The San Antonio Spurs signed Marcus Haislip on July 5, 2009. His journey to San Antonio is not unlike other current and former Spurs. Much like Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka and Roger Mason Jr., Marcus Haislip has earned his way to San Antonio by way of an extended tour of Europe.
Hailed as an uberathletic forward coming out of college, Marcus Haislip was drafted 13th overall by the Bucks in 2002, and he spent the first two years of his career on their bench. He moved on to Indiana, but his career struggled to find a launching point to propel his potential to the heights of actual production.
In 2005 Haislip took a contract in Turkey, and then another in 2006. By 2007 Haislip had become one of the best players in Europe, and began playing for Spanish ACB club and Euroleague powerhouse Unicaja Malaga. DraftExpress describes his transition in this way:
…Haislip has established himself as not only one of Europe’s most exciting players, but his skill set is radically different than it was when he left Indianapolis for Istanbul.
That last part–the radically different skill set–prompted my curiosity. I spoke with Marcus Haislip last week, and I asked him about the evolution of his game.
Why did you decide to leave the NBA for Ulkerspor?
MH: "Playing time. I wanted to develop my game, but I wasn’t getting the playing time I needed to get better. Leaving the NBA was hard, but playing overseas provided me with an opportunity to be on the court."
So your growth as a player came as a result of more playing time? Is it that simple?
MH: "No. Other things helped. I was able to spend more practice time with coaches, running drills, working on my shot. It’s not just the playing time. It’s a combination of all those things."
It’s hard to place you at one position. How were you used in Turkey and Spain?
MH: "At started out at center. When I first got their they had me playing a lot of 5. But I gradually become more of a face up 4. Over the last couple years I’ve learned to put the ball on the floor. That’s something Sergio Scariolo [Unicaja Malaga head coach] really helped me with. So now I can play some small forward too."
What did Scariolo do to bring out those perimeter skills?
MH: "He just worked with me a lot. Before and after practice. Early in the morning. He challenged me to really work on my ball handling. He wanted me to be able to shoot from the perimeter, but also put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket. He spent a lot of individual time with me, and it helped."
Why come back to the NBA? You were a star in the second best league in the world. Why give that up?
MH: "Ask any guy over there, and they’ll tell you they want to play in the NBA. It’s no different for me. I wanted to come back to prove something to myself and others. I want to prove that I belong in this league."
What position will you play in San Antonio?
MH: "On offense, I’m playing power forward mostly. Kind of a perimeter 4. But on defense, Pop has me guarding some small forward. On defense, I think they’ll use me against 3s and 4s. Maybe a little 3 on offense, but right now I’m learning the 4. I’ll play wherever coach thinks I can help the team. I leave that stuff to the coaches."
The Spurs have had a defensive shortcoming since Robert Horry retired. They haven’t had a power forward with the length or athleticism to guard face up power forwards like Dirk Nowitzki. Can you see yourself helping on that front?
MH: "Absolutely. Yes. I can guard those guys. I can keep up with them. One thing that helps, something you have to remember, is that in Europe every talented big man faces the hoop. They’re all face up bigs. They’re out on the perimeter every game. So defensively, I’m used to moving my feet with perimeter bigs."
What is the most difficult part about camp so far?
MH: "Oh, just learning the system. Trying to figure out what the team wants from me, how I can help us win. And the terminology. It’s just basketball wherever you go, but the terminology changes. It takes awhile to figure all that stuff out. It’s really important on defense. Pop wants us to be a great defensive team. To protect the paint. Talking to one another, knowing the terminology makes a big difference. That’s the most challenging part of camp."
Why did you choose the Spurs?
MH: "It’s just a good fit for my game and what they need. You know, everyone wants to play for the Spurs. First class. They treat everyone right. My reasons are the same as every other guy here. It’s a great franchise."
Has Pop yelled at you yet?
MH: "No, not yet. But I’m sure it’s coming. I’ll get mine."