When team officials from the Oklahoma City Thunder declared the last fifteen minutes of Tuesday’s practice at the Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona open to the media, a regiment of reporters, cameramen and photographers poured in through all available entry points and hastily set up camp along the baseline.
As a handful of muscular big men took turns popping mid-range jumpers from the wing, and while head coach Billy Donovan chatted with his trusted assistant Maurice Cheeks at center court, the man most were there to see was to be found at the opposite end of the court, lost in a thicket of shooting guards and small forwards who were firing away from long range, snapping off a steady stream of three pointers from the corner as another assistant assiduously stuck a hand in their faces with each and every release.
Álex Abrines looked as comfortable as could be. His shots traced beautiful arcs and fell, one by one. Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. Except for one little thing, it felt, for a moment, as if he had never left.
“It feels a little odd stepping back out onto this court wearing another team’s jersey,” he said.
Abrines, who played the last four seasons at Barça, signed with the Thunder in July.
Every kid who plays basketball, not just in the US but in Europe as well, dreams of one day playing in the NBA. “It was an opportunity that came up in the summer,” he said. “The hardest part was getting there, but now I have to win over the coach and my teammates.”
Abrines is cognizant of what’s expected of him. “Patience,” he said. “They want me to get used to the speed of the game. To the physical aspect. To the concepts that are different from European basketball.”
He said he was confident he could succeed in the NBA, while also recognizing the sheer difficulty of the challenge he faces. “It isn’t easy,” he said. “Little by little I am picking up the defensive concepts and I am going to work hard to get as many minutes as possible.”
One of the biggest issues European players encounter when they get to the NBA is the arduous nature of the 82-game regular season schedule. The Thunder, who face FC Barcelona on Wednesday night, will be coming off an energy-sapping 142–137 overtime loss in Madrid two nights before, not to mention the inescapable specter of jet lag.
“Yes, we’re in the preseason,” he said. “Yes, we’re still getting into shape.”
“But — in the NBA, games are just about every other day and it’s something we have to get used to. It’s no excuse heading into tomorrow.”
Sounds like a man who is ready for basketball's biggest stage.