The following interview was conducted by Antoine Bancharel of Basket-Infos.com in Tarrytown (training center). It was translated to English by Mickael Collet. You can read the original interview in French here.
After three games without playing, Frank Ntilikina finds himself in an unknown and rare situation for the eighth draft pick the year before, which is more in a team not really cut to win – even if he surely pays his 0/3 and 0/5 in the last two games played (or 3/17 in the last four).
Basket-Infos went to see him to collect his impressions.* (Fizdale assured us that he didn’t want to put him in the garbage time on Thursday, but that he still saw him in his rotation otherwise)
QUESTION: Frank, the situation is quite unique, for an eighth pick in the Draft in general, and for you who has always been ahead, even if you remain one of the youngest players in the NBA (19th according to this criterion). Do you also live like that, or do you relate to something you have already experienced?
FRANK: When I was young in Strasbourg, and I didn’t play at first, it was the same thing. I had to fight to find playing time. The age for me didn’t really matter, I was a player in its own right. It was the same thing. Go to training to have some playing time, to try to have the trust of the coach and my teammates. And show everyone that I deserve to be on the ground. So that’s it, it wasn’t the age at that time, it’s not going to be it either now. Because the NBA is the NBA.
QUESTION: You still started the season more sure of you, the status of rookie in the rearview mirror, so we are entitled to say that you didn’t expect it …
FRANK: We must expect everything! We must expect everything. You have to be prepared for everything. Everything can happen in the NBA, so after that … I think especially that the situation is a little … super dramatized in the media. But that’s what happens every day in an athlete’s life.
QUESTION: Especially in New York.
FRANK: Yes that’s it. It’s the life of an athlete! There is good, & less good … But it’s not negative. Because these are experiences that help us to rebound and become stronger. This experience will help me to be stronger on the field. And mentally. It’s not … I’m not going to say it doesn’t matter. But that’s it, it happens. It happens ! It’s up to me to “bounce back” ( he smiles and then balances his arms in sign of motivation).
QUESTION: Your French agent, Olivier Mazet, was there this week (he comes regularly, about once a month, all the more they played Boston, where his other NBA player, Guerschon Yabusele is), while rumors of trade packed the machine. Have you spoken to it?
FRANK: We talk about it sometimes … But in general we are not the type to dwell on what we don’t control. The priority for me is to control what I can control, which is what happens in the court. What’s around me, in my entourage. And my entourage knows very well that we will not dwell on things we don’t control. Rumors of trade, there may be some. Rumors of … of I do not know what, of … (he hesitates) No matter the rumors! There are many, but I try to stay focused on the court.
QUESTION: We saw David Fizdale going to talk to you for a long time. Does he tell you things that are fairly classic or rather personal?
FRANK: Personal versus what?
QUESTION: These are generalities like “Frank, you have to keep pushing”, or rather specific things, like the fact that you’ve never experienced that …
FRANK: (He cuts in) I have already experienced this in fact! That’s what is misunderstood. This situation is the same as when you are young and you try to fight for a spot. We young people fighting for a spot, we don’t think “ah we are younger than others so it’s normal.” There is nothing normal! When one is a competitor, one wants to return to the court. When we are a competitors, we want to show in practice that we have our place in the court and here it’s the same thing. He didn’t make me play the last games, he wanted to test things, or he wanted to put me on the bench, no matter the reason. Me, my goal is to control what I can control. It’s going on the field in training and prove to everyone – including myself – that I deserve the time of play. And here, bounce! It’s not like I’ve never experienced that. The goal is the same. Today, we must forget what happened in the past, the last games. Today I am going to build on what will happen in the future. The next game. And if he doesn’t make me play for the next game, it’s going to be the same. Training. Next game. Training. Next game. That’s what we can control.
QUESTION: We talked to Courtney Lee, a veteran we’ve seen talk to you many times, especially from the beginning, who’s next to you in the locker room. Did he tell you anything about that?
FRANK: It happened in the career of a lot of players in our team. As you know, there are quite a few players on our team who …
QUESTION: These are the young people there for once …
FRANK: That’s it, the young people who were totally excluded from a team and who had the chance to bounce back here, with everything to prove (Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay, on his position as leader in fact, recruited by Scott Perry , who wasn’t with the Knicks when Frank was drafted). It happens all the time in the NBA. There are very few players, just the superstars, who keep their playing time, their contract. But around that, players who are traded, players who change teams, players who are cut, players who don’t have much time to play … it varies! It’s not that we shouldn’t panic, but we have to take it on the right side of things. It’s a challenge that will make me better. Courtney is a person I talk to a lot about yes. It’s good to have a veteran who has had a career, solid, many years, who has lived a lot of things in his career. Who is there to talk a few times what!
QUESTION:His hardest moment must be match 2 of the 2009 finals, where he misses the alley-oop that can win and change the game … You talk about moments like this?
FRANK: We have not talk about that. But there he missed a lay-up not long ago (Monday against Washington, on his return), so there are some few who spoke about it quickly, but otherwise not.
QUESTION: If we go back to the young people, you had an attitude (translator means relationship) where it wasn’t an aggressive competition, you are pretty close and you encourage yourself …
FRANK: We didn’t say anything but I think it came naturally, with the people we are. After, we are competitors, so we will always have this sense on the ground where we will go to the bottom, against each other. But otherwise, outside we all get along, we are a good group … But on the ground we fight. We fight every day to show that we are the best, but it’s good competition precisely. We will push each other and in training, imagine that there is a player who is less good in the efforts, we will push, we will make ourselves better. Every day. It’s the right mentality to make the whole team better.
QUESTION: Do they suddenly come to see you and say to you: “You see, I too have had this kind of passage, you’ll get started again”, that kind of thing?
FRANK: I’m talking about it with Damyean Dotson, who had the same experience and was ready when he went back to the field. I’ll have my chance, I think. And if I continue to work like this … After, I can’t control (translator note on the bench.) But I will be able to control when I come back, what I will bring on the field, the energy, the defense … and that’s it.
QUESTION: There is the game against the Nets Saturday, then it will be the “French Night” Sunday against the Hornets. Even if it’s more around, for the (french) fans, on the pitch there will be Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum in front. Is this an element of context that you have in mind?
FRANK: Bah … I think a little, but in the sense that it would be nice to play against them, but in fact I’m just saying that I’d like to play all games in fact … But it’ll be a nice night!