Luke Kornet and Tomas Satoransky preview Thursday’s New York Knicks – Washington Wizards game in London.

What are you expecting from the game and the atmosphere from the European fans who are so passionate about the NBA?

Luke Kornet: “We’re very excited for the opportunity. I already know how passionate the fans are from across the world, especially in London, so we’re excited to be able to come over and play a game for them so they can experience it live and first hand. It’s definitely a unique experience that is happening more and more often now with the league. But I think it’s a great opportunity to have a very competitive game but to also be able to share the game with others too who often don’t have a chance to see it live.”

What do you know about Europe and what kind of attendance you can expect in London? Your father played twice in Italy, what has he been telling you about his experience, the atmosphere here and the basketball culture?

LK: “When I was in college, I played in a world tour across Italy and Greece. My dad also played in Italy for Siena and Reggio Calabria I believe and I actually have several friends too who play oversees. I definitely know the EuroCup basketball, it has a different level of passion and the fandom there is nothing short of incredible. Obviously it’s very tied to soccer culture. I personally know how passionate the fans are so we’re expecting a similar kind of thing where people who haven’t really been able to express their love of NBA basketball now have a chance to express that. I’m expecting a pretty passionate atmosphere. My father has talked about it and he said some of the crazy atmosphere in a positive way – is just high energy. So we’re expecting that especially given that NBA basketball over in England doesn’t happen all too often so the expectations and passion aren’t going to rest up in that situation.”

Have you been to London before and is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to doing when you come over to London or anything with your teammates in particular?

LK: “I haven’t been to London before but I actually have a good friend who’s from England. I think we’re staying down by the section of the London Eye, Big Ben and the more signature places. I really hope to just explore as much as I can whilst still being ready and prepared for the game. I don’t know if there’s anything in particular other than the main tourist destinations that I want to see. I know in past years, some teams have been able to go to an actual EPL game which I thought would be awesome but we won’t be there during a time like that. Honestly just being able to experience the culture and just kind of get a feel for the city is something that I’m excited to do. It’s always cool to go to a new place and it’s cool that the NBA can provide these kind of opportunities.”

You’re a rookie this season, how is playing in a regular team helping your growth? Are all these losses helping the growth of the team or is this slowing down the process?

LK: “That’s part of every type of growth. A necessary part of improving is to have a challenge and being able to suffer a little bit and being able to take it on the chin and keep moving forward. There really is no success without failure before. I think it’s something that you have to be able to accept and not try to just brush off but at the same time you’ve got to be able to learn from it and respond to it maturely. That’s something that’s difficult but it requires doing. It requires a delicate line of being able to be hard on yourself and being able to take lessons from it and not try to diminish the fact that you’re losing but at the same time keeping your head up and keeping a consistent work out without it changing your approach to the game. It’s not something that’s enjoyable at all but I think it’s something that’s necessary.”

Do you feel as a young player that playing for a particular franchise, in the world’s most famous arena – The Knicks – 45 years without the title, do you feel some extra pressure from the eyes of the world around you. Do you feel it’s a little different than playing for the other franchises?

LK: “I definitely think there’s a different perceived and outside expectations that are put on us because of being in the Knicks and being in New York. But personally in terms of, for the team and for my own personal development, I feel I put plenty of pressure on myself, and we put it on each other. The outside and perceived expectations aren’t anything really to worry about because I know it can fluctuate and you have to have a consistent pressure on yourself to perform and improve. I feel like that’s always been the case with me. No matter how hard someone else is being on me or if they think I’m doing well, I try not to let that influence me as much as I’m trying to improve myself, I’m trying to compete to win. There’s a consistent public pressure that is put on the team but I think a part of my job as players is to not be changed by that and have our own internal decisions and ambitions that shouldn’t really change based on public perceptions.”

You’ve faced the Wizards twice already this season, from your perspective who do you see as their key players next Thursday and what do you have to do to stop them from completing the job and getting a third win, in London?

