When “professional basketball” is mentioned, most people immediately think of the NBA. That’s because the NBA is the most popular basketball league in the world. Even casual sports fans can name some of the NBA’s top players.
However, there are talented professional basketball players competing in leagues all over the world. Many of these players starred at the collegiate level and are now playing in another country with the hope of eventually making it to the NBA.
That is what Terrence Joyner, a point guard who starred at Mississippi Valley State University and helped lead them to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, is doing. He is currently starring for XAH TANCTBIH in Mongolia and has had stints in Greece, Lithuania and Mexico earlier in his career. The 26-year-old spent some of last season in Mongolia, where he averaged 30 points and had three 40-plus-point games, and he’s back this year.
“I actually ended up playing out here last year, and it was just a great experience,” Joyner said. “It’s kind of similar to China, but two Americans can be on the court at the same time. It was an opportunity for me to just work on my game for a whole year and get my confidence up really high. Coming out here has really helped me.
“I think I’ve improved my leadership, which is important for a point guard. I’m better at leading a team of professionals, which is kind of different from college. You have to take a different approach when you’re trying to lead professionals and win at this level. I definitely had to adjust to that, and adjust from playing in college to playing overseas. When I came over here last year, it was really good so I decided to come back.”
Joyner went undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, but he still hopes to play in the NBA someday.
“Coming out of school, I was training [for the draft] at Impact Basketball with Dion Waiters and a lot of guys who are in the NBA right now and I honestly thought I’d be in the league coming into my rookie year,” Joyner said. “But God had a different plan for me. I’ve just been really happy and I’m enjoying life.”
Joyner has become close with former NBA players Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter, and he hopes to follow in their footsteps since they began their career overseas and eventually landed in the NBA. All three players are from California and can relate to each other since they’ve had many of the same experiences in foreign leagues.
“Bobby Brown and Pooh Jeter are my older mentors,” Joyner said. “They kind of took a different route to get to the NBA, which is like the route I’m trying to take. They give me a lot of advice in the summertime and during the season tell me what to focus on and say that I’ll definitely get my opportunity to play in the NBA at some point. They want me to be prepared and be ready when I get that chance.”
Even though Joyner hopes to eventually play in the NBA, he’s really enjoying his experience in Mongolia. He speaks highly of the experience, saying that it’s one of the better up-and-coming leagues in the world and that it has attracted some quality players recently.
“I love the league,” Joyner said. “There are about eight or nine former NBA and D-League guys playing here. Squeaky Johnson, who played in the NBA, signed here as well. Andre Brown just signed to come out here and he played in the NBA as well. Chukwudiebere Maduabum, who was drafted by the Lakers, played here and he’s in the D-League now. His team actually won the championship last year; he had a big effect on their team and he was really good. Tory Jackson from Notre Dame is here. I think the competition level is real good. I have a lot of talented guards who I have to match up against.”
Joyner has done well against the top competition in the league. Over the weekend, he recorded a triple-double in a matchup against Johnson, finishing the game with 11 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds.
In addition to the quality players, Joyner said that the fan support has been incredible, which has really helped the league.
“Oh man, the fans are really passionate,” Joyner said. “We sell out every game and people are standing near the floor. I have a fan page out here and the fans are intense. The league is really improving and expanding. Like I said, it’s kind of similar to China.”
Like many players who go from starring at an American college to playing for an overseas squad, there was a bit of an adjustment as Joyner got used to living in Mongolia.
“It was definitely a bit of a culture shock when I first got out here. It’s really cold out here, really cold,” Joyner said with a laugh. “It made me appreciate a lot of things in life, on and off the court.”
Joyner is doing well in Mongolia and hoping that his overseas success leads to an NBA opportunity.
“I’m loving Mongolia and then after this season ends, I’ll probably go play in the D-League,” Joyner said. “And then hopefully I’ll get a call-up and get a chance to show what I can do in the NBA.”
Top Standouts of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers
David Yapkowitz breaks down five standouts from FIBA World Cup qualifying.
The FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held in 2019 in China, and different regions across the globe have already begun participating in tournaments to qualify for this event. Teams from four different regions will take part in the FIBA World Cup: five teams from Africa, seven teams from the Americas, five teams from Asia, 12 teams from Europe, and the host country China.
The qualifying tournaments wrapped up the first round of play on Monday night, and will not resume until February 2018. Although not very common, there are sometimes players who use these international tournaments as a means to boost their stock and even get to the NBA, if not put themselves on scouting radars.
