Interviews

Marc Salyers : « I never dreamed about playing professional basketball »

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A true american basketball legend in France and Europe, former forward Marc Salyers (38 years old) talks about his entire career, including his unexpected path in professionnal basketball, his love for Roanne, and also the NBA and Euroleague.

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Marc Salyers, I’m just a guy who loves life.

How did you started playing basketball?
I learned to play basketball at parks and playgrounds. Mainly, in the rough parts of town. I started playing serious and organized basketball at around 17 years old in high school, when I thought about going to college for free on scholarship. That was the only reason. Obviously, at the time, I never dreamed about playing professional or anything like that. I just wanted to go and get an education and a job. Basketball was just something I enjoyed doing. I was good at it but it wasn’t a passion that I worked hard. I wasn’t in a gym everyday when I was a little kid. I played with all the guys in the neighborhood, just because I enjoyed playing and it was fun to do.
Playing at the parks against grown men as a kid makes you tough and teaches you things I could have never got from a coach. You play all positions, play through contact, create your own shot, etc… and you learn to fight, both mentally and physically.

You are also born in Chicago, a city where basketball is famous. Did that inspired you to play basketball?
I left Chicago when I was very young. I raised in Kentucky and basketball is very very important there. It’s kinda like american football in Texas. Everybody plays. It’s not like Europe, the basketball is present at every house in Kentucky.

After your college years in Samford University, you started a great pro basketball career in Europe. How did you get exposure and recruited?
I had a good college career. Samford is a small school but it still the first division and I played against bigger teams. I just get my opportunity at the right place, right time. An Italian coach just happened to see me at the gym one day and get me a chance.

By signing to Cimberlo Novara in the Italian second division, what was your project?
It past five and half years before becoming a pro, so I was still young and I still had to learn obviously. In the beginning, I just loved to play and thought it would be fun to see that part of the world. I never thought it was going to be a career. I looked at it as…just have fun for a couple years playing the game I love, then go home and get a job. But then everything changed after my second year. I realized this was my calling. I got serious and really wanted to be great. That next year I worked as hard as I ever had and went on to lead Turkey’s 1st division in scoring and the rest is history.

At that time, when you signed your first contract overseas, had you already set foot in Europe?
That was my first time in Europe. I knew nothing about it. My city team was close to Milan and I never heard about the city Milan. My agent was happy I was somewhere like that. Coming from a small town in Kentucky and going to a small university in Alabama, I knew nothing about the rest of the world at that time.

What was your reaction when you arrived in Italy?
I loved everything about it. I wasn’t like most americans who only hang out with others americans, and only went to the clubs with americans and americans restaurants. I really loved Italy. I loved emersion on a culture, living the way Italians live. All my friends were Italians. I love the culture, to experience something new. It was really fun time during those first two years.

Then, like you said, you went in Turkey. How was the experience?
That was a crazy thing. Once again, I knew nothing about Turkey. Finally, it was the best decision I made. I absolutely love Turkey. One of my favorite place is still go back to Istanbul for vacations and I still have a lot of friends there. I repeat it but before going to Turkey, I never dreamed about playing professional basketball. My mentality was to go overseas, maybe to see the world a little bit, make enough money to live on, and go back to the States and get a job. When I went to Turkey, everything changed. I really started to work, I lived in the gym for about two years. It really pay off.

Your next stop has been Pau-Orthez. The beginning of a great love story with France?
I went to Pau for the playoffs. It was a great experience, I love Pau. I can’t say nothing about this team. There were one of the best presidents, probably in the world. I was blessed enough to have Didier Gadou for being my coach that year. He is a legend in France, a great player. I think he is the president now in Pau. Pau is the first class team. They treated me so much differently than in the past, in second division in Italy or with my Turkish team. It was amazing how great they were. Be to go there, play that style of basketball and win a championship, I always knew that France is a place that I want to come back and play.

The next season, in 2004/2005, you played for a Turkish powerhouse. After a great year there, you’ve known three clubs in less than a year. What happened?
Fenerbahce Istanbul is a big time team. It was a good experience for me. Afterwards, I started the new season in Gravelines (France), where I played three games. I like a lot this city but I didn’t feeling very well to the system. I get offered a lot of money to leave and go to Corea. I decided to take that opportunity and leave Gravelines. When I left Corea in February, I just needed a place to play, to stay in shape. At that time, the coach in the second division in Italy was a friend of mine : Massimo Cancelari. I decided to go there and play for him, just because I knew I will enjoy it.

Then, you returned to France, by signing a contract for a not very well-known club : Roanne. What are your memories there?
For sure, my time in Roanne are the two best years of my career, and not only on the basketball court. I love play in Roanne, I love the fans there, I love the way they make me feel. I love how they open their hearts and homes to me. Fans in Roanne are family. It was a great time and so much fun. Obviously, I played well, I feeling well with the system. Coach Jean-Denys Choulet and me really work well together and I think we can broke the best of each other. It was just a time of my life at the peak for sure. When I arrived in Roanne, it wasn’t a top 2 club. At that time, I don’t think they ever had a winning season in Pro A. You go to the final, win a championship and go back to the final the next year, you play in Euroleague, win a Semaine des As : that is a special thing. That is really amazing. Roanne is a small city and at that time, it was also a very small team.

