Belgrade - Instead of running the floor in thrilling fashion with star freshman playmaker Lonzo Ball at UCLA, Jonah Bolden is practicing patience in Belgrade and building towards the 2017 NBA Draft.
Bolden made headlines in early August when he announced he would be leaving Westwood to turn pro. The Australian forward landed at Belgrade club FMP where he is playing in the Adriatic ABA league and the Serbian KLS first division.
“It’s a good learning experience for sure. It’s different in nearly every aspect than what I was used to,” said Bolden, who is averaging 10.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in the ABA.
Even though Bolden lives in Serbia, the 20-year-old is following what’s going on with the Bruins.
“I am definitely keeping in touch and following them. You don’t lose that part of you. Once you go to UCLA, you’re always going to be a Bruin,” said Bolden, who was academically ineligible his freshman season and averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds during his sophomore campaign in 2015-16.
Bolden admitted he wouldn’t mind playing with Ball.
“He really looks fun to play with. He’s got that run and gun style and is able to create for others. That’s always fun to have a player like that to do that for you. You want to play with guys like that.”
But Bolden, who will turn 21 on January 2, is in Belgrade playing a totally different game with totally different players.
“The players are grown men and European players have a different style of play with a higher IQ, a lot more sets and more half-court stuff,” he said.
And a lot of more Serbian.
Bolden really can only say a very few basic things in Serbian but the first third of the season was a real challenge for him since his coach Slobodan Klipa really didn’t speak English too well and Bolden was the only FMP player whose native language was English. Bolden got by with an assistant coach translating for him and the 27-year-old point guard Filip Covic giving him instructions in English.
“Obviously it was different because I’m used to talking English and knowing and understanding everything. Overall, it’s not too bad but there are times when the language barrier is a bit difficult,” Bolden admits.
For example when FMP comes down the court on offense and a play is called in Serbian.
“I won’t understand it and then the players and coaches realize it was because of the language barrier. But overall it’s not too bad.”
FMP has since switched coaches with Branko Maksimovic taking over and he speaks better English.
Bolden took the whole language barrier issue in stride and turned it into a positive looking towards his bigger goal of the NBA.
“It definitely taught me patience, a patience that I didn’t have before. Being able to take a moment to ask them to repeat or just wait and watch the guys and watch the way the three is coming off a downscreen and then realizing it’s this play. Or just go off what they are doing. It’s definitely taught me patience,” he said.
One of the reasons for Bolden to turn pro was his desire to play the small forward position after it seemed he would be playing the power forward had he stayed with UCLA.
With Belgrade, the athletic 6-foot-10 Bolden is playing both forward positions.
“Coming over here I didn’t realize that the three and four are pretty much similar in that they play a lot of perimeter, playing the screen and pop. Sometimes the four will set the screen, sometimes the three, sometimes the five for me. I’ve been able to adjust really well to looking in and not posting up and being able to pick pop or pick pop and pass,” he said.
Bolden also is getting the rebound and dribbling it up or creating off the dribble.
“Position-wise, I am playing what I want to play - the three-four. So that is good.”
Bolden is also getting some three-point shooting into his game. He’s hitting 38 percent from long range. He nailed four treys in a game against Buducnost in late November and had perhaps his best game as a professional on Christmas Day, scoring 14 points - the sixth time in the last seven games in double digits - to go with 10 rebounds - for his second double-double - three assists, three steals and four blocks. That game came against rival Belgrade club Mega Leks, which includes Boston Celtics second round draft pick Rade Zagorac and two projected draft picks for 2017 in Kostja Mushidi and Alpha Kaba.
Bolden is averaging three three-pointers taken a game and he feels comfortable shooting it.
“(The Buducnost game) definitely gave me confidence. I always was confident but seeing the ball go through the net is always good for a player. This was something that I knew that I had and now I was able to add that to my bag.”
When asked what he is working on specifically in his game, Bolden said: “Working on taking guys off the dribble; up-fake, one dribble pull-up. I’ve been doing a lot of around the cones dribbling so I can get around on that and creating opportunities out of that and being able to see the open guy.”
Bolden calls his decision to turn pro the right one - even though he highly valued playing alongside guys like Tony Parker and being coached by Steve Alford.
“I just thought it was time for me to start my new chapter and begin working on myself and getting ready for the NBA. And it turned out to be the best decision, coming over here and playing against these guys who are bigger and stronger than me. It’s definitely helped me so far in getting me ready.”
Bolden believes he has plenty to offer an NBA team in the up-coming draft.
“I can add rebounding length and pushing the floor off the rebound. Having your three man get the rebound and push it while the one, two and four can run and then stretch the floor is valuable. I would be able to stretch the floor and use my IQ to create for other players and myself as well,” he said.
And regarding his chances of being picked in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bolden said: “That’s solely up to me as in I have to put in the work and do my thing and create some noise and just go out and play my game and the results will come.”
With patience of course.