After being named Most Valuable Player of the NBL league for the fourth successive week Suleiman Braimoh of the Good Home Taranaki MountainAirs talks to Sharyn Smart about playing in New Zealand.
Sharyn Smart: The MountainAirs shoot the least of any NBL team from deep, and the most at the rim – is it hard sometimes as a big man to get clean shots when you have guys who like to get their shots inside, occasionally clogging the lane on offence?
Suleiman Braimoh: Sometimes it might be a little tough, a little clogged up in there for me but I think as a team we do a good job of distributing the ball. I think our teams passing is pretty good so even though we don’t shoot that well from deep I think we do good work inside so that makes up for it.
SS: Aled Jones does a great job of cutting underneath a player under the hoop.
SB: I think things like that, him cutting around and drawing attention from somebody else, I think our interior play is one of our strengths. We do a good job of getting it into the paint so I think we are getting better from shooting from deep but I think when we play from inside out that works to our advantage.
SS: You’ve had some games this year with plenty of offensive rebounds, do you specifically go for offensive boards to create extra possessions or easy baskets, or have some come as a result of the extra pressure teams have to apply to Adrian when he gets near the rim?
SB: I think it’s a combination of all three. It’s a combination of me being aggressive trying to go get the offensive rebound because if I do get it by the rim that is an easy shot. But I also know if I get an offensive rebound that is extra possession for my team. Adrian does a good job of attacking the rim and he draws a lot of attention which does open it up for me to go get an offensive rebound. That’s the combination of all three that works to my advantage when I’m on the court.
SS: What did you think when you broke the hoop from your slam dunk in the game against Super City Rangers?
SB: It felt pretty good because as a basketball player it’s something you try to do. It’s good to see that done. I’ve only seen it on TV before, so for me to be doing it too, that felt pretty good.
SS: Obviously the team’s goal is to make the playoffs and to try and go as far as possible, but individually, do you have any goals or things you would like to accomplish?
SB: Whenever I step on the court my goal is to be the best player on the court on that day. Whenever I get out there I give my best effort. I try to put my best foot forward. Basically I want to be recognised as one of the best, if not the best player on the court or in the league, but that is one of my personal goals. If that translates into accolades and awards along the way then so be it but I take it on a game to game basis to be the best player I can be on that specific day.
SS: Are you personally notified that you are the player of the week?
SB: I find out when everybody else finds out. All three times I didn’t even know until somebody told me. The first time I was at the airport going to the Otago game and somebody told me, the second time I went on facebook and saw it on the MountainAirs page, then the third time I was in the middle of coaching and somebody sent me a text telling me I had won it. It’s been pretty cool. I always said that me winning it means the team is doing well and that puts me in a position to win it.
I think I’ve set the standard pretty high so I got to try and do my best to reach that every game. I think that’s quite a challenge for me and I accept that every time I go out on court.
SS: What is it like playing with such a crafty and experienced veteran like Aaron?
SB: It’s a great experience. He is a very experienced guy, very savvy veteran. He gives me a lot of advice and pushes me to be a better player. I’m definitely happy and grateful that he’s on my team.
SS: Have you created some good rapport and communication both defensively and in the high-low game on offence?
SB: Oh yea definitely we work on that at practice a lot. Just us being on the same page and us seeing the same things I think that has probably transferred into a lot of our wins so far. We’re getting better at communicating on defence and getting better communication going on offence. We are seeing the same things in offence and that really, really helps a lot when we get out on court together.
SS: Lately two of you are going for the same ball? Is that good or bad?
SB: That’s great, when two people on the same team are going for the same rebound that’s always a good thing. Because you would rather have more people going for it than no-one going for it. I think it’s always a good thing.
SS: Having played in Qatar and Japan, is it enjoyable being able to play in a league where people speak English as their first language?
SB: Oh yes it’s definitely great. One of the main things is that I’m able to better communicate with the referees so I know what I’m doing wrong. I can relate to my team mates what is going on round the court better. For me I think basketball in general has a universal language so I can communicate on the court but it definitely helps a whole bunch that we all speak English.
Basketball is an emotional game. I play with a lot of emotion. I try to keep it in check. I play with my heart on my sleeve. When something doesn’t go your way it’s kinda like being a little kid. I get so infuriated because I want to win so bad and that call could affect the outcome of the game.
I think I’m getting better at not being so aggressive with the referees and I think also that the referees are starting to see like I try to be respectful with them too so that we can have a dialogue. At the end of the day we want a good game so if I do something wrong they should tell me and if they miss something I try to be more respectful to them so we can sort it out. As long as you can have some conversation without cursing and being vulgar you can end up helping the team out.
SS: What are your thoughts on the standard of the basketball quality in the NBL?
SB: I think it’s definitely a great league, very talented league. It brings out the best in me every day and as a basketball player that’s all I can ask for. I’m able to play in a league where it challenges me to be as good as I can be to help my team win the game. As long as the league does that I think it is a very, very good league.
SS: Who is the best player you’ve ever played against in a game?
SB: I’ve played with a bunch of them from college to professional I’ve played against a bunch of really good players like Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose. They are all NBA players now but they are people that I have played against in some point in time.
SS: Why did you pick to come to New Plymouth with the MountainAirs?
SB: I was supposed to come here last year and it didn’t work out so when I got the opportunity this year I jumped at it in a heartbeat. To play in NZ has definitely been a great experience.
SS: How are you finding our New Plymouth weather?
SB: It’s not actually that bad. The winter is actually quite mild compared to Japan. In Japan it was brick cold outside. It’s not that bad, I’m wearing shorts so it’s not that bad. In Japan I had three shirts, a sweater and a jacket just to stay warm.
SS: What do you think of NZ so far? Have you managed to travel?
SB: On the road when we have our away games we travel. I’ve been to Huka Falls. That was pretty cool. Besides that the scenery we see while we are driving is pretty cool. Driving through the mountains was pretty cool. New Plymouth is pretty low key which is great by me. I feel right at home here.
SS: What do you do in your down time?
SB: When I’m not coaching, practicing or at the game I usually go to Starbucks, the movies or try new restaurants. I like to keep it simple. We do a lot of coaching in the community. We run clinics and coach a bunch of kids at different schools. We just go and help out. They give us an allotted time and we go in and help them with their basketball skills and things like that. I like being around kids so it’s right up my alley.
**Main interview questions written by Niall Anderson of NZ Hoops**