Usman Garuba: “The NBA has made me a much better player”
Houston Rockets forward Usman Garuba sat down to chat to AS about his first year in the NBA...
Usman Garuba reflected back on his first season in the NBA with the Houston Rockets - a year which had some difficulties to overcome, The Spain international sat down to chat with AS in an event organised by Kellogg’s, with whom he is an ambassador. He spoke about his new coach Stephen Silas and says he closely follows how his old club Real Real Madrid are getting on. Garuba will spend the next month between Spain and Houston as he will be training with Sergio Scariolo’s squad for Eurobasket 2022, which tips off on 1 September. Usman, a promising young player who only turned 20 last month, says he hopes he can continue improving as a player and carve out his own niche in the beat basketball league in the world.
How are you feeling physically and emotionally after your first season in the NBA?
I’m well, really well. I’ve learned so much this year, it’s been an education for me.
Foreign players who move to the NBA always talk about needing time to adapt, including to life off-court. Have you had anyone helping you to settle in Houston?
Sure. The people at Houston have helped me, a scout for international players helped me to find an apartment together with my agent. They also helped me to get to know the city, restaurants...
Is North American culture very different to European culture?
It totally different. It’s another way of life altogether.
What were you expecting in your first year? Did it live up to all of your expectations?
My expectations were to play, but I knew that the first year would be difficult. I realise early on that I couldn’t have many expectations this first year because I wasn’t playing regularly. But I met all of my expectations regarding the work I’ve done. I’ve improved as a player, I am better physically and mentally. I am a much better player than I was before.
You started off playing in the G League, who told you? Did you feel disappointed?
Stephen Silas told me. For me, it wasn’t such a blow, I thought I could play there. I wasn’t getting regular playing time, I had gone a while without playing. Young players want to be given minutes, whether it’s in the G League or with the first team. In your first year you want to play, you want to find out how you are and the experience was good for me.
What is Stephen Silas like? How different is he to Pablo Laso, your coach at Real Madrid?
I really like Silas, he is very straight with me. He’s a very good coach, I’ve seen a lot of details, particularly with offensive plays, which I liked a lot. He’s different to Pablo Laso. Training in the Spanish Liga ACB is very different to the NBA. In the ACB, coaches have more responsibility; the NBA is more focused on the players.
Who do you get on well with?
[Turkish center] Alperen Sengun. He’s the person who I’m probably closest to. We’re both European and we have played against each other many times since we were very young. The competition between us is healthy.
Do you follow how Real Madrid are doing from afar? Are you in touch with your old team mates?
I follow Real Madrid all the time and I am in contact with my old team mates, who for me, are still team mates. My prediction for the Euroleague Final Four - Madrid, champions this year.
And are you in touch with with Pablo Laso?
I spoke to him the other day at the Palacio [Wiznik Center in Madrid]. He asked me if I wanted to come on to play (laughs).
What about the other Spanish players in the NBA? Do you have any relationship with them?
Mainly con Willy and Juancho Hernangómez. When our teams have faced each other, we usually have a chat before the game. They are the ones who have really helped me to settle in and adapt and with the most contact I’ve had.
What about the playoffs? Who is your favourite to win?
Yes, I’ve been watching the games. I don’t have a favourite though, it’s more open than ever.
You’ll be with Spain for Eurobasket 2022. How do you see the national team’s chances?
I want to go to the Eurobasket and I am at Sergio Scariolo’s disposal. We are Spain and Spain always competes. We will be fighting to be among the medals in spite of the circumstances, the players who won;t be able to make it. We’re ready for anything.
Finally, how do you see the future panning out for you?
I don’t know where I’ll be in two or three years from now. I just hope that I will have improved the aspects of my game that need improving. That’s what I am working on, I’m training here practically every day. I am ready for next season - to train and give the best I’ve got for Houston and the national team.