Tony Meier (CEZ Basketball Nymburk) Poland Was The Turning Point In My Career Where I Realized I Could Make This A Long Term Profession

Tony Meier is a 26 year od 206cm forward from Wildwood, Missouri playing his third professional season and first with CEZ Basketball Nymburk (Czech Republic-NBL). He started his basketball career in 2008 with Wisc.-Milwaukee (NCAA) where he played until 2012 playing a total of 118 NCAA games and as a senior played  27 games averaging 11.0ppg, 4.9rpg, FGP: 60.4%, 3PT: 40.3%, FT: 68.1%. He started his professional basketball career in 2013 with Frankston Blues (Australia-SEABL): 3 games: 18.7ppg, 5.0rpg, 2FGP: 55.6%, 3PT: 23.1%, FT: 75.0%. He then came to Europe and played the 2013-2014 season with Vitoria, SC / M.Couto Alves Guimaraes (Portugal-LPB) playing 33 games averaging  14.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 60.6%, 3PT: 40.7%, FT: 82.0%. In the 2014-2015 season he played for Polpharma Starogard Gdanski (Poland-TBL) playing 30 games averaging 14.1ppg, 6.2rpg, FGP: 56.4%, 3PT: 42.3%, FT: 82.0%. He spoke to German Hoops before the Champions League game against the Fraport Skyliners.

Tony thanks for talking to German Hoops. 2017 is here and have you made any basketball new years resolutions?

Thanks so much for talking with me as well. The new year is definitely an exciting time and I was fortunate enough to have a pretty decent holiday break this season but our team had a great start to the year and finished strong right before the break as well so I just hope to keep that momentum going and do everything we can to make it a great full season.

You are playing your first season with CEZ Basketball Nymburk (Czech Republic-NBL). You are playing for the best basketball team in the Czech Republic. What is the best example that shows you that this is the countries most prestigious team?

I am definitely lucky and grateful to be a part of an organization of this caliber. From the first day I arrived here in Nymburk the management and staff has been nothing short of professional. Walking into the gym and seeing all the championship banners on the wall from the past 13 seasons made me feel proud to be here and it’s just exciting to be a part of. Our fans are great and each and every opponent in the Czech league shows up to play their best game of the season against us, which I take as a compliment and a welcome challenge.

The club doesn´t lose often and doesn´t like to lose in their country league. Do you feel a lot of pressure each weekend playing against teams that are playing their season game against you wanting to beat you every time?

I wouldn’t necessarily call it pressure, but there is a sense of responsibility. Winning is an expectation and anything short of that means we aren’t doing our job. Every team we face in Czech Republic definitely brings their A-game for us, but we actually prefer that because otherwise it just seems like a waste of time if the opponent is already feeling defeated before the game even starts.

The club has won 13 league titles in a  row. Do you ever ask a veteran like Petr Benda for advice who has won 9 in a row with the team?

Petr is a great leader for our team for sure. He leads by example a lot. I personally am not a very talkative guy but I do watch a lot of veterans, and luckly we have quite a few veterans on our team that I can learn from.

How difficult is it making adjustments and improvements in the NBL league on a daily basis when your scoring 95 points per game and giving up only 66 points?

Our coaches do a good job of keeping our focus on doing what we do best and reaching our own goals. Our success isn’t necessarily measured by the final score of each game. We set certain goals going into each game and then learn from our performance and turn our attention to all the ways we have to sharpen up or refocus for the next game. Practicing every single day against these guys, some of the best guys in the country, is always a great way to challenge myself to continue to get better.

 The next game is against the Fraport Skyliners, How difficult was it digesting the bitter 74-61 loss in Frankfurt? How was Frankfurt able to have a 44-21 second half?

Yeah, that loss definitely still stings. Especially because it was one of our worst performances of the season and getting that win would have put us in a much better position within our group. We just came out way too flat in the second half and got away from what we do well.  We will need to keep our intensity and focus high for 40 minutes in order to get a win at home in the next matchup.

