League, how am I ever going to get to the NBA?!" But that's our problem, that's the coaching problem. It's just hard to find a balance when you've got twelve guys. I think the hardest teams to play a lot of times are teams that are down to eight players because of injuries or call-ups, because everyone knows their roles and are excited because they know they are going to play.

Charlie Bury: Have the NBA teams done a pretty good job with letting the D-league coaches coach, without interfering or trying to dictate who should get the minutes?

Coach Meyer: I've had an association with the Hornets and with the Bucks, and they've been great. I’ve had none, they've been super. Just staying and touch and asking, and nobody has put any demands on me. But I know what my role is, and what I'm supposed to be doing; but I've had great associations. I can't speak for all the coaches in the D-League, but the NBA guys have been super with me.

Charlie Bury: Recently Dorell Wright (who was assigned by the Miami Heat to the Florida Flame) said the NBADL was kind of like a college atmosphere, where guys were sharing rooms and there was a lot of bonding and things of that nature between the D-League guys. Do you sense a lot of camaraderie with your players, and do they all for the most part get along off the court?

Joey Meyer: I think every team has different chemistry. You know, this is my 5th year in the D-League and every team's been different. The closeness of the team varies on the personalities of the team. But you're put in an environment where you have a roommate when you travel on the road, and you've got some long bus rides together. So it promotes that type of atmosphere, the closeness and everything. The other thing, they are all in the same boat, well not all of them now that the NBA assignments are a little different, but all the other players are trying to get to the NBA and they talk about that. So they have so many things in common and they have so much time to spend together you can really promote that type of atmosphere.

Charlie Bury: The 66ers have played against every D-League team. So far there have been only 4 players called up to NBA. Who are a couple guys in the D-League that make you say to yourself "Man, I can't believe he hasn't been called up yet?”

Coach Meyer: You know there are so many guys that are right on the cusp. It really depends so much with these NBA teams. salary cap and injuries, and it's just really hard to know the mix. But I think there's a lot of guys...I think Will Conroy has played really well for us in the last stretch here and certainly has some interest from people. I always thought Chuck Hayes was an NBA player, now I guess I can say he is. There are guys like that you look at and say there's some reason a lot of times why they are not. Work ethic or size or something missing in their games that NBA teams don't like. I think a lot of guys once they get an opportunity to play, even at this level, they can get an opportunity to prove it. And a lot of is timing, luck, being in the right spot, getting that opportunity. Obviously Will Conroy has gotten so many more minutes because John Lucas got called up to Houston. That gave him a real opportunity to show, and he's really preformed; and if John were here he probably wouldn't have gotten those type of minutes. You know we played Hiram Fuller the other day at Florida and he just killed us, and I'm thinking "boy he's talented" you know, so I mean there's a lot of guys in this league that are right on the cusp but for some reason or another they just haven't got that chance.

Charlie Bury: You served as assistant for Team USA at last summers qualifying tournament. Can you talk about that experience and what it was like to represent your country?

Coach Meyer: I was really excited, you know when they called me and asked me. I live away from home for six months out of the year and I said you know what I better ask my wife (laughs) because I'm going to be another month away. But she said "You know you want to do it" so that took about ten seconds. But it was a good opportunity and I learned a lot. I wouldn't mind doing it again. It was a great experience for me and I think it's like college to the NBA there's a difference in the way the game's played. International ball is different than the NBA and college. It was a whole new experience for me to learn it, and see why we have struggled and that kind of stuff was kind of interesting for me. I loved the chance to represent the country and I'd do it again.

Charlie Bury: What do you think Team USA needs for the World Championships and the 2008 Olympics? What are they lacking?

Joey Meyer: Well I think they got the first thing they needed and that's Jerry Colangelo; because he's going after this thing. He's going at it. That's a leader. I think that was a great thing to do. He's spending his time talking to players and making sure they want to be there, and I'm sure he's going to pick the type of balance, of scorer, shooter, and role player. He's going to put it together in the right way. I'll be real surprised if we don't have a great team representing us.

Charlie Bury: A lot of the more high profile international players, the Manu Ginoblis and Steve Nashs skipped the tournament, but there was still a lot of good young talent. Was there anyone in particular that really caught your eye as a potential NBA prospect?

Joey Meyer: That's a good question. The guys that really stood out were the NBA guys, Barbosa and the kid from Cleveland., Anderson Varejao. Man I was impressed with both those kids, I mean I was like "wow, I know why they are in the NBA". Varejao, he just goes after every loose ball like it's the last one that's going to be out there. He dislocated his shoulder in the game, and I don't even know what he's doing so far this year or if he's even back, but I loved his game. And Barbosa, you talk about a guy that can go; that young guy can turn it on. I was really impressed with those two. There were a lot of other guys, I can't quite remember off the top of my head, but they were guys that we had on our team, they were right on the cusp type of guys, but I didn't see anybody that I would say " Hey, I know that guy's going to be a stud".

Charlie Bury: What about the other big Brazilian kid, Tiago Splitter? He's been getting a lot of press as an NBA prospect. Do you remember anything about his game?

Joey Meyer: Splitter played on the same team with Barbosa and those guys and they won it and you can see why. I didn't think he compared as well with those other two, but you know what he's young, he's big, and he can do a lot of things. I think someday that's a guy that has got to still develop, but boy you can't teach that size and those hands and that athleticism. He was a secondary role in my mind him when we played them because of the other two studs (Barbosa and Varejao) but he can put up some numbers. He's got that same mentality on the boards that I like. He goes after each one like they are his. Yeah I think he's got a lot of potential. I think he's somebody that, and you're probably going to name about five others and I'm going to say "oh yeah now I remember him!" (laughs). But you know those games, and now with the teams in the D-League I'm trying to put all these names together.

Charlie Bury: Alright coach I think that's it. Thanks a lot for your time, and best of luck with the rest of the season.

Coach Meyer: OK thank you.

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