Here’s a look at five of the top performers of the qualifying tournaments so far.
1. Xavier Munford – USA
Xavier Munford went undrafted out of Rhode Island as a senior after the 2013-14 season. He elected to play in the NBA’s G-League, was drafted by the Maine Red Claws, and then traded to the then Bakersfield Jam. Following a solid rookie season with the Jam, he caught the eye of the Los Angeles Lakers, playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas.
He returned to the Jam the following year and was named to the G-League West All-Star team after putting up 20.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. This time, he drew the attention of the Memphis Grizzlies, who were dealing with a rash of injuries. He played well in Memphis and even saw some playoff action. He ended up signing a multi-year deal with the Grizzlies, but they declined his option prior to the start of the 2016-17 season and he went back to the G-League.
This summer, he was a member of the USA national team that won the FIBA AmeriCup Championship, which led to him being included on the World Cup qualifying team. He was cut by the Milwaukee Bucks in training camp this year and was playing with the Wisconsin Herd of the G-League. In the two qualifying games so far, Team USA has used a balanced offensive attack with Munford putting up a team-high 13 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line. Munford is a bit undersized for a shooting guard, and if he can develop his playmaking game a bit more, he could draw some NBA interest once 10-day contract time rolls around.
2. Ding Yanyuhang – China
Ding Yanyuhang first came into mainstream prominence this past summer when he played with the Dallas Mavericks summer league team in Las Vegas. He was no stranger to fans in China, however, as he’s been a rising star in the Chinese leagues for quite some time. For the past five years, Ding has steadily improved his game while playing in the CBA.
This past season, he won MVP of the Chinese Basketball Association while playing with the Shandong Golden Stars, the team he’s played for since 2011. He put up 23.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 39 games. He had two games, one in back in January and the other in February, where he scored 43 points. To open the CBA season, back in October, Ding scored 42 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, in a 116-114 win over the Shanxi Brave Dragons, who boast the likes of Brandon Jennings and Luis Scola.
In the qualifying tournament, he’s led China to a 2-0 record while putting up 19.5 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, 46.2 percent from downtown, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. He’s a tall forward with guard-like abilities and range out to three, the exact type of player who can thrive in today’s NBA. He’s already caught the eye of NBA teams after his summer league performance, and it probably won’t be long until he finds himself on an actual roster.
3. Miroslav Raduljica – Serbia
Miroslav Raduljica is a name that might be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He had a couple of brief stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves from 2013-2015. Prior to that, he had a lengthy career in Europe where he’d been playing professionally since 2005. Like many overseas professionals, Raduljica started playing when he was a mere 17 years old.
Before coming to the NBA, he was already a highly decorated player, having won the FIBA Europe U20 Championship MVP (2008), the Serbian Super League MVP (2010), and winning the Serbian League title (2012). He was seldom used, however, in the NBA. Since heading back overseas, he’s had stops in Greece, Italy, and China where he currently plays with the Jiangsu Dragons.
He’s been the most recognizable player for Serbia during the World Cup qualifiers as fellow team leaders Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Bjelica are currently in the NBA. So far, he’s led Serbia to a 2-0 record in early play while putting up 21.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He’s a burly big man with a nice touch around the rim, and he can step out and knock down the mid-range jumper. He’s still relatively young at 29 years old and surely could help a team off the bench.
4. Markel Brown – USA
Markel Brown is another name who should be recognizable to NBA fans. He was drafted by the Wolves in the second round of the 2014 draft and immediately traded to the Brooklyn Nets. During his rookie season, he played very sparingly during the first half of the 2014-15 season before being assigned to the G-League.
The second half of that season was a different story. Head coach Lionel Hollins inserted Brown into the starting lineup at shooting guard right after the All-Star break. He gave the Nets a solid boost, scoring in double figures six times over the final 31 games. His second year in Brooklyn, he returned to his role off the bench. Since then, he’s had training camp stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, and he currently plays for the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.
He’s been one of the leaders for Team USA in the World Cup qualifiers, helping them to an early 2-0 record. The U.S. has used a balanced offensive attack and during those games, Brown has averaged 12.0 points on 52.6 percent shooting, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Although athletic, scoring wings are a dime a dozen in the G-League, Brown does have prior NBA experience during which he played decently. He’s in the mold of a 3 and D wing and could earn a call-up later in the season when 10-day contracts are able to be signed.
