Maurice Dixon

@WriturRece |

Almost two decades ago, I met Mike on the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and we’ve been homeboys ever since. We had a common interest in sports, basketball video games and excelling as students while hoping to say the right things to some of the pretty girls.

As we moved further from the Scott Hall dorms, we continued to discuss and debate sports but Mike discovered a new hobby–golf. This was surprising since I always viewed the sport and still do as extremely boring (especially on television) even though I did enjoy myself at Putt-Putt Golf and Games in Wilmington, NC before it went out of business.

However, Mike continued to swing away at driving ranges and courses, and now his game is at respectable level. As a result of those rounds of golf, Mike ran into former Michigan forward and current international baller Brent Petway, who is preparing for another season of overseas basketball.

“I give respect to all the guys who played overseas because maybe they have to leave their family here but when the kids get old enough to go to school some of those countries don’t have American schools, English-speaking schools so you have to leave your family for 10 months,” said the 33-year-old Petway. “It’s a grind and people don’t understand how much of a grind sports is especially if you are away from the family. We don’t get Christmas. We don’t get Thanksgiving.

“Sometimes some of the wives, who are with our American players, will get together and have a big Christmas dinner. We will try to do something but some guys don’t have their family there. At three in the morning you are calling people back home and they are just getting off work or whatever. It’s a big time grind but also a good experience to see different countries. I speak Greek now fluently and a little bit of French. It’s cool to be able to do stuff like that but that grind is crazy.”

With the assist from Mike, I was able to sit down with Petway, who plans to sign with a team in Japan or Israel, to talk about life after basketball, the reality of playing overseas, his list of the greatest dunkers and other relevant and debatable topics in this edition of 1-on-1.

You are now on the back end of your career. How much longer do you plan on playing?

Since I’m overseas I’m trying to do it for two more years. Then I’m going to decide if I’m going to coach over there or here. I got some offers to go over there already. I got a place I can go right now with one of my old teams because the owner loves me. That is a good look.

The team you are referring to is Rethymno B.C. for which you played two seasons with and averaged nearly 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks during the 2012-13 season. What was working for you that season?

We played uptempo. This was the first European coach that I’ve seen play like that. We played like the Phoenix Suns but he wanted defense too. If you couldn’t play defense you really couldn’t play for him but we would go trap full court. I was all over the place, trapping full court and we were running. I was playing the five and I was the same size I am now. I would roll and catch alley oops and also pick and pop so it would cause problems for those European big guys because they aren’t used to guarding someone off the bounce at the five. It caused big problems for teams playing against us. We taught everybody on the team that when we got on the fast break nobody goes inside except Brent.

Coach wanted a dunk or a 3-pointer so that style just worked for me. Everything was open for me where I can take guys off the bounce or pick and roll and its open–catch the alley oop or whatever. That was the team’s first time in the first division and we finished in third place. The club was like we never expected that. The coach was the one who got me shooting the ball. Everybody else was like dunk. Be around the rim. He was like ‘Nah with me you are going to shoot. We are going to get in the gym and shoot.’ That ended up getting me paid because I was a four man on the big level that could shoot and get to the rim and block shots so it made me a different kind of player. Most of the four men over there could shoot but were not athletic. I always thank him. Every time I see him I tell him ‘Man you got me paid.’

Anything surprise you about basketball overseas?

It’s totally different. It’s closer to the college game. That defensive three-second rule makes a huge difference of how open the court is. In Europe, it’s not open like that so you really have to be creative. I’m a four man there and a three man here. The four man can shoot because you have to open the paint up so the five man can work in the paint on the pick and roll. Everybody else is kind of spread out to be able to have that space so the guards can get to the hoop. If you got a four man that can’t shoot, the paint is really lame. They can sit in there all they want to so that is the biggest difference.

And the traveling call over there ain’t like in the NBA where they will let you get away with a step like crazy. Over there you might take two steps but if it looks funny the ball is going the other way. On a fast break, you can’t catch the ball and run with it then drop it. You got to pat it down on a fast break. If you catch the ball on the wing in a triple threat and you swing then step, you can’t do that. I got to put it down and then step to make the game closer for them because they are slower than us. They got some rules there where they try to help their players out. Rookies who go over there I always tell them ‘Too many steps rook.’ They look at the ref and ask ‘What did I do?’

Since you are a more experienced player now do you take any younger players under your wing?

All the time. Now that I have played at the Euroleague level–that is like their NBA–teams will take me and say ‘Look out for this 20-year-old Greek dude or a 20-year-old Italian dude’ that they are trying to groom to get better. Then too at my same position there will be a younger American that I see struggling with the game. I will take them under my wing and say this is what you got to do because it’s a whole different game. It’s like you can say something to a coach that is wrong and next year you might not be able to get a job because that coach will go and tell every other coach.

Those coaches call the team that you played with and they will be like ‘How was this guy? Bad character? Okay we are going to move on to the next one.’ So it’s a lot of guys I had to tell ‘You gotta chill because all of that gets around–everything that you do.’ It is a bunch of stuff you gotta watch out for. So I try to take any guy who I think got some potential or even if they don’t just to keep getting some money because we all got families to feed so I try to teach guys this is a business and you got to carry yourselves like businessmen.

Before your basketball career overseas got rolling, you had a tour with the Harlem Globetrotters. How was that experience?

My rookie year in Greece I dislocated my shoulder and I was out for like six months. That team stopped paying me while I was rehabbing so I finished the year in France and I didn’t like my coach in France so I was done with Europe. Done with basketball for real. So the Globetrotters called me. They wanted me out of college when they saw the dunk contest in college.