This game is a big big game for the Fraport Skyliners as every new win moves them a step closer to reaching the next round as they battle against Ironi Nahariya for the final spot. What will be key to getting a home victory?

I think we just have to play our game and play with confidence. We struggle a bit on the road and we tend to let teams force us to play their game. Since it’s our home court we need to control the pace of the game and the overall flow. It’s just as important a game for us because we want to solidify our place to advance to the next round in Champions League.

Does it sometimes feel like the NBL league is like practice and the Champions League games is where the real challenge is even if each weekend every Czech Republic team is gunning for you?

In a way, yes, only because the intensity level of Champions League is a bit higher than the NBL. But a game is still a game and we still have to show up and play our game every time no matter what. We already experienced a loss in NBL because we started to take our foot off the gas. I think it’s easy to fall into that mentality, but it’ll end up hurting us if we do.

You saw Dee Bost play this season. I recently kidded with him about the possibility of the NBA and he just laughed and said that dream is over as he is concentrating on a career in Europe. Is he a guy that could still make a run for the NBA if he wanted to?

He’s definitely a great player, and he has the skill and athleticism to play at the NBA level. A lot of players over here have the skills to make a run in the NBA, but I really respect the players that choose to keep competing in Europe because I really believe the competition here is extremely high, it’s a different type of basketball than the NBA but it’s still phenomenal basketball.

How much of a pleasure has it been playing with ex NBA player and Czech Republic legend Jiri Welsch? What have you benefited most with having him on the club?

Well, my wife would say the biggest benefit has been having him as our neighbor to come over and help us fix things in our apartment or to help us navigate local Czech life (haha), but in all honesty it has been really great having him as a teammate, too. It continues to amaze me how smart and poised he is on the court and his leadership in the locker room is invaluable to us all.  Outside of basketball though he is just a really good person, easy to talk to and always willing to help out, it’s been great getting to know him this season.

How challenging is it battling American Diamon Simpson each day in practice? How have you made each other better this season on and off the court?

Well, luckily for me, Diamon and I usually play different positions (him the 5, me the 4), so I don’t have to battle him physically too often in practice.  When we do go up against each other though he is definitely a force in the paint.  His raw strength is always a challenge to deal with.  He also is a very hard worker which forces me to keep pushing myself every day on and off the court.

You are having a very solid season with  CEZ Basketball Nymburk. You have always been a great shooter for your size, but this season your shooting out the lights in the country league at 61%. How do you explain your rapid climb in shooting percentage? Has it been more extra shifts in the gym or better shot selection?

I put in a lot of time this past summer to try to get my game ready for this level, but I also think a lot of it has to do with being on a team with so many good players around me. We have too many threats for any opponent to focus on just one person, which leads to a lot more open looks than I’ve been used to in the past.

 Last season you played for  AS Apollon Patras (Greece-A1) averaging 11,3ppg, 3,9rpg and 1,0apg. Why was this season so challenging coming from the Polish league?

It was actually my toughest challenge as a professional.  The Greek league is one of the toughest in Europe and the style of play is so physical, it took a lot of adjusting to make sure I could make an impact every game.  Also going up against multiple Euroleague and Eurocup teams was a different challenge for me but I was able to get an understanding of what it takes to make it to the next level.  

Two seasons ago you played with  Polpharma Starogard Gdanski (Poland-TBL) playing  30 games: 14.1ppg, 6.2rpg, FGP: 56.4%, 3PT: 42.3%, FT: 82.0%. How important was this season for you where you were able to prove you could play at an even higher level than in your rookie season in Portugal?

I would say this season was the turning point in my career where I realized I could make this a long term profession. Every rookie struggles mentally and physically and it’s hard to figure out where you fall within this huge array of leagues and levels and opportunities in Europe. This year in Poland proved to myself that I not only wanted to play at the highest level in Europe but that I could also be successful at it.

Did you know that you were a more than just a solid professional when you dropped 29 points against PGE Turow in a 126-110 loss that featured ex NBA players Mardy Collins and Chris Wright?

