Credit: Zuma Press – Scanpix
Credit Zuma Press – Scanpix

As Anadolu Efes Istanbul prepare for their Turkish League and EuroLeague debut in the 2021-22 season, BasketNews caught up with the team's center and second captain Bryant Dunston to discuss the upcoming campaign for the reigning champs, coach Ataman's rather bold statements, and the lessons he took from the late Dusan Ivkovic and retired legend Vassilis Spanoulis.

Bryant Dunston has become somewhat of a franchise player for Anadolu Efes. The 35-year-old American center moved to Turkey from Olympiacos in 2015 and never looked back. It's not a figure of speech that the 2.03 m. big is currently second only to Dogus Balbay in terms of longevity on the team's roster. The 2014 and 2015 EuroLeague's Best Defender and the first shot-blocker in competition history, reached the competition's final in his second year with Olympiacos Piraeus but conquered the top at the dawn of the following decade with Ergin Ataman at the helm.

Efes didn't win the "Pavlos Giannakopoulos tournament," maybe the most important event in their pre-season, succumbing to hosts Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in the final game (80-74). However, the important games are the ones to follow for Dunston, who signed a contract extension with the Turkish powerhouse in July 2020, which will keep him in Istanbul until at least 2022, with an option of another year. 

BasketNews met him in Athens and the experienced center talked about his team's potential, coach Ataman's quote on Efes potentially reaching the NBA playoffs, Vassilis Spanoulis and Duda Ivkovic. He also pointed out that he's not going to retire anytime soon while making clear that no offer from Greece ever came his way.

"We want to build some good habits and momentum in the preseason," Dunston said at the beginning.

I guess you've built those habits as a team already?

Yeah, but sometimes after a long summer, after you've taken some time off, you develop some bad habits and now we have to tie things up.

How can Efes defend their title?

If we play with the same energy that we are used to playing on the defensive end, then everything will take care of itself. We have the offensive firepower and everyone knows it. But our defense and how much we will be willing to sacrifice there will be the key.

Do you see any big changes in the EuroLeague ahead of the new season?

A lot of teams got stronger and made roster changes. I don't have anyone in particular in mind, but every team is looking at us as the team to beat. So, we're expecting everyone's best shot and that's how we want to play. We like that, we feed off that kind of competition.

What do you make of the team's results in pre-season?

They were good, I guess. We didn't lose many. But my concern is to make sure everyone is healthy by the time the games actually count. We gave a good effort and everyone's working hard, but we understand that we have to give a little bit more in order to repeat.

However, the team's principles and philosophy are the same since coach Ataman and many of you have been with Efes for a long time.

Yes, it's easy when you have the same team. You don't have to say too much but some small reminders here and there are needed. For instance, Micic said some things at halftime, when we played against Ulm, and everybody got fired up. He said we had to give more because we were not playing or shooting well and that last pre-season we did the same thing. I tried to convince everybody to play better defense and give more help to each other.

Credit BNS

How do you feel in Istanbul, going into your seventh season with Anadolu Efes?

I've been there for so many years and it's something that I'm really accustomed to. Going there in 2015, I wasn't sure I was going to stay for so long but that was my goal. When I first learned about the EuroLeague and I started watching Mike Batiste playing in Greece, I said: "I want to be a guy who stays on the same team for a while and become the face of it"; not necessarily as the most productive player or as the MVP, but as an important part that helps the team win.

Were you given that chance at Olympiacos?

I was young then, and those guys were already established. They had just won back-to-back EuroLeagues. I was learning a lot from them because I didn't know anything at that point. So, I was just absorbing as much as I could; and then, I kind of took it from them and brought it to Efes.

What's your fondest memory of Dusan Ivkovic?

My first year, when I went to Efes. He was the reason why I went there. I had a lot of conversations with him about the player that I need to be, in order for the team to be successful and for me to stay in the EuroLeague for a long time.

Credit Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

At one point I wasn't playing particularly well and he told me: "If you continue to play like this, you won't be a EuroLeague player for very long." I knew it was a motivational thing. So, I took it and said to myself that I had to work harder, lead more and be more vocal. I didn't want to be the team's captain but it happened that way and I said: "If we're going to be successful, I have to be more outspoken and come out of my shell a bit more." That's not how I naturally am. A lot of that is attributed to coach Ivkovic. EuroLeague has lost a legend.

You also got to play for two years with Vassilis Spanoulis, who retired last summer. What was so memorable from your time together?

He was an incredibly hard worker. A lot of people don't see how hard he works. He was in the weight room with me, before practice, he was staying extra after shooting... You could see the hard work that he continued to put in through all those years, both before and after he got the success. He said: "This is the champion's mentality." I was proud of him. He decided to step away. It's not easy, I know that. I wish him a lot of luck in the next days of his life.

Credit EuroLeague Basketball

In a recent interview with BasketNews, coach Ataman maintained that Anadolu Efes could make the NBA playoffs.

Later on, he stated that with the addition of a couple of NBA stars, your team could even reach the NBA Finals. What's your take on that?

We have a couple of NBA players on our team already. I think anything is possible. Obviously, it's a long season in the NBA and it depends on which conference we're going to be in, but it would be interesting. We're not going to say it's not possible. A lot of things that the coach says, at first it sounds like it's just out of nowhere and then it comes true. When he first came to Efes, he was saying that we're the best team in Europe when we were one of the worst at the time! And then, it came true. So, you never know.

How did that happen, almost overnight?

This is a constant belief; we had a lot of guys with staff to prove, who wanted to sacrifice for each other. The chemistry was immediate and it kept the team together after we won some things.

Have you made up your mind as to whether you're going to end your career in Istanbul?

I'm not looking at the finish line yet (laughs). I'm still taking it one day at a time in practice, trying to continue to work and help the team. There's still some gas in the tank and I will continue until there is no gas left, which means until I can't play or don't love the game anymore. Right now, I love it. I enjoy going to practice every day, being around these guys... It's been a dream come true for me, so I want to keep going until I can't anymore.

Have you ever considered returning to Greece? Your wife is Greek and Kostas Sloukas was the one who baptized you - and also your best man. Has anyone tried to talk you into making a comeback?

Credit AFP-Scanpix

I never gave anybody a chance to make an offer. Whenever my contract was going to expire, I re-signed almost automatically with Efes. No one tried to convince me to come back. There were always rumors but no offers. I remember that after my second year with Efes in 2017, there was a rumor that I was going to Panathinaikos. Someone started it, but there was nothing.

We want to hear from you. Be the first to comment!
Thank you for reporting a comment

Add comment

We have the right to remove comments which are offensive, contains abusive language, or violates other rules of the website