How to Play Professional Basketball in Europe Featuring Dustin Sleva
Tristan: All right. Welcome in everyone we have with us on the line. Mr Dustin Sleva himself, Shippensburg University alum, holds a couple of records there, including all-time leading score with 2,071 points. Also, the all-time leading rebounder and all-time leader in double-doubles. You could say he had quite the successful career there at Shippensburg. And now he's playing over there in Europe in LNB Pro B, for the Paris Basketball league. Did I miss anything there Dustin?
Dustin: No, that sounds good, sounds great.
Tristan: All right. Just making sure. I was going to break out the French accent but of, course, I don't want to offend anyone out there.
Dustin: All good.
Tristan: Awesome. Well Dustin, let's start off where we start off with all our guests here. We want to hear your story, we want to hear your transition from playing small ball out there in Pittsburgh, in high. All of a sudden you're playing for Shippensburg. all of a sudden you're dominating in the PSAC League, and then moving on to play over in Europe. Give us that progression. What was that like? And just tell us a little bit about it.
Dustin: Yeah, so basically I was a really, really late bloomer. You see a lot of guys, they get the division one offers even though they bloom late. Well, I grew four inches in college, so my route wasn't the smoothest.
Dustin: So, even in high school, I remember playing freshman, I didn't make the JV team. I was playing freshman ball, I was a point guard on a freshman team. I was about 5'9", 5'5". Sophomore year I grew a little bit more, I was 6'1", I was a little chubby, very awkward. I really didn't hit puberty yet. And I had a couple of good coaches at Montour, Darren Tilsch and Adam Coffin, who really helped me. But they were really hard on me early because it wasn't always easy for me because I wasn't always the best player. I had always had the skill, but I wasn't physically ready. So, in sophomore year I just played JV, didn't play at varsity at all. My junior year, I got hurt in the summer. I played half the year, and ended up winning a WPIAL State Championship and losing in the state semis. But I didn't even start my junior and my average, five points a game. I was maybe sixth, seventh man, played half the year. And then my senior year is where I really broke out, I always worked hard. I always knew I wanted to play professionally and I always had that mindset that I was going to grow and I was going to be able to do this.
Craig: Well how did you know you were going to grow? You had a tall family? You came from a basketball family, or what?
Dustin: Yeah. So, my dad played football. My mom, she was a softball player. My Mom's 5'10", my dad's 6'4". My dad grew really late. I knew I was either going to grow and get really tall, or I was going to either come into myself. In my senior year I was about 6'3", 6'4", a decent height. I was playing the three to four, the five, whatever my team needed me. I averaged 20 and 10 in my senior year and it was enough for Coach Fite to get me a scholarship to Shippensburg. And I was going to go to prep school because he didn't even give me a scholarship until late. Thankfully, there's a kid named Dylan Egger , who was a senior when I came in as a freshman. He forwent his scholarship, so I could get a scholarship to go there and thankfully he did that because that was the best decision I made, and it just so happened to work out for me. So, it was just endless hours in the summer, hoping that I would grow, finally grow. I didn't even grow, I was still 6'4" or 6'5", 190, soaking wet, going into college. So, I wasn't really even ready to play at the PSAC level. Shippensburg only won three games and I didn't even know that going into there. I just bought into what Coach Fite was saying, the guys they had the culture that he was trying to build. And Coach Fite was a lot like me when he played, he was 6'9", he played overseas. So, I saw a path there that I can excel in. I didn't know I would be able to do the things I did there, breaking the records. I remember looking at it after my freshman year, after averaging eight points and saying, "There is no way I can even touch that." So, just from coming from that and every year we get better as a team. And another big process for me is I'm very vocal. I talk some stuff on a court, but I do it in a manner where I get my teammates hyped up, like, "I'm controlled," manner and I'm throwing off the other guys. I don't do it where I'm uncontrolled. And I also talk to refs. And I think another good part is I'm helping Coach Fite recruit WPIAL guys to Shippensburg because we got a lot. And I still help them today with guys, and guys come and play pickup with me and stuff. So, I think just that WPIAL connection to Shippensburg really improves the program too, so I'm thankful that they give me an opportunity and I was able to help the program too.