I was a natural fit because I’m already a showman anyway. It was a great experience for the whole year but it just got boring. You do the same show city to city. It doesn’t change. The same plays because it’s a show. I went to 20 different countries one year and that was cool but I was like ‘I want to play some real ball.’

I noticed your nickname is Air Georgia which coincides with Vince Carter’s nickname Air Canada. How did that nickname come about?

When I got to Michigan one of the girls who was in one of my classes was a crazy Michigan fan. She grew up in Detroit and came to all of the basketball games. When I first played in a preseason game, we were playing like a D-league team and I got a steal and windmilled it on the first play of the game. The next game I came to they had signs. She had a sign ‘Air Georgia.’ Like I said I was a showman so before the games during warm ups, I’m throwing the ball off the shot clock. I’m throwing the ball to fans in the crowd. They are throwing it back up so they started calling me Air Georgia then ESPN got a hold of it.

What is your most memorable dunk?

It is probably two in college that I will never forget. One of them we were playing Notre Dame on CBS. This was the year they had Chris Thomas. This was my freshman year and we were playing them at home. Late in the second half, my point guard missed the layup and I caught a tip dunk. A Kenyon Martin tip dunk where I’m shaking the rim, coming down screaming at everybody. At the end of that game I got the game-winning block too.

Then there was one Big Ten game when Illinois had Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head. I caught Roger Powell. It was at their gym. My boy Bernard Robinson dished it to me coming down the middle and I caught Roger Powell with the left hand leaning. One of those where he jumped. I dunked it hard and came right down in front of his student section, stared at him and got the whole boo treatment. I always like away games better than home games. When you get the crowd to shut up for a second then you know you did something.

I’m a huge fan of dunks and players getting dunked on. Who are your top five dunkers?

I tell people all the time a lot of people have dunk contest bounce and then there is game bounce. Some people liked James White. He could do everything from the free-throw line but in the game you don’t see him dunk on people because he is a one-legged jumper. So in the games you got [Michael] Jordan, Dominique [Wilkins] and Vince [Carter] off the rip. Those three are not negotiable cause Dominique would do the double pump on people in the game and that is who I grew up watching. That is how my favorite dunk became the windmill cause of Nique because he was doing it in the dunk contest–two hands or one hand with power.

You got those three, then it is up in the air. I liked Larry Nance because he was longer and could move the ball on people. Then of course you got Dr. J [Julius Erving] but I never got to see him because he is much older. Then you got the small guys like Nate [Robinson] and Kevin Johnson. Kevin Johnson turned it over on the big fellas. He caught a lot of them going baseline like that.

Then you got these new guys. They are on steroids it seems like. Some of their bounce like [Zach] Lavine but he is a one-legged jumper and then Aaron Gordon to be 6-9 and 240 and be able to jump like that is crazy. LeBron [James] is a great in-game dunker. I think that is why he never did a dunk contest because he doesn’t have a lot of stuff but if you get in a game he will take off on you and he got that power with him. At No. 4 and 5, I think it’s really just preference after that.

What are your thoughts on this current era of NBA basketball?

I think it’s another whole game from what I grew up watching in the 90’s. The Bulls and the Knicks was physical basketball. I see a lot of the European game coming over here now. You got [James] Harden who draws fouls like crazy and that is exactly what the guys over there do. They come into you just to get the foul. They don’t even try to make the shot. They just come to get a foul. It’s like how am I supposed to play defense when he is running into me. Now it’s just a different game. You can’t compare the eras at all.

You can’t compare LeBron to Jordan at all because it’s just a different game. Plus I think LeBron should be compared more to Magic [Johnson] cause of how his game is. He is a passer. He can score it but he wants to get everybody involved first then get his. Magic could give you 30 but he is also coming down trying to get everybody involved. I think that comparison for him is unfair. When it comes to trying to say who is the Greatest of All Time, you can’t really do it because if you say rings it’s Bill Russell over Mike but that is a different era. But if you say overall game then Jordan was a terror on defense too. I don’t know man.

I know a lot of these guys who play today are still your peers but is there anybody you enjoy watching?

I like [Russell] Westbrook. Even though it’s hard to say I mess with Westbrook because he’s going to do some wild stuff and I don’t like that kind of basketball cause I’m used to the European game now where you get rid of the ball but he’s a dog. If he knows his team is not better than the other team he is still going to give you 110 percent every time like ‘I’m going to shoot this 40-foot 3 that is going to hit off the back of the glass but I’m also going to come back and play defense as hard as I can’ so I like watching him just because he is a competitor. I like Jimmy butler because he is a competitor and of course I like watching that LeBron/KD [Kevin Durant] rivalry. KD can put the ball in the hole but I get mad when LeBron switches off of him because it’s like you ain’t going to take the challenge but KD is a great scorer.

So you met Mike while playing golf. Is golf something you like to play regularly?

My stepdad got me into it in high school. Not every weekend but when he would be off we would hit the course and that got me into it. In college, I could play the Michigan course for $5. When I had a chance I would get out there but it doesn’t stop snowing until March/April. I try to get out there when I can but my game will never be good cause I’m gone for 10 months and I can’t golf. I get my stroke back for two months but then its gone again.

Basketball has taken you from Griffin High to all around the world. Which country have you enjoyed the most?

Greece is my favorite. I played there five years. I learned the language. The weather is like here [metro Atlanta]. It doesn’t get too cold. You got the water. You wake up in the morning with the beach right there and it’s sunny.