LK: “I think without Wall, Bradley Beal is definitely their primary guy and someone who is capable of being really explosive. Obviously he’s been an All-Star and he’s a great player in this league so it really starts with him. They’ve got plenty of guys that can do damage, I think he’s definitely the primary top target in terms of someone that can really takeover and kind of change the game. When it comes to those type of guys in this league it has to be a full team defensive effort. It’s up to all of us and our defensive skills to try to stop a guy like that.”

Being one of the best players in your university, unfortunately you were not drafted in 2017. Before you played in the summer league, was there an option for you playing in Europe this season?

Luke Kornet: “Although I wasn’t drafted, in and out of the draft I received some training camp invites and eventually a two-way contract with the Knicks. But before the draft, we kind of talked about that in terms of what the plan looking forward is. The original goal definitely was to try to make it to the NBA and whether that might be a training camp-type invitation or something like that. But I never really ruled playing overseas, playing in Europe somewhere or anything like that, out of the options because I mean I definitely wanted to play in the NBA but I also loved playing basketball and so wherever I can best pursue that at the highest level that I can – that was what I wanted to do. It’s something that I didn’t rule out at the time and throughout my career, I don’t think that I’d ever rule it out. I think I definitely want to play at the NBA, I feel like that’s the best league in the world and that’s where I want to be but I definitely hold a lot of the European basketball in high regards because I know a good amount of guys that play over there and they play an extremely high level of basketball. It was something that going down the list of what my thoughts and plans were, it was something that we talked about but my goal first and foremost was to play in the NBA and so that’s kind of how that situation sort of worked itself out.”

How special is it for you to play in London with the Wizards, having come from the Czech Republic and having your relatives come to the game? What is your emotion of playing in Europe with your NBA team?

Tomas Satoransky: “It will be great for me as a European player coming back to Europe, being able to play an NBA game in front of my family members, friends, and European fans. It’s always special and hopefully I’m going to take it as a normal game but some emotions will be there and just looking forward to that. Hopefully we can get the win and we can play good basketball – what we’re trying to continue recently in the season.”

The Wizards had a lot of injuries during this season, how are you as a team taking all these injuries? Are you still confident you can get back to a playoff place? How is the atmosphere in the team?

TS: “Our goal is still the same – trying to get better every day as a team, trying to get as many wins as we can right now. Obviously, we didn’t start as well as we wanted to, we had much higher expectations from us but it is what it is right now. I think lately we’ve been playing much better, especially our energy was better, solid throughout the whole game. We have to keep going and continue with that and hopefully the wins will come with that. Obviously it’s early for us still to be giving ourselves goals for the season, especially in the position we’re at but the league is always open and we’re just three wins behind eighth place, we’ve got to get better and hopefully we can fight for those positions.”

You’ve faced the Knicks a couple of times this season already and won both of those match-ups. The Knicks narrowly beat you in pre-season, do you think the two games this season give you the edge mentally in the London game or do you think the atmosphere being more mixed might even things up a little bit?

TS: “Yeah I think we have a great record against the Knicks the last couple of years and we’ve always played with the kind of confidence that those previous games gave you. But I think it’s going to be totally different in London, everyone’s going to be very excited to play somewhere where they’ve never played, in front of the different crowd and I think there’s no favourite in that game. Obviously we know what we have to do to win the game but we’ll see how each team reacts to that crowd and the different environment but we will obviously do everything in our possibilities to win the game.”

What are your expectations for the London crowd and atmosphere at the O2? The crowd will probably be half Knicks fans and half Wizards fans so will probably be a different atmosphere compared to what you’re used to. Have you spoken to anybody in London before?

TS: “For me, it’s really a little bit of the unknown. I’ve never played there or talked to someone who was there. I know there’s a lot of Premier League soccer players in the first row, that’s what I’ve heard. Usually against the Knicks, they have fans everywhere, it almost feels like they’re playing at home when they play in these games  – there’s Knicks jerseys everywhere. So I’m expecting them to have the whole crowd there but as long as we’re used to that, I think we’ll be fine.”

This is your third season in the NBA but is there one thing you miss most about European basketball? And what is the best thing about NBA compared to Europe?