Tristan: Right, yeah. And it's funny how just one thing can really change the course there. Obviously your training, your progression, was key in getting you to Shippensburg, but you also had that friend there, that one little connection, and when that one domino falls, the rest seem to fall along with it. Now, tell us a little bit about how that focus changed as you did progress from high school to college? Were you working more on your shooting, on your dribbling, on your balance? Was there one in particular? Was it everything? Tell us a little about that.
Dustin: Yeah, so I like to think I'm a pretty smart player when I play. When I shoot my shot, I make sure I spread my hand on the ball, I follow through, I hold my follow through and I can pretty much tell when I'm messing up on my shot. So, just from shooting. The progression even from eighth grade to ninth grade was, I shot the ball with two hands. And from eighth grade to ninth grade I wanted to shoot the ball with one hand. So, that was the whole summer of shooting a ball, not with one hand, but I'm not using my thumb on my guide hand. So, there's little things as each year goes on, that I try to add. One, the most important shot I ever developed is my jump hook, my right hand jump hook, I would say, if I get to the right spot, I'm 90% at it. And that's just from, I would shoot 200 right hand, 200 left hand. My left hand's not quite as good as my right hand, but I'm working on that a lot this summer. And each year where I try to implement two more aspects to my game, along with the other things that I do really well. So, I would say my bread and butter is my post jump hook and my pick and pop three, or my catch and shoot three, those are the things I always work on.
Craig: Nice. So you keep adding additional skills. But sticking with that theme from high school to college, how does the drills that you that you run, how does that change between those two eras?
Dustin: Honestly, I've been doing the same drill since I was in 10th grade because I had a great coach in high school. And Darren Tilsch, he played at Penn State, RMU, he bounced around a little bit, but he was really good and really wanted to work at me. So I just work on, basically, the same stuff and finding new ways to improve my game. Getting to the basket, I do that a lot, working on my left and that transition from high school to college is more a strength thing, and more of a balance thing, I would say. Because in high school you could get away with being a little skinny, or being a little scrawnier, but in college I had to be a good 220 to 230 to really dominate, low block and outside. So, I would say the biggest thing from high school to college is getting that weight on you because a lot of high school kids come in very skinny. And not getting too heavy, but getting a good weight where you can jump really well and play really well.
Craig: So, you mentioned a couple of those areas, how you work on your left and how you get to the basket. Can you walk us through an example of a drill that you do to work on your left hand, or work on getting to the basket?
Dustin: Yeah, so with my left hand I would just start at the top of the key. I would either have one of my brothers, either we'll find a pad, or we'll just use our hands. So, we'll do a couple of ball handling drills just to get our ball handling right. Nothing that we'll probably do in a game, but just to get our pad right, and probably a star position drill. So maybe in and out, in and out, in and out, two dribbles into the pad, and when I lean into the pad, I lean my left hand out. So you get the body contact, so the other guy can't jump and block it, but also getting the rhythm of the shot. And it's a really hard shot in your left hand. I pretty much mastered it on my right hand, and teams will find that out, and especially pro, you have to implement that left hand, so you used to go once, or twice, after you did the right a couple of times because they'll really scout you out of that. So, my big thing this year is doing that pad drill, getting in contact and finishing outside, so taller and longer defenders can't block me. So, that's one drill that I've been doing with myself and my brothers, and a couple other kids that I train in the area.
Tristan: Nice! Great, thanks. So you play over at Shippensburg, you break all these records. Is there a favorite memory that you had walking out of there?
Dustin: I don't know if you guys are familiar with IUP? Indiana University of Pennsylvania? So, they're an hour and 15 from me. A lot of my friends in my high school go there. In high school they didn't recruit me and, I guess, they didn't think I was good enough to go there, I was little. But whatever, I use that as a chip on my shoulder. So, we'd go there and play there my junior year and they have a multi million dollar facility, it probably holds about 8,000 and all my friends are there, and we played them and beat them in overtime. And I had my career high and me, I talk a lot. So, I'm talking to the coach saying how he didn't recruit me, just something. I try to go into every game with just a little chip on my shoulder, but that one, there was too many chips on my shoulder. That was my favorite game of all time because all my friends were there and my whole family was there. The place was sold out. I love playing in big crowds. And it was a place that didn't recruit me and a place where I would probably wanted to go because, one, it's a fun school. Two, all my friends go there and three, their basketball program's really good. But I'm happy that they didn't recruit me and I was able to go to Shippensburg and start my own type of culture there, and the chips just fell where they fall in place.
