Saturday, 28 March 2015

I fell in love with Europe - the curious case of Mike Ansley

Monday, 04 October 2010 08:25 | Przemysław Szulc
Fot.: Mariusz Mazurczak
Fot.: Mariusz Mazurczak
Among hundreds of American players who have played in Poland in more than 30 years Micheal Antonio Ansley bore in memory as one of the most colorful characters. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, power forward played for Prokom in 2000/2001 and 2001/2002 season. When he arrived to Poland he defined his work in a very humorous way: "I am a businessman, because sport is also about making money. I am a killer on the court. Person in front of me is not an opponent, it is a person who denies my family food and money to live. I need to eliminate that person"

Dandy American played in Polish league till November last year. He was almost 43 years old and was the oldest top-tier team player in Poland and one of the few in Europe. At the age of 38, he was best Polish league shooter and rebounder, netting 23ppg and pulling down 8rpg.

Nowadays Mike enjoys well deserved retirement. He took part in 15th anniversary celebrations of Asseco Prokom franchise. In an interview exclusively for he talks about his plans for the future and why he will never leave Poland.

Przemysław Szulc: Fans in Poland know you from two things - love to basketball and original sense of humor. I remember how some years ago you used to arrive to the arena in big white limousine…
Michael Ansley: (Laughter) When I first came here I did not have my car. So my wife encouraged me to travel around in limousine.

P. Sz.: You've been seen at Asseco Prokom Euroleague games. Do you live in Poland?
M. A.: I live in Cracow. I love Poland, I think Poland is beautiful country, I like the people here. This is my new home.

P. Sz.: What are you up to?
M. A.: I am retired right now. I have got coaching license …. but I am taking some time off, want to enjoy my retirement, later I want to coach.

P. Sz.: You follow your former team Asseco Prokom, what do you think about the new team?
M. A.: Tomas Pacesas deserves a credit for all of that, I think he is building dynasty here in Gdynia. He is a great coach and before he was a great player.

P. Sz.: Do you think Mike Wilks and Bobby Brown can be Asseco Prokom's new leaders?
M. A.: I know all the players. I think they are leaders already. Coach doesn't bring the players that cannot ball. I've seen them playing in NBA, they played excellent.

P. Sz.: Twenty years ago, playing for Orlando Magic, you grabbed 13 offensive rebounds against Milwaukee Bucks. It was season high and still is franchise record. You remember this?
M. A.: (Laughter)Yes of course. No one beat the record yet ? Not a Shaquile O'Neal, no Dwight Howard ? Well …

P. Sz.: You had great season then. 8.7ppg, 5rpg in 72 games. Even as a rookie your were an important player on the team. Why your journey with NBA was so short?
M. A.: I wanted to stay in NBA. I wanted long term contract but they did not match my offer. My agent told me to go to Europe for a year and after that come back to NBA. I agreed and went to Europe … and fell in love with it. I did not want to go back to US.

P. Sz.: You've played for as many as 20 clubs. In US, Spain, Israel, Turkey and Poland. When were your best years?
M. A.: I would say Spain and maybe Turkey. But when I arrived to Poland.... it felt for me really special I had my second youth here. At the beginning I was really surprised when agent suggested me to go to Poland. I refused! There were so many places that I could go to! Finally I trusted my agent and came to 3City and fell in love with this place.

P. Sz.: What's your biggest achievement…
M. A.: My biggest success was to play as long as I played (25yrs). I wanted to play till 45 but I couldn't make it. That is basketball, to play on top you need to be prepared to fight and compete. You need to be a killer on the field.

P. Sz.: The game that you will never forget?
M. A.: I played for Cracow, it was Valentines' Day. We played against Prokom at home, they had strong team. I got a ball at the perimeter and buried a winning triple. It was one year after I had left Prokom.

P. Sz.: How about Spanish league finals in 1995. That was bigger event wasn't it?
M. A.: Oh, that was the biggest miss of my career. We played against Barcelona and I missed three pointer which would win the game. I still have nightmares about that shot.

P. Sz.: Let's talk about Poland. When you arrived to Prokom ten years ago, the franchise was reaching for its first trophies - first playoffs, Korac Cup quarters, you defended the Polish Cup…
M. A.: We won the Polish Cup?

P. Sz.: Yes.
M. A.: Kidding?! I don't remember! (Laughter).

P. Sz.: Josip Vranković, was team leader.
M. A.: Oh, yes Joke Vrankovic, he was like a coach on the court. He was very passionate. He knew exactly what each one of us was supposed to do and was telling us that in the locker. He was a mentor. When the situation was tense he helped the team to calm down and put everything in place.

P. Sz.: He has been Croatia head coach, you know that?
M. A.: Yes I've seen him on TV. He's a great coach and great guy.

P. Sz.: Do you keep in touch with your former teammates?
M. A.: I keep in touch with Igor Milicic, who plays for AZS Koszalin. I also talk from time to time with coach Jankes (Tomasz Jankowski), who sits nearby (we talked during the anniversary tournament).

P. Sz.: After leaving Prokom you played in numerous clubs, in various cities: Krakow, Zgorzelec, Ostrow Wielkopolski, Kwidzyn, Warszawa, Inowroclaw. How would you sum up all those years?
M. A.: These were great years, me and my teammates we did great things on those teams. I spent a couple of years with coach Mariusz Karol who had the influence on my career.

P. Sz.: What made you stay here in Poland ? Wasn't it better to live in sunny Florida and spend time with your kids?
M. A.: Most of my kids are grown up right now. They have 25, 19 and 18, they go to college. I can go there anytime, but my place is here. I love Poland, I want to get old here and my wife is here.

P. Sz.: After ten years in Poland, playing for different teams can you say something on Polish league level?
M. A.: For sure the league is better than 10 years ago. Players are bigger, faster and stronger. You cannot win the game having just two good guys on a team. Now you need solid starting five. You need to have legitimate team to win the games.

P. Sz.: If you were league's CEO, what would you change?
M. A.: That's a good question. I would start from work with youth and kids. Poland has got a lot of talent in schools, but many kids don't have a place to develop it. I am talking about high school kids. I would organize summer leagues where talented youth can get a taste of real professional basketball. Youth need role models, someone to look up to. We need to care about young talents and keep them here in Poland.

P. Sz.: You mentioned that you have coaches license. You spend summers in Orlando on youth training camps. Can you tell me something more about your future plans for coaching.
M. A.: You know, it's like that, not every great player makes a great coach. Over my career I have played for many coaches, who had great respect for players and were passionate about basketball. I am experienced and have a great deal of knowledge to share. I want to give it back to the community that I have been part of, for so many years. I feel I owe it to them. I know the system, I know the ways about Polish league and I am ready for the challenge.
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