During your first year in Roanne, you also wrote History with your americans teammates Dewarick Spencer and Aaron Harper, finishing the season all three at the first three positions of the championship about the point average per game…
The top 3 scorers of the league in the same team, it never happened again and it will never happen again. This record will never be matched. It’s an incredible thing. I credited all that to Jean-Denys Choulet.

What is the importance of the coach Choulet in your career? You two look like very close and later, you even followed him in Lebanon!
He is very important. He shows me a lot about the game, how to play the game the right way, especially in offense. He is a great offensive coach, he gives his players a lot of freedom. For that reason, we were so successful when we were together. Few years later, the only reason I went to Lebanon was because coach Choulet was there. He is a really good coach, he get the best of his players.

Today, are you still following the results of Roanne?
I try to. I saw that they did well in Pro B during the french cup, they won the competition named Leaders Cup. It is a little more difficult to follow Pro B than Pro A because there is less news, but I follow them the most that I can. I think that they are in the right direction and it won’t be long for them to get back in Pro A and back compete at a top level they deserve. Even if the city is small, the fans are too great not to have a good team there.

After several stops to other countries abroad, you have often returned to France. Is France a special country for you?
Obviously, I have a lot of emotions about my time in France. It is a special thing for me and I can talk about it for days. France was always a special place for many reasons. When I went to Pau in 2004 it was my first championship as a pro. And I loved the team and organization there. The President was amazing and they treated you like family. It left a good taste in my mouth for the rest of my life.

You have definitely been a superstar in France by being several times All-Star, winning two championships and « Semaine des As ». Do you regret the way your career ended there, with only 3 games played in Havre in Pro A, and then a move down from Pro B to NM1 with Orchies?
I was older at the time, I just wanted to come back and play in France. So I had the opportunity to go in Le Havre. I don’t regret Le Havre, I have nothing but positive things to say about the team and coach of Le Havre. I do regret going in Pro B with Orchies though. I’m not going to talk about why I say that but if I didn’t go to Orchies but if I went in any other team in France, I will have probably played another two or three years. But I was so frustrated about my experience in Orchies that I decided just not to play anymore and walk away. I took the contract in Orchies because the coach at the time (Philippe Namyst) was an assistant in Nancy, where I used to play with Roanne. I like him and it was an opportunity to go on the team with Vasco Evtimov and Tony Stanley, others guy that I knew. I was thinking that I will go and just have fun and enjoy basketball. I just play half a season. Into the following year, I tried to get a real team again. But it was very very frustrating, everything about the situation in Orchies was very frustrating. For me and my wife, after that experience, we decided to quit basketball and walk away.
But the big regret of my career was my time in Le Mans. I was very immature and they deserved more. It all on my fault. We should have won the championship that year but lost in the finals. JD Jackson was a great coach and a great guy… The president and GM of the club was also great. I wish I would have given them and the fans that year more. Like I said, they deserved better than how I played. I apologize to the fans in Le Mans for not playing as good as I should have.
At the end of the day…I played 4 true years in France and went to 4 finals with 3 different team, I won 2 championships and lead Euroleague in scoring…So I think my time there was very successful.

« I would have just signed a lifetime contract in Roanne and never left ».

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Among the highlights of your career, you have the second best record of points in a game in the Euroleague history with 40 points against Fenerbahce. That same year, in 2007/2008 when you were playing in Roanne, you were the best Euroleague scorer in the regular season with 22 points on average per game. In your eyes, what does this individual prowess mean against the top European teams? What memories do you keep of that period?
First off I should have the record. I had no idea that the record was only 41 points. I had many opportunities to score at the end of the game but didn’t b/c I already had 40 and wanted to get my teammates the ball. If I had known i was that close to the record I would have definitely broke it. FenerBahce was a great club and i still have friends there to this day. It was special playing against my former club and wanted to put on a show. That was a special season. We had a great group in euroleague that year. Pana, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Fener, etc… they were all great teams, and to be able to score 30+ points on each of those powerhouses was a great feeling. I wanted to show that I belonged at that level.

