It’s not every day a NBA champion visits Dublin but that’s what happened last week when Ronny Turiaf paid a visit to the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght. Emmet Ryan caught up with the maestro from Martinique who was in town to mark the end of the first ever jrNBA programme in Ireland
Ronny Turiaf’s seen plenty in his career, originally hailing from Martinique he went to Insep in Paris before playing with the Gonzaga Bulldogs in NCAA hoops. A 10 year NBA career, that included a brief stint with Asvel in Euroleague during the lockout, saw him pick up a championship alongside LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. Having retired two seasons ago, Turiaf is still heavily involved and interested in the game. I sat down with him to get his thoughts on what he’s currently seeing in the sport and, naturally, what he felt watching the jrNBA programme in action.
BallinEurope: How did you find your experience in Dublin?
Ronny Turiaf: Man, my experience here with the jrNBA was amazing, I really enjoyed. To see the sparkle in the kids eyes and the energy, but most importantly the excitement. That’s going to stick with me, the passion and the purity is amazing.
BiE: How important is an event like this?
Turiaf: The importance of this programme is the reason why I came here. Coming from an island, seeing what is possible if you have the desire to explore and see the world. I wish I was an 11 year old kid with the opportunity to attend.
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BiE: Basketball is a minority sport in Ireland, can this help get it a bigger footing?
Turiaf: The jrNBA programme can only help not only promote the game of basketball but more importantly provide a safe space for kids to enjoy themselves. If that happens, the game grows, because everything around the game is going to be cared for and cherished. The parents will enjoy it more. Everybody around the game, really from the grass roots standpoint. One of the things I hear the most from the kids is the enjoy the opportunity to spend time with their friends.
BiE: Do you recognise how big it was for the kids to meet a player like you?
Turiaf: It’s interesting because at first they were all ‘who is he?’ and then I overheard some of the coaches telling them to Google to see what I did and then when I came back after lunch, it was a little bit more interesting because they were all more enthused and excited about asking me pretty powerful questions about life, my experiences, and all that stuff. It was a really good mix of being ohhh and oh let’s chat.
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BiE: What players in the NBA are exciting you this season?
Turiaf: Somebody that is really, really, exciting me right now is Giannis [Antetokuonmpo]. What he’s doing, he’s carrying a team on his shoulders, it’s exciting and very good to watch his growth. That’s the element that sometimes we lose sight of is, in sports, it takes time to get better and the desire to get better. It’s very interesting.
Also, obviously, the Toronto Raptors, what they’re doing it’s like ok there is something going on there. There are the obvious storylines with the Golden State Warriors and the LA Lakers, the NBA is at a very exciting point.
BiE: Obviously, there’s a lot of interest in Europe in Luka Doncic, have you seen much of him?
Turiaf: It’s very exciting but, for me, it’s nothing different than what I’ve seen because I’ve watched him in Euroleague and he played in Madrid with one of my old former team mates. What he’s doing right now is basically what he’s doing overseas. Not to say I don’t appreciate his talent but I’m like, yeah, I’ve seen you do that before…now you get to do it on a way bigger stage.
BiE: One of your former teams, Asvel, will be in Euroleague next year. Are you excited for them?
Turiaf: Super excited. It’s a dream coming true. It’s my friend, Tony Parker, his dream to be able to play in Euroleague and to be a figure, a central figure, of European basketball. It’s fun to watch and I know how hard it is to make it happen. To be able to have witnessed him not only as a professional basketball player, as my friend, but also as the owner of a team and the executive…to be able to see and learn from that experience from him is really cool. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do because it’s going to be a challenge.
BiE: You had some great stints with the French national team. How have you found the new in-season windows, what do you feel about them?
Turiaf: The windows…let’s just say that I’m not the biggest fan of it. I can understand what kind of impact they can do and I totally respect that but it’s difficult for a lot of those teams that don’t have the NBA players. It’s also a great opportunity for others to showcase their skills and to earn their way within the national team. It’s very interesting because you have the American system vs the European system that usually clash a bit but we’ve seen how good it can be in soccer so why not in basketball?
BiE: Gonzaga, your alma mater, will they go all the way this year?
Turiaf: That’s a great question. I sure hope so. I hope that the adversity that we are facing right now with the health situation can allow us to be healthier at the end of the season. If everybody’s healthy at the end of the season, we have a good chance.
BiE: Lastly, back to Ireland, what do you feel about what the country can do in basketball?
Turiaf: I didn’t know too much about Irish basketball prior [to visiting] but I knew about the Irish mentality. You can see it in rugby, in football, in Gaelic football and hurling. There’s a passion at the core essence of the Irish culture. When I saw those kids out there, that same passion in those other sports can be harnessed in basketball.
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