At that point in my career I was just so focused on myself and trying to perform my best every single game that I didn’t really pay much attention to who our opponents were. Looking back on it now, I guess you could say that game definitely helped my career moving forward.

As a rookie you played for Vitoria, SC / M.Couto Alves Guimaraes (Portugal-LPB) playing 33 games: 14.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 60.6%, 3PT: 40.7%, FT: 82.0%. What was your wake up call to being a rookie where you knew that you were very far away from home?

There really wasn’t a huge difference between NCAA D1 and the LPB in Portugal, so basketball-wise I felt pretty good, but it was the off the court stuff that hit me hard that year. Like any rookie, you have to deal with the culture shock, the homesickness, a lot questioning yourself, etc.

How difficult was that rookie season in general? You were the lone American on the team. Did you feel like being a leader despite being a rookie?

That season was actually one of my favorites and it was mainly due to my teammates and coach. Yes, I was the only American, but they didn’t treat me that way. It was the closest thing I’ve experienced in Europe comparable to a college team in the states in terms of camaraderie and enjoying being with your teammates, etc. It was easy to fit in and being able to prove myself on the court right away definitely helped.

How did head coach Rob Jeter at Wisc.-Milwaukee (NCAA) groom and prepare you best for  aprofessional basketball career?

Coach Jeter has coached many winning teams at UWM and a lot of professional players have come from his organization. He’s good at forcing you to be mentally tough and challenging you to rise to any occasion. I have to give his assistants a lot of credit though too, they invested a lot of time and energy into me both on and off the court and I’m very grateful to all of them.

Who won a one on one in practice you or Kyle Kelm?

Haha, well Kyle is a good friend of mine (last time I saw him was at my wedding this past summer), so I do have to give him credit because he’s a great player. However, I was the older player during our time together at UWM so it was probably me more often back then.

Who was the toughest guy that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now?

I’d have to say Gordon Hayward. Having Butler in our conference was so tough for us, especially since I played during the same years Hayward led them to the National Championship and then again when they repeated their Final Four appearance. The rivalry there was intense, so the games were always good ones. And he really is a skilled player with incredible athleticism for his size. Although they weren’t in our conference, Marquette was our inner-city rivals in Milwaukee which exposed me to Jimmy Butler early on in his career and I’m not surprised at all at how successful he’s been in the NBA. He’s the toughest player I ever had to defend and I could see his potential even back then. 

If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore, which 4 heads would you choose?

Jordan, Bird, Magic, Duncan (with Shaq being a close 5th)

 Lebron finally brought an NBA title to the Cavs. Where does he stand at the moment in the never ending debate with where he stands as the best of all-time?

I really don’t like this question and usually turn off SportsCenter when they start talking about it because it’s not fair to compare players from that era to players of today…basketball is a completely different game now. The style of play, the natural athleticism, the skill level, it’s all completely different. I mean, LeBron is an absolute beast and he’s the best player of today for sure, but I don’t know if I can give him the all-time crown.

Where do you rank Kevin Garnett with the best power forwards that ever played the game?

I’ve worn #21 my whole life because of KG and Tim Duncan.  They were the two best power forwards in the NBA when I started following the league as a kid. In my opinion Garnett is one of the top 3 power forwards to ever play.

Klay Thompson recently hit 60 points in 29 minutes touching the ball for only 90 seconds. Where does this performance rank with you?

That was absolutely unreal. Again though, that’s just another example of how the game is completely different than it was in the 80s and 90s. It’s probably in the top 10 performances of all time though.

One always talks about Lebron and Curry, but one has to mention Russell Westbrook. He is averaging triple double stats at the moment. Is he stat wise the best player in the world right now?

Stat-wise I guess so, but stats are overrated in my opinion. You got to win games, and even more importantly, you have to win championships to be considered the best. The best players in the world just know how to flat out win games (especially important games), that’s what makes them so good.

What was the last movie that you saw?

Just yesterday my wife and I went to the movie theater in Prague to see Rogue One; A Star Wars Story.

Thanks Tony for the chat.

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