Leslie: "My dream is to be back in the NBA"

VILNIUS ‒ It’s quite likely that Siauliai would not have been where they are without the acquisition of Travis Leslie midway through the season. The 24-year-old American has been instrumental in the team’s golden run in the Baltic Basketball League, picking up the Finals MVP award and leading the team both in points and rebounds throughout the BBL Playoffs.



BBL.net caught up with Leslie in Vilnius after a close loss to  the Lithuanian league (LKL) leaders Lietuvos Rytas to talk about getting cut twice in France, coming to Lithuania in January and continuing to pursue his dream of eventually coming back to the NBA.

Two weeks have passed since the BBL Final against Prienai – are there any special feelings remaining from that game or the whole season or was all of that left behind?

It is a great accomplishment for me and for my teammates. Also, coming here from France where they cut me twice, Siauliai gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills and I’m glad I got the opportunity. I just feel we went out there and played hard and got the championship.

You snatched up the Finals MVP award as well, does that make the accomplishment even sweeter?

Yeah, definitely. I came here to play hard and win a lot of games, win championships. We got the BBL and, hopefully, we’re going to get far in the LKL too.

How was the reception by the fans in the town square after coming back with the trophy?

Yeah, it was great. A lot of people were waiting for us. Just happy that we won, congratulating us.

You joined the team midway through the season, but seem to have blended it quite well. How’s the atmosphere and chemistry in the team?

The team brought me in pretty good. When I came in, there were no problems, I learnt the plays and they just brought me in like a family and it’s all been good so far.

How do you see your stint in Lithuania – it a stepping-stone for your future career and perhaps returning to the NBA one day?

Definitely, like I said, getting cut twice and then not giving up, coming to Lithuania, playing hard and winning the championship in the BBL, being the MVP and we’re doing pretty good in LKL and hopefully we can win that. And my dream is to be back in the NBA, so I’m just going to keep working.

In Lithuania there are two top teams – Zalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas. Do you play with them with extra motivation, extra energy?

Well definitely, Lietuvos Rytas and Zalgiris are two of the best teams here. Playing against them, you’re always going to be motivated, because you’re the underdogs.

Do you feel you’re good enough to play for one of those teams?

Yeah, I think I can play in a lot of places and I’m good enough for those teams,  but like I said, they didn’t give me the opportunity and Siauliai did, so I came here to play and I’ve been showcasing your skills. Hopefully, the other two teams see what I can do and the next year they may offer me a deal.

As you said yourself, you got cut twice in France earlier this season. What went wrong there?

They wanted a specific player. One of the teams wanted a shooter and I didn’t turn out to be the type of player they wanted and the other team just wasn’t a good system for me and I’m really glad Siauliai gave me the opportunity.

Can you compare the French league with the Lithuanian one?

France is much more athletic, while in Lithuania you can’t leave anyone open with bigs shooting threes. In France it’s maybe a little bit more one-on-one, which is similar to the NBA. That’s basically what it is. It’s only a little bit different.

In your mind, what’s the better route back to the NBA – playing in Europe or going back to the D-League?

I know a couple of guys from Europe, who got call-ups, like Scotty Hopson. So it can go both ways. D-League is in the States, so there’s a lot of scouts and they see you. So I think it’s both.

Talking about the NBA, the playoffs just began – did you get the chance to watch any games?

I’ve been trying to. I’ve been watching a couple of games, but others are just too late because of the time difference. I’ve caught a couple.

You were drafted by the Clippers and Atlanta is your hometown– do you support any team?

Yeah, yeah – I want the Hawks to beat the Pacers. They had a good performance in the first game and hopefully they can keep going. I don’t really have a specific team that I want to win, but I’m just want it to be a good playoffs.