5. Anderson Varejao – Brazil
If none of the other players on this list so far were familiar to NBA fans, Anderson Varejao surely must be. Varejao spent 11 and a half seasons in Cleveland, where he emerged as one of the best backup centers in the NBA. After he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2015-16 season, and subsequently waived, he joined the Golden State Warriors.
He was seldom used with the Warriors, and in the limited minutes he received, it looked like his NBA career was nearing the end. The Warriors released him last season in February. After winning the title, the Warriors offered him a championship ring, which he accepted. At age 35, he didn’t resurface anywhere else after parting ways with Golden State, and retirement seemed a likely option.
That was until the World Cup qualifiers rolled around this fall. Varejao has suited up for the Brazilian national team since 2001, one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He’s powered Brazil to a 2-0 record and has looked like he just might have some gas left in the tank. He’s averaged a double-double with 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. The NBA game is very different, but teams could do a lot worse than Varejao as an end of the bench veteran guy. It’s likely he never sets foot on an NBA court again, but just in case, he’s showing everyone he’s still got it.
There are a few other names to watch during the World Cup qualifiers. Alessandro Gentile of Italy has looked good as the Italians are also undefeated at 2-0. Gentile was drafted by the Wolves in 2015, but his rights were traded to the Houston Rockets. He could end up being a decent wing off Houston’s bench. Germany also has a 2-0 record, and they have Isaiah Hartenstein who was a second-round pick of the Rockets this past summer. He’s put up a near double-double with 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. The guys on this list, though, are probably the ones with the best chance of ending up on an NBA roster anytime soon.
NBA PM: Aaron Jackson Set to Leave His Mark in China
Aaron Jackson discusses playing in Europe, scheduling difficulties, transitioning to China and more.
Aaron Jackson was sure glad his free agency overseas wrapped up quickly. After all, it’s a process that he very much dislikes.
Jackson wrapped up his season with CSKA Moscow in early June after a trip to the Euroleague Final Four and a subsequent championship in the Russian VTB United League. By early July, Jackson signed a two-year contract to play with the Beijing Ducks.
As most are familiar with the free agency process in the NBA, things overseas can be quite different. Players in the NBA have the luxury of being governed by the Players’ Association, while Jackson described free agency overseas as a nightmare.
“There needs to be something where they can regulate it,” Jackson told Basketball Insiders. “Players get signed in the season; there’s no set date. Agents come at you with different deals; back door deals. There are so many different ways and hard ways to stay focused especially during the season when you hear so many rumors.
“It’s not the NBA where you say, ‘Okay, these rumors mean nothing because you can’t talk to anyone or nothing means anything until July 1.’ These rumors are coming and it can happen. It can be a back door deal and you can be signed right away and you’re still on a team. You have agents in Europe that have connections with teams and they push their players.”
Jackson established himself as one of the top guards in Europe playing with a talented CSKA Moscow team that also featured Milos Teodosic, Nando De Colo, Cory Higgins and Kyle Hines. Jackson averaged 7.9 points, 3.8 assists and 1.6 rebounds in 66 games last season.
Once it became clear that Jackson wouldn’t return for a sixth season with CSKA Moscow, Beijing moved quickly to sign him. As crazy as Jackson described the overseas free agency process, he was happy to sign so quickly.
“They said everything I wanted and what I needed,” Jackson said. “It happened real quick. Every time I was at CSKA, I was the first player off of the market and it happened in China where I was the first player off of the market in China. Everything happened so fast where I did a good job to avoid the situation of having total chaos and I got off the market quick.”
Jackson remembers having a conversation with a teammate back in February where the two discussed the upcoming offseason. But it didn’t occur to Jackson at the time that the earliest the two could return home was four months later.
Between the team’s schedule in the VTB United League and in the Euroleague, the earliest possible date Jackson could return to the U.S. was June 12.
“June 12?” Jackson asked. “No way!”
By this point, Jackson had been with his team since August 20, practicing every day. Playing for a team like CSKA Moscow, expectations area always high. The team is supposed to win the Euroleague each year, so the pressure is on the players to perform at a high level.
As Jackson weighed his free agency options, he replayed that February conversation when he made his decision to leave Europe.
“I looked at him and said this is going to be my last year playing Euroleague,” Jackson said. “There is no way. I’m either going to come in October and November when they’re cutting players or I’m just going to go try the NBA. Then China came up and it was a great opportunity for me.”