Tristan: Right, exactly. Like we said, there's dominoes. So, if you went to IUP, it could have been an entirely different situation for you.
Tristan: So you're there in college, you're taking down all these records. Was there a time maybe during your junior, senior season, where you saw yourself actually being able to attain that goal? And how did you go about reaching that goal, if you did set it? Or did these records just come about? Let me know because, personally, I don't hold the all-time leading scoring record today in university, believe it or not.
Dustin: Right. Yeah, well the scoring part was honestly just came as my work and everything. And as soon as you work as much... Like I try to get three workouts in a day, one lifting, one shooting and skill work and one playing. So the skill in scoring, the biggest thing for me was getting rebounds. So, I remember my sophomore year, there was a kid from Westchester, can't remember his name right now, but he used to attack the boards really hard. And I remember our coach putting on a film early in the year like, "We gotta box this kids out, he goes hard as every board." He's about 6'5", he doesn't weigh as much as me. And I was just thinking to myself, "Why am I not doing that?" So just little things like that. And so, my sophomore year is when I really started to rebound the ball. I think my freshman year I didn't even have one double-double at all. I don't think I had 10 rebounds in one game at all. And I think my sophomore year, after watching his tape, I averaged 11 rebounds through my sophomore, junior and senior season. A lot of players, they help you with your game and stuff, so my thing is just, I try to go everywhere and play. I'm going down to Charlotte next week, I'm playing in The Basketball Tournament. We play at Lexington, Kentucky and I wasn't going to go, but because it's in Charlotte we got to go down there for a week. But I said, "Why not? I'll go train for a week down there and go play against Kentucky." It's going to be on ESPN2, so that's just stuff I like to do. I like the hoop, I'm bringing my brother, so it should be fun. And just little stuff that I think every player should take from watching other people play. What's their go-to move? And think about why don't you have that move? Why can't you practice that move, if they're so good at it? So, just a more mental, think of the game mental and what you can do, and what other people can do.
Craig: Nice. So let's stick with the mental game. How did that develop? Where did that come about? Did you always have that focus? Or is that something that you developed while you were in college?
Dustin: Yeah. I don't know. I remember in fourth grade, because I used to play on AAU team. I'm from McKees Rock, it's not the best area, but it's not the worst. And I used to go play in inner city in Pittsburgh, my whole AAU team was from the inner city. And we were DuJuan Blair All Stars, DuJuan Blair was our sponsor, or whatever. And I remember a kid in fourth grade doing a hesitation dribble, and I kept jumping every time. And I was just like, "How do you do that?" Like, "I want to do that; I want to get people to jump in the air every time I fake shot and stuff." And I remember just him, he was just like, "Just do it like this." And I just kept practice doing it like that, like he did. And I never got it to the way he did it, even from fourth grade, but I got a lot better at it. And I think from an early age, I just recognized how other people's games were different than mine, and I tried to implement their game into my game and that just developed, and that helped me develop throughout the years.
Craig: Nice. Yeah, a lot of hard work. It paid off through high school, into college, and then the opportunity came up to play professionally. How did that come about? Tell us the story. How did you hear about these types of opportunities? Did you have a connection? How did you move to that next step?
