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A Conversation w/ The NBA Sixers in London 2018

Ben Simmons

On the London Game on Thursday

Ben: I’m still a bit jet-legged, but we’ll have time to recover before the game. It’s very exciting to be here in a new environment and it’s going to be fun. We want to win, that’s the reason why we’re here, so we’ll be ready for Thursday.

On his relationship with LeBron James

Ben: He’s been a great supporter. I f I need advice or anything else I know that I can go to him no matter what it is. He’s been a great role model for me.

On the Boston Celtics

Ben: It’s going to be a cool rivalry. They just picked up Kyrie [Irving], who’s been of great help to them. It’s definitely going to be fun.

On the 76ers young players

Ben: We have a lot of young guys in our team who can play basketball. I’m sure they’ll be able to show that to London fans. I think a lot of these guys will be around for a while.

On the atmosphere at The O2

Ben: I’ve never played here, so this will be the first time playing basketball in the UK for me. I think, when we’ll walk in the arena, it’s going to look a little different, but once the ball is in the air it’s going to be the same thing as everywhere else.

On his favourite snack

Ben: I will have to say caramel slice, for sure.

On how the team has changed since last year

Ben: We’ve got more players now, three veterans who are helping a lot and then we’ve got a group of younger players, including Joel and myself.

On his biggest lifestyle change since coming to NBA

Ben: The biggest change is that I am now in charge of everything I am doing. If I’m late I know it’s my fault, so it’s all on me. There’s no one else to go to.

On other sports he is passionate about

Ben: I like soccer, I watch it when I can. I support Barcelona. Messi is one of my favourite players.

 

Joel Embiid

How much pride do you have in being an international player and having the chance to play an international regular season game?

Joel: I think it’s a great opportunity to promote the game of basketball overseas. I think it’s great especially as I come from outside of the states and I feel that people feel more connected with you because I’m an international.

The Celtics have no one your size. How are they going to stop you?

Joel: They have people my size. [Aron] Baynes is a big man, they’ve got [Al] Horford too, so they do have people my size. They’re going to choose when to double team and when not to, so it is on me to figure out when the double team is coming and I’ve just to be patient.

Does a neutral crowd make any difference?

Joel: I’m excited, it’s a chance for me to show the crowd my skills, to show the whole world what I can do. So I’m excited.

You’ve just won four on the trot, do you feel like your form is climbing after the disappointment in December?

Joel: We struggled a little bit in December, that was a hard month. Last year we had a good month in January and it looks like we are going to have another good one this year, we’ve just got to keep playing together, learn how to play with each other and keep getting better.

What have you planned for the crowd here?

Joel: I don’t know. I love putting on a show but we are just going to go with the flow and see how it goes and whatever goes my way I will feed off.

It’s exciting no?

Joel: I can’t wait! I’m a big football fan so I know the fans are pretty crazy, so we are going to have a lot of fun!

How does it feel going into the locker room and seeing all the guys from the different countries in there?

Joel: There a lot of different guys in our team from all over the world. At the beginning it’s always kind of different because no one feels comfortable and everybody’s kind of shy but we’ve grown together and we love hanging out with each other and we’re doing great at the moment.

 

Robert Covington

On the London Game 2018

Robert: This is a once in a lifetime experience. Not too many people get to do what we’re doing here in London. You have the chance to see a new place, a lot of history, venture out. There is so much to do here and I’m kind of sad that we won’t stay too long because there is so much that I would like to do and see, but I’ll try to make the best of my time while I’m here.

 On the relationship between veterans and young players within the team

Robert: They’re more used to the game, so their experience serves as an example to all the young guys. JJ [Redick] has been around 12 years, Amir [Johnson] has been around 13, they’ve seen a lot as far as highs and lows and overall they bring so much to the team under so many aspects. We all can rely on their experience and their knowledge.

On Ben Simmons

Robert: Ben can be an MVP contender in the next few years. He has changed the game a lot, he is a very fast and athletic player. He can certainly aim to be a superstar in the next few years.

 On the Jr NBA Clinic

Robert: It was an amazing experience. These type of things are very impactful, especially for kids. I love doing stuff like this.

Who’s the best center in basketball?

Robert: Joel Embiid. He’s 7ft2. You name it he can do it.

Who’s the best trash talker in the league?

Robert: Joel Embiid. What you see is what you get.

 

Dario Saric

 What tips do you have for children in the UK who want to get into basketball?

Dario: The UK and England is of course a football country and I want to say to kids that they need to believe in themselves. I think they have to believe in themselves and they have to really like basketball, if you don’t like basketball your parents will try and push you to play and that will cause a problem. You need to enjoy the game, and then maybe one day you will be here playing against the best guys in the world!

On Joel Embiid

Dario: His potential is unbelievable. He is already an excellent player, but he has the potential to become even better. We can see that at practice, he improves day by day and he is a player hard to guard for anybody. I hope he stays healthy, which is the most important thing.

On the current season

Dario: We are doing well although we had a bad month of December, when we lost a few games that we weren’t expecting to lose. Right now we are in a good position though and we’re trying to get more wins for the playoffs, which is our ultimate goal. We are a very talented team and I think it is just a matter of time now before we’ll be able to compete in the playoffs.

On Ben Simmons

Dario: Ben is a great passer and a hard worker. I have the chance to have more open shots when he’s playing because he has a great court vision, one of the best in the league. In terms of assists, he is up there with the best in the league, so he is a big part of our team and I hope he stays healthy.

What is your preparation for a big game?

