Saturday, January 21, 2017

Uno En Uno With: Thomas Fortier, TCA Basketball

ZS: How long have you been in the United States and how have you adjusted to the vastly different American style of play? What are some of the key differences in these two brands of basketball?

TF: I've been in the United States since September, so almost five months now. Here, it's fair to say my game changed. First of all, the American game is so much different than the style played in Europe. The game here is more selfish so I had to adapt my game style and I understand it because everyone who can score wants to shine. So, I had to get my teammates the ball more and give them confidence. I had to change into a facilitator and make sure my teammates knew I could make them better. It's been a great transition because I've had to push it to my limits and try to kill myself to make my name, win their confidence and get respect. It has all made me work harder and want it more, knowing the increase in competition.

ZS: On this particular team you are a bigger guard and capable of playing the small forward position. How do you utilize your strength and physical traits to your advantage at this level?

TF: Nowadays, I try to crash every time for an offensive rebound. I try to take my opponent full court in defense. However, the game here is much faster-paced and much more built around strength. So, I try to use my physique and go to the basket more. One of the key things coach Brad (Traina) emphasizes is how to finish at the rim with contact, how to score plus the foul.

ZS: How has coach Brad helped cultivate an all-around threat in you and allowed you to shed the "shooter" tag and therefore become more multi-dimensional?

TF: Coach Brad is the kind of coach I like. He knows how to hoop and every time he shows us where are mistakes are. He really wants us to get better and get a scholarship. He wants me to play as hard as I can, apply full court defensive pressure on the point guards and knock down my 3-pointers. He really wants me to be better finishing at the rim after a drive. I've gotten better at this compartment of my game but we are still working on it because I need it. I try to bring some European skills such as moving the ball quickly. Also, I try to help my teammates shine, so as much as I like to put the ball in the rim I like to drive and get the assist and find out who is left open.

ZS: What are the central areas of focus for you in this post-graduate year? What are your aspirations with basketball moving forward?

TF: I'm here to improve my basketball skill-set and also improve on my athleticism. I want to improve everyday because I'm look for a scholarship opportunity to play in college. I want to study in America and of course play basketball in college to develop my game more. Then, following college, I wish to be a professional in Europe.

ZS: What's the identity of this team right now and how do you hope to improve collectively as you move forward and move into the stretch run of the 2016-17 campaign?

TF: Coach Brad is an American but he played professionally in Europe as well. He knows which are the key qualities in both continents, so he tries to combine it and teach us. I think the team overall is good, everyone can jump and everyone can hoop...At the beginning of the year, we struggled with selfishness but we've worked on it and now it is not an issue. Prep is a bit different because everyone is trying to get a scholarship so oftentimes there is selfish play.

We've had a lot of tight games where we've had to be tough in the late minutes and I think we've become better and closer because of this. We can trust each other and this is the key to our future success. We know how to handle the pressure at the end of the game, we've been tested for that a lot of times this season.

ZS: What was the competition level like you played at in France and who were some of the toughest foes you faced?

TF: In France, I played against good teams like Strasbourg with the German Muchidi, Nancy, or L'INSEP, which typically gathers the best players in France. You must probably know Sekou Doumbouya. Last year, I had the chance to play against top local guys but we are a national team. The opponent I began to appreciate as we played against them more was Paul Djoko.

 They won the 3 x 3 FIBA U18 European championship with France. When I was younger, I played against guys like Kevin CHam, Renathan Ona-embo. I also played with and against one of my best friends, Wilfried Gantswa who I've known since I started playing basketball and who I respect a lot because he's helped my game grow over the years.

ZS: There's been no shortage of guys from France or guys who speak French fluently at TCA. How have you built bonds here and how have you guys benefitted from each other's presence?

TF: I love putting in the extra hours and having more freedom of time on the prep schedule, because I really want to be better. I've been putting in extra work with guys like Mel Esso, Freddy Zotchi, Adrien Audoin, Luguentz Dort, and Shawn Barthelemy. If I need their help or advice, it's always there. We feed off each other. I put in the most work in the unseen hours with Turkay Barutcuoglu. He's my roommate and a real brother I can trust. Every night we try to do something to add on to our game, especially with dribbling drills. He's a great player who played on the Turkish national team. He is fast with the ball, he's got very good handle and he can hit crazy 3-point shots.