Jackson has been among the many players in the Euroleague to voice their opinion on the schedule issue. Players like Nikola Kalinic, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kyle Hines, Matt Janning and Keith Langford have all voiced their displeasure with the current schedule format.
Bust our ass everyday in practice, fly around Europe, every game is like a final… season ends mid June! Ok guys come back August 17th!
— Kung Fu Lee (@AaronfingJ) June 11, 2017
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear some describe the Euroleague as being tougher than the NBA because of its grueling schedule.
“When you’re overseas, they don’t believe in rest,” Jackson said. “It was just that first year doing the new format of the Euroleague. I think the coaches and the owners didn’t really understand how to put rest into it so the players suffered. The NBA is about rest; players first. They even sit out some games. Last year in CSKA, we played something like 68 games.”
By signing to play in China this season, Jackson will return to somewhat of a normal schedule. Jackson says his old teammates will be reporting to Russia this week, while he doesn’t join his new team in China until the middle of September.
“I’m finished mid-April,” Jackson said. “It’s much better. I get to see my family.”
Although Jackson is understandably happy about his upcoming schedule this season, he was grateful for his time in Russia.
“I played five years for CSKA and won a championship,” Jackson said. “I had individual success, team success and left a legacy there. I have friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life.”
The Beijing Ducks, Jackson’s new team, are in a bit of a transition phase. The team has parted ways with Stephon Marbury after six seasons as the two sides reportedly disagreed on Marbury’s role for next season.
The team wanted Marbury to coach, while Marbury, 40, still wants to play. Marbury helped the Ducks to three Chinese Basketball Association championships and has a statue outside of the team’s arena. Marbury averaged 21.4 points, 5.5 assists and four rebounds in 36 contests last season for the Ducks.
The Ducks have now turned to Jackson and fellow American Justin Hamilton to assist in its rebuilding effort. While the Ducks have moved on from Marbury, Jackson says there is no replacing what he did.
“Stephon Marbury is literally the King James of China,” Jackson said. “He’s the LeBron James of China. He’s the best player of all-time in China. He did so much for that league so there’s no way I can replace that. I just want to get over there and play my best basketball and hopefully get close to what he did.”
As Jackson left his legacy with CSKA Moscow, he wants to leave an impact in China as well. He believes the pressure that was placed on him and his teammates in Russia can help him lead the Ducks to continued success in the CBA.
“I’m excited to get over there and just play basketball and just do whatever it takes to win,” Jackson said. “They’ve put a lot of pressure on me and Justin. I think I played with that pressure up in Europe and now it’s an individual pressure which excites me more.”
Given his championship experience from the Euroleague, the Ducks may have found their next leader after moving on from Marbury.
Jan Vesely Returning to the NBA?
Former sixth overall pick Jan Vesely is drawing NBA interest, sources tell Michael Scotto.
The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Dallas Mavericks have expressed interest in bringing Jan Vesely back to the NBA, league sources told Basketball Insiders.
Vesely drew pre-draft comparisons to Andrei Kirilenko and played at small forward and power forward after being drafted sixth overall by the Washington Wizards in 2011. He last played in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets in 2014.
Vesely then signed with Fenerbahce, where he rediscovered his confidence while playing center.
Fenerbahce advanced to the 2015 EuroLeague Final Four for the first time in team history. Fenerbahce ultimately lost to Real Madrid in the semifinals, where Vesely had 20 points and six rebounds in the game.
Vesely was an All-EuroLeague First Team member in 2016, including EuroLeague MVP for the month of January. Vesely averaged 12 points, 6.8 rebounds and one block per game in EuroLeague competition.
A few weeks ago, Vesely and Fenerbahce won the EuroLeague championship under coach Zeljko Obradovic, a nine-time EuroLeague champion and one of the most famous coaches overseas. Vesely had a 20.3 PER and shot a career-high 62 percent from the field while averaging 10.1 points per game in 63 combined EuroLeague and BSL games.
— EuroLeague (@EuroLeague) May 21, 2017
The 27-year-old is entering the prime of his basketball career as currently one of the highest paid players overseas but has a buyout clause in his contract, which would allow him to return to the NBA next season.
With the NBA transitioning to more of a small-ball approach than ever before, Vesely can earn a second chance in the league and play center. Returning to the NBA as a more mature player with renewed confidence could help Vesely find a sustainable niche in the league this time around.