Dustin: Yeah, so it's a lot easier if you're Division II and have that All-American status. There was 16 of us. So I was two-time, first team, All-American. It's like any job interview. You have to have some type of resume to at least play overseas. You have to have a certain height, a certain... It's easier for big men, harder for guards, because there's more guards. I'm fortunate enough to be 6'8" and have the skill set that I have, and I was fortunate enough to be on a team that allowed me to be All-American two times. So coaches, I remember asking my coach like how'd you find me in Paris? He said, I look at the All-Americans from D2 every year because you could find diamonds in the rough basically there. So I was thankful to have that for my team. And so basically what happens, you get an agent, the agent sends out a list to teams. They usually have a couple of niche markets like mine, my agents is Germany, France, a little bit in Spain and a little bit in Italy. So I kind of knew I was going to go to one of those countries. So it just so happens that Paris coach really liked my form, my size, and my skill. So it just happened where he offered me a contract probably late August, early August, and I ended up going there in a week. So it was a little stressful up to that point. But I was happy that the dominoes fell where they at where I was in a great city of Paris and a great team who is looking to be EuroLeague in the next four years and build an arena in Paris. So I'm blessed to be on a team where they're trying to be one of the best in Europe, which would really improve my status and how much money I make. I led the team and points at 10, 10.7 I think. Professional is a little different, everybody plays around like 22 minutes because everybody's getting paid. I also led the team in a evaluation, which there's a number that European teams use a lot and it's just the accumulation or like rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers negate those points and every stat it goes into evaluation. So I was blessed that they offered me a two year contract and I signed it
Craig: Yeah, talking about those stats, do you set individual goals for yourself?
Dustin: I do. Like at Shippensburg, I wanted to at least average 21, 22 and that's not a selfish thing, but I wanted to average that on 55, 56% shooting and 40% percent from the three and 85% from a free throw. Even though I never did that, but those are some goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the year to help my team and help myself. So there's always... Next year I want to improve my scoring by at least two and average 12 and get my rebounds up to six and shoot 45% from three and 90 from the free throw and 55 from field goal range. So you're just, each year you have to set those goals to... But you don't want to pressure yourself into getting those goals, but it's always good to set those goals to try to attain some and never just go into the dark into the season. I always write down my goals on a piece of paper just to make sure I'm focused on it.
Tristan: God. So give us, give our listeners a little bit of insight here. What's the talent level that you're playing against over there in Europe? Is it similar D2 players? What's the player make-up is, is it European players for the most part?
Dustin: So if people say they play basketball in Europe, it's always not the greatest league, but I'm fortunate that I was in a good league. Just on my team alone, I had Kris Joseph who was drafted in the NBA. He played at Syracuse, and he played a couple of years in the NBA for the Celtics and Boston. And he's been in Europe for a couple of years. He was on our team. Nick Kellogg, whose dad is Clark Kellogg. He played, he took UNC to the... He took Ohio to the Sweet 16 and they lost to the UNC in overtime. Also had Jevohn Shepherd who played at Michigan and Daniel Dillon who played back in the day, probably like 2006 and seven at Arizona. So, I mean the level of talent in my league is mostly mid major, high level guys who usually scored a lot in college or played... Had their cup of tea in NBA and came over. But you could get a lot of leagues where there's mostly D2 guys mostly, you may not be having all the luxuries that I get to have in France. But that's not to say those guys aren't any better. That's just the... Those guys, sometimes they don't get, they weren't fortunate enough to have a team where they could be All-American, so they have to go to a lower level and try to make their way up. You don't get many D3 guys over in Europe and it's a fair game to play because there's only one American on my team next year in France. And there's three continents so you can have a Jamaican passport and you get three more spots to be on a team. Now for me, I only have an American passport, so I only got one chance for 18 teams in my league. So it's a little harder for Americans to get over there. There's not 12 spots for Americans. There's about eight spots for French, three for African or like if you live in Europe and you want to play in France and you're not French or you've got a passport in one of those countries. So it's a little harder than people think. The level of competition is very high.
Tristan: Right, yeah, no, I just asked for, I know we've got some of our guys are playing in college right now wondering what they want to do at the next level and that just definitely gives them a little bit of insight there. So you mentioned earlier you, you were a little bit of a late bloomer. You actually grew four inches while in college, which obviously helped add to your game from every aspect, the rebounding and everything else. What did you do to elevate your game to a point where you could play over there in Europe? So obviously you didn't hit another growth spurt, I assume.
Tristan: Was it just hitting more time in the gym? Was it watching more players, was it... What was it for you?