Dario: For me to be mentally ready for every game I try to undertake some kind of routine. Taking time after breakfast to warm for practice, and after that in the time before lunch I get a coffee, and after that I take a bit of a nap. In the lead up to the game I have some more coffee and every time have the same routine with the same music, the same time taking a shower before the game. Those are my kind of rituals!

What’s your favourite cheat food?

Dario: Pizza!

 

Coach Brett Brown

On the London trip

Brown: I understand we’ve lost a home game by coming here, I understand that we’ve brought a team overseas, but I think that looking at this the way I am, and I think that my background of international travel helps me look at it this way, we’re going to make this a positive, we are going to enjoy each other’s company, the club has been extremely generous to my players and my staff to bring a mum, a wife, a friend, and we are going to treat this in a way that will produce a really enjoyable experience. The bottom line is that we’ve come here to win a game. There’s a bit of a juggling act, but I’m looking forward to being there with the team and with the organisation.

How will you make sure the team are ready to play on Thursday?

Brown: I don’t feel the need to beat them on the wrist too much, I think they understand a subtle reminder from time to time doesn’t hurt, they’re still very young. By and large I think our guys are pretty good, and I think the weight of representing themselves, representing the NBA and more importantly representing our organisation is something they understand, they get that burden, they get that responsibility. They handle themselves in this environment with a touch of class, with the touch of maturity that we expect.

Did you expect Ben Simmons to have such a big impact in his first season in the NBA?

Brown: If any of us had thought about making him a point guard, forgetting fifteen to eighteen years of experience from eight years old, and saying ‘forget all of that we are just going to give you the ball, you’re a point guard in the NBA’, the hardest position there is, and fast forward thirty-eight games into the season and looked at what he’s done, we all would have been incredibly happy. He has so much more growth to experience, intellectually learning what a point guard is, that it’s not just dribbling the ball up the floor, that doesn’t make you a point guard. The growth from that perspective, the growth from his shot which I think has been fantastic. I think he’s been a great teammate, his work rate is fantastic and continues to improve as he invests time in it, and more importantly the responsibility to carry the ball and to have the ball and lead us, and growing to be a leader. As our point guard I see daylight, I see that being very progressive and heading in the right direction.

How has Ben Simmons coped with the expectation on his shoulders?

Brown: What impresses me the most is that he doesn’t seem fazed, his Dad was like this, very reserved, not beating his chest, he’s not a big towel swinger, he’s very reserved. I think with the poise of which he’s handled things is incredibly impressive. We’ve experienced teams purposefully fouling him, and he’s got to walk to a line in front of national TV and 20,000 people, and he doesn’t blink, he just walks up to the line and it’s not like he’s tip-toeing to the line as if he doesn’t want to be there from what I’ve seen. I think the poise aspect with how he’s handled it stands out as much as anything, I think mentally he’s handled it just fine.

How does the international team create a different feel in the locker room?

Brown: There’s a dynamic with the team that you can’t fully explain; I extract it, I love it and I manipulate it – we talk about government, politics, favourite foods, exports, bordering countries and different words that might mean something over there that don’t mean the same in America. Because I lived overseas for so long, two of my three children were born overseas and I’m interested in that. In my old job at San Antonio you had Toni and Ginóbili and all those guys in a room, and it’s pretty cool watching where the conversation flows. So we extract it, we talk about it and I’m proud of it, I think we represented almost every continent last year and I think that’s a big part of the sport and I don’t think the sport will go backwards in that regard, I think we are going to continue to have more foreign players.

Are you surprised at how well Aron Baynes is playing, who you know from San Antonio?

Brown: No – there’s nine Aussies in the NBA I believe. For a country of 22 million people to produce that volume of NBA players is quite remarkable. I think that Aron Baynes, because of his physical presence, he’s a lumberjack, you always felt like there was room for a five-man who could make six fouls and play eight minutes and play dead behind a really good post player. Then he grew with the shot and then he grew into having to jump court and he’s deceptively athletic, he’s good with his feet and he can catch lobs and has no problem chasing down rebounds. Add in the whole thing and it doesn’t surprise me that he’s playing as well as he is.

Do these games carry an extra weight given the youth of both teams?

Brown: For me they do. I grew up two hours down the road and we would drive to see many Celtics games, and went down to Boston University and would pay attention all the time. I’m always look over my shoulder at the young players with the growth of the programme and I should as they are a rival. They took Tatum and you pay attention to that. I’m acutely aware of what goes on in Boston and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what goes on at Boston and to try to grow this as a rivalry and to see it as that is fair. I think they are a few years ahead of us, they’re brought in some all-stars and sort of did it with Isaiah a few years ago, I don’t think we are at the same level right now. I look forward to where we are going and growing that rivalry.

With Tatum and Brown they’ve got a physical presence – are you surprised at their consistency given that they are 19, 20, 21 years old?

Brown: I am and it’s the thing that I give them the most credit for. They lose Hayward and when you start studying them we were obsessed with paying attention, as we should, to the league’s best, and they’re a hell of a defensive team so let’s start there. They have individual defensive players like Marcus can guard all by himself, Jaylen can guard all by himself, you start looking at Rozier, you start looking at Horford and you start looking Marcus Smart or even Morris, so they don’t require much team help. The consistency of those younger players who you’ve just said, fitting in with the players I’ve just said has made them an elite defensive team. The progressive growth of Jaylen Brown and what you see in Jayson at the start of the year, especially shooting the threes and the growth of Rozier, I’ve got time for what they’re doing, those young players are evidently keepers in the NBA.

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