London’s O2 Arena hosts Euroleague basketball’s Final Four this year and we caught up with CSKA Moscow’s Sonny Weems ahead of his side’s semi-final with defending champions Olympiakos Piraeus on Friday, May 10th.
The 6ft 6ins American talks about living in Russia, the differences between Euroleague and the NBA, his love of London and his hope that hosting the event in the city will help UK fans fall in love with his sport.
Check out the interview below and don’t forget that you can watch all of the Final Four games live on bwin.com and play along for free with our new game 10minutemadness.com.
First of all, are you excited to be in London?
I am very excited, especially with us being in the Final Four. My family is here with me so I am very excited about them being here and getting a chance to experience this with me.
What do you think about the Final Four coming to London and the way it is spreading the game?
I think it is good. I think this is a great city to promote basketball and to promote European sports. It would be great if they get a basketball team here or a Euroleague team that we could come and visit more often as I actually like the city.
How does the European style of play differ to the NBA or college basketball?
It is really different. In Europe every possession counts, whereas in the NBA it is up and down, up and down. Not that many possessions count; probably later in the game because with an NBA team you could be down 20 and come back easily. Whereas here it is not so easy to come back and they do not have a three second rule so there is a lot of players always just standing in the lane and that is kind of hard. And the refereeing is a lot different over here. They do not call as many fouls as in the NBA; you know you cannot touch LeBron or Kobe without them blowing a whistle. Athleticism in the NBA is a lot different than Europe but I think Europe has a lot of smarter players than some of the players in the NBA because in Europe you have to think the game a lot. In the NBA you are just playing on your natural ability. Over here you have to think and use strategy in the game a little bit.
One thing that is really special about the Euroleague is that the fans seem really crazy, almost like football (soccer) fans. Have you noticed a difference in that and do you feel they are especially intense?
Of course! The craziest crowd I have seen, or the loudest, was in Partisan Belgrade. The fans definitely make a difference in the European game over here. Especially back in the NBA a lot fans just come to the game and it is like a fashion show. But over here the fans are really fans and they are really getting into the game and I think it changed European basketball a little bit and it changed the way players play. I actually love it myself; I love it.
Basketball is getting bigger here but it not quite as big as you think. What is your message for new UK fans and what do you want them to take away from the weekend?
Just experience basketball. I know there are a lot of soccer fans over here that do not really pay attention to basketball but I hear a lot of European people say that they do not understand the game. Basketball is the easiest thing to understand and soccer is the hardest thing! I do not know what is offside and what is going on in soccer but to the fans of the UK I think if they just really pay attention to it, I think they will really love the sport.
We have got a question from someone on Twitter, @LovelyMissMary. She wants to know why did you choose ‘unlucky’ number 13?
No actually I had it in college, it was my college number. And I went to 24 because when I went to Toronto someone else on the team had 13 so I had to switch to 24, which my sister used to play basketball in. So when she stopped playing I kind of picked up the number a little bit and when I came back to Europe the number was available so I wanted to go back to my college days.
The number was in the family then?
Yeah it was in the family; both numbers were in the family.
How are you finding living in Russia? Is it a big cultural change?
Yeah I mean it is different, Russia is a lot different. In Russia they do not smile and they are not very friendly! You know in America you can just walk up to people and say ‘hello, how are you doing’ but in Russia they just walk right past you and not friendly. But the city is really good. You can find whatever you want as what you could find in the States as far as shopping and restaurants. They have a lot of American owners that own restaurants in Moscow so it is a great city if you are looking for shopping and things to do or nightlife. But it is still Russia.
So you do not feel like Rocky IV training in the snow?
No, no, no I do not go outside when it is like that!
How is Ettore Messina as a coach? Is he pushing you hard?
Yeah, yeah that is one thing that I like about him, is that, well first of all he is crazy. Let us get that out of the way! But he is a great coach. He demands a lot out of his players and he makes you go that extra step. And that is one thing that I like about him he does not slack: even the number one player to the last player he treats everyone the same and all players need that; that he is there to push you and push you and it is great to have a coach like that. Plus he knows the defensive game so it is always great to have a coach like that.