After being the best scorer in Euroleague, you chose to sign in Ukraine. In the same time, had you received interest from NBA teams or top Euroleague teams?
After I left Euroleague as the best scorer of the regular season, I got many offers from the top euroleague teams and serious interest from the NBA. Obviously, a bunch of teams asked me to come. But the contract in the NBA was not guaranteed and it wasn’t as much money than the contract in Ukraine, which was unbelievable money. For me, at 28 years old, I didn’t know if I was going to get injured the next day and maybe I only had one or two years left to play. It was too much money to say no to. I chase the money and I went to Azovmash, in Ukraine. Moreover, like I said, I never grew up dreaming about playing in the NBA or something like that. At that time of my life, it was just money to secure me and my family for the rest of my life. If I was younger, of course, the decision would have been different. After that year, I never had an other chance with the NBA. I played in the summer league but I was 29 years old, I never played in the league before so it is difficult. There is no potential when you are a rookie at 29 in the NBA.
Looking back, maybe it was the wrong decision and I would do it very different. Go from France to Ukraine, it was like travel to Mars. It was night and day, an another world. Both in the basketball and the country itself. I could have done something different, go to the NBA or sign for an other team in Spain for many years. Or I would have just signed a lifetime contract in Roanne and never left. I loved playing there.

The GM or president of Roanne never called you back to play for them again?
They call me to come back couple years after but at that time, it was a different team. They didn’t know if they wanted to sign me or Dylan Page. I wanted to wait a little bit, so they signed Dylan Page. I understand they had no other option, so at that point I decided to sign in Le Mans.

According to you, the fact that you never had the opportunity to play in the NBA is something that is missing in your career?
I had my chance and I told them no, I have had a life a career beyond my wildest dreams. I have no regrets about the NBA. I met my wife playing in Europe and she is the best thing to ever happen in my life. How can I have regrets?

Concerning the Euroleague too, you never received another call after playing in Ukraine?
They did but after the difficult time in Ukraine, the financial prices… Living in Ukraine is very different from living in France. Rather than go back to one of the bigger teams in Russia, the Euroleague teams like that, I preferred go back to a smaller team in Spain or go back to France.
Definitely, a lot of the top Euroleague teams, especially at that time, were in cities or countries I didn’t want to go to. By the way, I didn’t wanted to go somewhere I am not sure to get my money, if they gonna or not to pay. If you go to Greece, you never know if you are going to get pay or not. I just didn’t wanted that stress. It wasn’t about basketball but the other stuff off the court.
So, for me, I would rather be in a smaller team and play back in France. That’s why I signed in Le Mans. I made my money, I just wanted to be happy and I know I would be happy playing there. France has a very high quality way of life compared the others countries.

In a video report for a French magazine, you talked about your atypical daily for a professional athlete: go to party during all night and go to sleep during the day between practices and games. Did this lifestyle was true? Moreover, the show aspect is very important in basketball and you were known to do the show as a great scorer, dunker, but also sometimes for example with unusual haircuts. Be out of the ordinary, is that something you were looking for?
I obviously exaggerated. I just didn’t want to talk about all the hours spent in the gym, weight room and in the training room, because that is not as sexy to talk about. I didn;t like to brag about my hard work, I just let the results of that hard work speak for itself. Being a athlete is a 24 hour a day job! All the talking and the hairstyles and stuff was just for show and entertainment.
I liked to put on a show, entertain the crowds. The fans gave me so much excitement and joy, I just wanted to give them something back…with my play and with the other silly stuff.

You stopped your career as a professional basketball player since 2014. What have you been doing since then? What is your new job?
I work for an asset management firm as a financial advisor. We just launched our first ETF, so it is pretty exciting. This job came naturally. I already loved to do this with my money. I went back to school for it and get some registrations, things like that to be representative and start this company.
Two of my partners at the firm play basketball in Germany so it is a great atmosphere. I love what I do. I was blessed enough to make a lot of money in ma career. So I learn about management money and try to do the right things. Now I have the opportunity to help others. So many athletes don’t know how to manage their money.

Today, what is your relationship with basketball? Are you still playing or coaching? Are you watching games?
I love the game, especially the international game. I am still involve in my college. I went back there and coached in my older university. I did that for a year, just to help out. I am still involve with them, I help when I can but thats it. I don’t train players or anything like that. But I hope to stay involved in some way. Right now I do that by helping athletes with managing their finances and investments, but who knows what the future holds. I would love to coach back in France or Italy one day.

Did you ever came back to France?
I’ve been back to France two or three times, going to Paris. My wife is from Italy and we still own a home in north of Italy. Every chance I get home I try to drive over to the south of France or take a flight. I came a couple of times. I still enjoy and love it. I hope soon I can get back to Roanne, see the city again and some of my old friends. I think that would be very cool.

To conclude, do you have a word to say to your fans?
I hope when I am remembered they just say… « it was fun to watch him play » I don’t need to be the best, I just wanted to make the fans smile and enjoy themselves, because that is what they game me. I owe every dime I made and every memory I have to the fans. Honestly, for the people, especially in France, I just want to say thank you. When you look back to your career, I don’t remember the money that I made, I don’t remember the nights, I don’t remember the games, how many points I had, but I do remember the fans and I remember their support before and after the games. Dozen of memories I still have, not only basketball but also fans. Just thank you.

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