TS: “That’s a tough question, there’s a lot of differences between the Euro-League and NBA. The importance of the Euro-League games are always high and every position matters, it’s a little bit like the NBA playoffs. I think that the difference there is that you’re really taking every position seriously like it’s life or death. And maybe the atmosphere from the different fans to our different countries – that’s what I miss the most. Going to Greece or Serbia and being in that, what we call it, ‘hell’. But on the other hand, the NBA is just such a magnet for the fans, spectacular plays and different style for the fans. I’ve been enjoying that and you’re really going against the best players in the world so the competition is something which is great here.”

The Wizards recently lost John Wall – how the team changed without him and how your role specifically has changed without him of the team?

TS: “It’s a huge loss for us, not only John but we also lost Markeiff Morris and Dwight Howard at the beginning of the season. We have to find a way or learn how to play without them. But we’ve been in that position last year, for me I gained confidence from last year starting 30 games, there’s a lot of things that’s changed, a lot of players have stepped up their games and we’re actually trying to move in the offence a little bit more because obviously John is a very dominant player on the ball. I think we’re trying to play a little faster with movements on offence. But we’re playing hard and playing solid.”

Your first NBA game was against the Bulls, you got 35 points and you got the chance because players were out and it’s frequent in the NBA for that to happen. So what is the difference in opportunity between the NBA and the Euro-League?

TS: “Yeah I think there is a difference, especially for European players coming to the league because you always have to prove yourself in America. It doesn’t matter what you did in the past in Euro-League, it’s the same thing with Luka Doncic, ‘the special one’, he proved himself in the first games. But for some of the players it takes time and it’s very tough mentally, especially the first years because you’re used to playing in Europe and you know what you can do. So it was obviously very tough for me I had to stay ready mentally, I think I was ready in my second year for that opportunity when John got hurt and that really helped me so I think mentally it’s very tough here.”

Is there a difference in Europe as far as young players today maybe get to stay on the court and show off their skills more than in the NBA?

TS: “There’s a big difference in the NBA between starters and their playing time and the bench players – maybe it’s different in other teams but that’s how it was in our team. Wherever I play in Europe, I’ve been there for a long time, I had a good position – they were giving me chances as a young player. And even with Barcelona, we changed the starting line-up so many times, so it was a little bit different and I had to get used to that.”

What is your opinion on your opponents for the London game? You have ex-teammates such as Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porziņģis – are you looking forward to playing them more than other teams?

TS: “It’s always special for me to play against my ex-teammates from Europe. We always talk and hang out before the games, especially against Kristaps who’s one of my best friends as well. But unfortunately I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to play, he hasn’t played all season because of the injury so we’ll see. But Mario’s been playing well for the Knicks, always a dangerous player. It’s special to play against some of the players I’ve been on the same team with and that’s the same thing for this game.”

How do you improve your self-confidence in the last few games in shooting because you have more opportunities to shoot and more confidence from  the coach? How do you improve yourself in these skills?

TS: “It’s important to be confident when you’re playing in NBA. Obviously it’s tough when you don’t play, you’re aware of not losing your confidence but it’s hard for you because you don’t get that play time. Playing and starting for my team is helping me with that and I’m trying to be more aggressive and I’m hearing from my teammates and my coaches to shoot every shot I have, my percentage has been good the last two years so they have that kind of confidence in me. That’s really helping me being able to have the trust from my teammates like that. I try to be, in the last four or five games, more aggressive and I hope to continue with that and to have more of the responsibility on that part of our offence.”

You seem to have a great chemistry with your center Thomas Bryant who is the unexpected rising star for the Wizards this season and your connection with him seems a little bit like your connection with Jan Vesely, another Wizards draft pick. How do you like Thomas on the field and do you think you have something similar like with Jan Vesely?

TS: “I think it would be great if I had the same connection like with Jan, that was special because I’ve been playing with Jan for so many years. It’s easy to play with Thomas, you know what he’s going to bring. He’s going to bring the energy and he’s going to be active in the offence and defence. He’s got a lot of confidence now in him and he’s great at finishing around the basket and he kind of changed the season as well for us because of his energy so it’s great for all of us and it’s really easy to play with him on the court and off the court he’s also such a nice guy. So I think he’s something of what we needed”

The game is live on NBA League Pass 

Photo: GettyiNBAE

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