He came, he kissed, he imploded. It seemed like Jan Vesely was ready for the competition of the NBA, but like so many before him, and countless others after him, the Association chewed the Czech up and spit him out on the Turkish league where he now resides.
After reaching a cultural climax on draft night, Vesely struggled in two and a half seasons with the Wizards before he was traded to the Nuggets in 2014. He played 21 games for Denver and promptly signed with Turkish club, Fenerbahce. All that was left were vestiges of a draft-night kiss and seemingly unrealized potential.
With Vesely on the low block this past season, Fenerbahce advanced to the semifinal of the Euroleague Final Four for the first time in club history. But that wasn’t the end of Vesely’s abrupt turnaround.
He also starred in EuroBasket this summer for his native Czech Republic and was one of the most dominant power forwards in the competition, despite being passed over for the All-Tournament team. NBA scouts took interest, but Jan still has another year left on his Fenerbahce deal and doesn’t seem too keen on returning to the States anytime soon.
“I’ve got more experience from playing at Fenerbahce,” Vesely told ESPN.com. “We did a great job here. And I’m playing my own game. That’s why I left the NBA, to go to a team where I can play. I’m happy with how things are going right now.”
Vesely averaged 19.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 61.5 percent from the field during EuroBasket, and it’s clear he’s not too worried about the next season, when his deal will be up.
“I’m not even thinking about the NBA now,” he says. “This season, I will be in Turkey. That’s as far as I look.”
Vesely is 25 right now. He came into the Association as a 21-year-old fresh off a spectacular 2010 FIBA performance for Partizan (he won the FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year award). Then he became the kiss guy for fans who still slipped on how to pronounce his name (Yahn VEH-uh-lee). The luck of the Lottery buried him in the back of the rotation under head coach Flip Saunders. After Flip was fired, Randy Wittman appeared to be #TeamJan, but Vesely’s performance was so underwhelming, he would never get the reps needed for his confidence to return.
In his final year with the Wizards — 2013-14 — Synergy ranked him below average on offense (24th percentile) and defense (19th). He didn’t have any touch around the rim and his free throw issues — 30.8 percent in 2012-13 and 33.9 percent in 2013-14 — plagued him throughout his time the Association. This was a guy who was selected ahead of Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard that year as the No. 6 pick.
People Overly enthusiastic people were comparing him to Dirk!
The draft hype machine has throttled countless players who failed to reach the lofty standards issued by the inexact science of youth basketball competition. While it’s not exactly a crapshoot, it’s still playing against House money, which is closer to plain luck than the experts want you to think. (This same luck plays a larger-than-expected role in determining the NBA champion each year, which we’ll also gloss over because it nullifies a lot of what we get paid to do.) Vesely just got caught in the hype machine, then got stuck in a weird Washington situation that crushed his confidence in a year’s time. The combination of a new culture, new team and new role was simply too much, as it would be for most of us.
So he went to Turkey and now he’s got his confidence back. Should he really rush back? Is the allure of the Association so promising that it should act as the ultimate goal of every basketball player on the globe? There are plenty of overseas stars who could catch on with an NBA club, but choose to stay in their native country, or an adopted one, because it’s more comfortable. It’s too soon to see if Vesely is one of those players or someone who wants another shot at what the NBA can offer besides the nearly 10 million he earned in three seasons.
Until then, he should just chill, feast on European competition, and try to ignore the invites to infamy until he’s ready. Only he will know that.