A basket full of surprises for an American player in Iran

February 16, 2008

TEHERAN (IranSportsPress.com) -- Mike Jones is an American basketball player in the Iranian basketball league. He has been playing professional basketball for 9 years, most of it outside his home country. This is his first season in Iran, a country whose people and culture have given him a shock to kick start his games from a sure point.

Q: Why did you choose to come to Iran?
A: Well, I got a number of offers from France and Turkey. And the one from Iran was the best, so I decided to come here.
Q: What was your perception of Iranian basketball then?
A: I knew there was a pretty good league. I know Gabe Mouneke, one of the guys who played here last season with Saba Battery. He told me a lot of good things about Iran and I just wanted to try something different. But I did not know what to expect. And I am happy to be here now.
Q: How do you compare the league in Iran with others you've already played in?
A: The league in Iran is pretty good but not as good as the ones in Europe, yet. However, looking into the future, I believe it's going to be pretty good and I am glad I'm a part of it now.
Q: How was your idea about the country itself?
A: I was a little bit nervous at first, but once I got here I realized that the people were very friendly, totally different from the picture I had from the news. I have made a lot of friends and I think I'd really like to stay and play here for a few years.
Q: Now that you are here in the country, has the initial image you had of Iran changed in any way?
A: Yes, when I arrived I did not think the people were going to be this friendly. The image you get in the media in the United States is angry and mad people, but it's nothing like that once you get here, so it was a pleasant surprise.
Q: What about your social life over here, do you find it limited in any way?
A: Yes, social life is limited for me, over here. But I am occupied with my job. For example in a country like Turkey you can go to a club or a bar, but here you can't. Here, you ought to focus on basketball and actually, that does make the players better.
Q: So, how do you fill in your spare time in Iran?
A: Reading books and surfing the internet ten hours a day instead of two.
Q: What about sight seeing? Have you been able to travel around the country?
A: Not really. We went to Isfahan and it was very nice, but I haven't had more time for sight-seeing.
Q: Have you found any similarities between the Iranian and American cultures?
A: Just that everybody likes to have fun and have a good time, in both countries. I can't think of anything else in common right now.
Q: Has anything ever shocked you here?
A: Yes, eating Kebabs everyday and the way people drive over here. That is crazy. I drove in Turkey and I thought if I could drive in Turkey, I could drive anywhere in the world, but I won't ever drive here.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about Turkey and your time there playing basketball?
A: The Turkish basketball league is very good and real physical. I think that in Iran they let you play physical too. But the league in Turkey is a bit better right now.
Q: What is your view about Iranian basketball now that you are a part of it?
A: It's good now but in 3 or 4 years it is going to be a much better and stronger league. There are a lot of foreign players here, and there are also good Iranian players. The Iranian league is now one of the big powers in Asia would be even more secured in future.
Q: And what about the weak-points?
A: The weak-points are with the gyms here. A couple of them are good but other gyms are bad. In some of the gyms we play on a concrete floor and this is bad for the knees. I think if there'd be better gyms, the league could become much better.
Q: What about the Iranian spectators who come to watch the matches?
A: I think they love basketball. Like in BEEM, the spectators are very good. We have good spectators at our gym too. They just love basketball and they like to see good games.
Q: Have you ever had the chance to talk to them?
A: Yes, after the games they always want to shake hands. I have taken a couple of pictures with them too.
Q: How has the Iranian basketball or playing here been a challenge for you?
A: It's been a challenge because Omar and I have been living in this hotel for like three months. You need your own apartment to go back to after a game and relax. Living in a hotel is kind of difficult for us.
Q: But almost all clubs provide their players with apartments?
A: Most clubs do, but ours hasn't.
Q: Did you ever ask for an explanation?
A: Yes, we pointed out that it was stated in our contracts, but for a reason that we do not know of, we are put in a hotel which has been kind of hard to deal with. The other things are OK.
Q: Have you ever had any problem over the payments?
A: No. But, the hardest thing for us is sending the money home, because from Iran you can't send money to the U.S. directly and it often takes a week or even longer. If transactions were faster, it would make us feel a lot better.
Q: Did you encounter any obstacles while communicating with your coach or team-mates?
A: No. The coach speaks good English. Our trainer Ali and most of the guys on the team speak English and can understand you if you speak slowly. However, I have been trying to learn Farsi and it's a very difficult language to learn. My team-mates have been really nice and they have been trying to teach me Farsi. Now, I can say hello, I am feeling well and how are you in Farsi.
Q: Is there anything special you might have learnt from Iranian culture?
A: I think the people are pretty honest for the most part; just nice people. In America you've got to know a person for a bit of time before he becomes nice to you, but here the people just want to be nice, right away.
Q: Do you think you would come back again to Iran if you receive a good offer?
A: If I am offered a nice contract, I'll definitely come back.
Q: When you return to the U.S. how may your experience here change your life over there?
A: When I speak to my parents, they always ask me if everything is OK and safe here. But when I go back I will tell them that things are not like what you hear or see on the news. So I think, one thing I would say to the people when I go back home is that the people in Iran are very nice and nothing like what they make of them on the news.
Q: Well, what do you predict for Iran's national Basketball team after it qualified for the Olympic Games?
A: I think it's very good that Iran has qualified. Two of the players in the Olympics team are from my own team, Kaveh. They are very good players. Iran has got a lot of good players, so once the basketball IQ improves the league will get a lot better.
Q: Do you think that sports bring countries with conflicts together? Can we have dialogue through sports?
A: That's just like a safe haven. With sports different people can have fun and not worry about the issues that create a gap between them. I think people will have a different idea of the Iranians once they see them in the Olympics and see that they are just like everyone else in the world.
Q: Thank you Mike and hope you enjoy your time here for the rest of the season.
A: Thank you. -