Dustin: So Europe is a little different. So one thing I struggled with early, you know the three point line's a little bigger, a little longer, so I had to adjust shooting a little bit farther, my drills and the corner is very tight. So you really got to jump on two feet in the corner and shoot the ball instead of catching it one, two because you might step out of bounds. And another thing is they call the travel. I'd like to pump fake and I step with my right leg first before I put the ball down. In Europe that's a travel, in America it's not a travel. So that was one of my go-to moves where I had to adjust. I adjusted a little bit over the summer because I had a European coach who tried to teach me, but I didn't really understand how much that they will call it and how much I needed to work on it. So a lot of scrimmages, early on I caught myself traveling a lot because I would pump fake, step on my right and then dribble, which is a travel in Europe, so I had to work on pump faking, keeping my right leg high was a trick that one of my teammates taught me and like slide your ball again through the hoop. So that's one thing that's different in Europe. So now I'm just working on those things. Plus I'm working on a fadeaway shot where I bump, extend my leg and hold my follow through. And just like I said, add in to your bag each year two different things while working on your bread and butter.
Tristan: Got It. Yeah, so it doesn't sound like the crab dribble would be legal in Europe either.
Dustin: No, no, no. I see some Americans, they know who the Americans are in it. They're just waiting to call the travel.
Tristan: I'll bet, you got a target on your back. Alright, let me ask you here, obviously at Hustle we're all about the technology in sports training and we have our app built for all our young athletes, get on there and develop their own training plans. Do you utilize technology in your training and where do you see the future of technology and sports training going?
Dustin: I don't really use the technology in my train because I really don't have it. I just go play. I've seen a lot of trainers use those lights for quick reaction. I know Steph Curry uses that a lot. I think those are very good. I couldn't tell you what other technology things there are. I know there's a couple of balls that help you or whatever, but I think tech... Anything can help when training. If I had the tools I'd use it. The one thing that I used by technical is the shooting gun. That's my favorite because I can shoot by myself, I could get 500 shots in about 45 minutes with that. But I think making that shooting gun a lot more efficient and if someone can create something a little bit better then maybe I could do it for jump hooks and stuff like that because sometimes the ball gets stuck, the machines break real easy. Maybe something in that type of field where it's a shooting machine, quick reaction drills, anything that can help technology-wise is a great benefit to the game.
Tristan: Got it, yeah. And I think with the light things you're talking about, that's like a blackout goggles, right? That kind of block your vision out?
Dustin: Yeah. They have like the blackout goggles and then there's like the lights that light up and you've got to tap real fast.
Dustin: I think all of that is good because it gives you the game reps without actually playing the game and really doing your body a little bit more damage than you have to, you know?
Dustin: It's all about conserving the body, you know?
Tristan: Yup and increasing that reaction time as well, obviously. So that's awesome Dustin. Well, definitely appreciate your time here tonight. We want to get into something here with that we do with all our guests. It's a little bit of rapid fire round. You know we are the shooting machine right now. You're just catching and shooting. How's that sound?
Dustin: That sounds good.
Tristan: All right, let's get right into it then. We'll start off real easy. Favorite sports movie of all time, Dustin?
Dustin: Favorite sports movie? Benchwarmers.
Craig: Good one. What is the best warm up music before a big game?
Dustin: I listened to a lot... Last year I would listen to White Iverson before every game. I don't know why, I was just myself.
Tristan: That's great. Hey, once you find a groove you stay in it. All right. Speaking of pre-game, best pre-game meal?
Dustin: I usually go salad, chicken and whatever vegetables I have in my fridge.
Craig: Yeah, that's good.
Dustin: I try to keep it light.
Craig: Good healthy stuff. What's your favorite basketball shoe of all time?
Dustin: I love the KDs. I think it was the KD 10, but the air bubble always pops and I liked the KD 4 with the strap. Those are my two favorite.
Tristan: Nice. All right. Keep it modern then, love it. All right, well Dustin, we're going to let you go here. Definitely appreciate your time. Again, I mean to hear it from a professional's mindset, like your own, especially one that's living and dreaming it right now. That's always definitely helpful for our listeners and for us as well as we continue to learn about what all is out there. And before you go, let's hear where we can find you on social media, Twitter, Instagram, all of it, and anything else you want to drop for us before we let you go.
Tristan: There you go. That's all you need, I'll tell you. All right Dustin, appreciate it one more time. We're definitely going to be trying to stream some of these games this year to stay up to speed on you, see how you're doing. And hopefully we talk to you a little bit down the line.
Dustin: For sure.
Craig: Yeah, Dustin, thanks so much.
Dustin: No problem. Thank you.