Luke Sikma speaks on Aito’s influence, love for ALBA & his own ‘Sikma’ move

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2021-11-19 07:30
Credit: Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Credit Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

ALBA Berlin power forward Luke Sikma has arguably developed into one of the most enjoyable EuroLeague players to watch. Starting from his court vision and his understanding of the game, the 32-year-old makes everything easier for his teammates whenever he’s playing.

The 2019 EuroCup MVP has been in Europe since 2011. After spending more than half a decade in Spain, starting from the country’s second division (La Palma) and moving up to Burgos, Tenerife (then Canarias), and Valencia, he came to be acknowledged as a household name in Berlin.

The 2021-22 campaign is Sikma’s fifth with ALBA and his first as the team’s captain, an honor bestowed upon him to recognize his leadership, loyalty, and dedication.

Apart from consistently being a reference point for the German side, Luke Sikma is the bearer of a heavy legacy. His father, Jack, was a big NBA star mainly in the 1980s. He was picked by the Supersonics (No.8) in 1977 and played in the world’s top league until 1991, logging 1,107 games with the Sonics and the Bucks.

The now 66-year-old retired player averaged 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1,0 steal per game. Most importantly, he won a championship with Seattle (1979), while in addition to his 7 All-Star entries, he had his jersey with the number 43 retired and in 2019, he entered the Hall of Fame.

How can you top all that? “By creating a legacy of your own,” Luke would answer. Of course, leaving a strong impression on the game is no easy task, let alone match Jack Sikma’s contribution and influence.

Luke Sikma

Luke  Sikma
Luke  Sikma
MIN: 26.87
PTS: 10.9 (57.43%)
REB: 7.5
As: 3.9
ST: 1.3
BL: 0.2
TO: 1.9
GM: 10

Luke’s father gave a whole new dimension to the “stretch five” carving out and mastering the so-called” Sikma move” to perfection.

It’s essentially a reverse pivot move that has become a topic of discussion at coaching seminars several times, as the elder Sikma used it quite a bit, especially towards the end of his career.

It is worth noting that Luke spent two NBA Summer League years (2013 and 2014) with the Timberwolves (3.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists in 11 games) and his father serving as an assistant coach.

While it remains to be seen whether life will again bring them together on the basketball court at some point, Luke Sikma keeps turning heads in Europe with his under-the-back passes and his post moves that have rendered him almost unstoppable on the offensive end.

A power forward of 2.02 m., the Washington-born player finished his four-year career at the University of Portland by averaging a double-double, putting up 12.9 points and 10.5 rebounds as a senior. What followed next was an overseas career which floated upward from the time he joined ALBA.

Luke Sikma sat with BasketNews to talk about the current version of ALBA Berlin, his future which will probably be linked to the German team for the years to come, how he became a master at the low post, and the basketball icons that shaped his personal style.

Moreover, he reveals that his father has grown into a big fan of European basketball and answers one of the media’s perennial questions.

How is it possible that a player averaging 9.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists over 68 EuroLeague games across three seasons is still on a team that keeps missing out on the competition’s playoffs?

Well, it is possible - and as a matter of fact, Luke Sikma has got a good explanation for it. Read on!

Hello, Luke. What do you make of this version of ALBA Berlin? How can it maximize its potential in the games to come?

All things are good. We had a slow start to the year because of some injuries, all in the center position. I really like the line we’re on. This team is a little bit different compared to the last couple of years, missing players like Peyton Siva and Niels Giffey, who had been with us for as long as I’ve been here. They were big leaders on our team.

We are going through an adjustment period with new guys and Israel as our new head coach. We need some time to adjust, but I’m excited because we have a lot of guys who can do many different things and have something to prove.

What’s the team’s goal this season? Make the playoffs, get more wins than last year, play better?

I’ve never really wanted to put straight goals on it. I know that the media doesn’t really like that. The important is that we continue and grow throughout the year. Obviously, the EuroLeague is the second-best league in the world, and it’s going to be tough for us, night in and night out, especially having a young team. But I like our competitive spirit.

I think we’re going to be able to compete in a lot of games and win quite a few. So, it would be nice to win more than last year. We got to stay healthy and have a little bit of luck on our side. In the German League, we want to compete for the championship.

ALBA have gone from Aito Reneses to his former assistant Israel Gonzalez, and the squad also appears to be different than last season. How close is coach Gonzalez’s style to that of his predecessor?

It’s very close and similar. Israel spent a lot of time under Aito. This year, it’s been a great burst of energy. Not taking anything away from Aito but having something different every day at practice is always exciting for the guys. Everyone is on board with Israel as a head coach and has full confidence in him.

Credit Patrick Albertini/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

I once asked Peyton Siva about Aito Reneses, and he replied: “He treats the young guy just the way he’s treating Luke Sikma. He’s not scared to apologize out there at any time, and that shows his confidence and his ability to coach and develop players”. How big of a share did Aito have in your development?

He was huge. I had the best years of my career playing under Aito. From day one, how he likes to play and how I am as a player meshed really well. He gave me the freedom to do things on the court that normally a guy in my position wouldn’t be allowed to do.

He allowed me to make mistakes, and that’s a testament to how good of a coach Aito is. He encourages you to play, and as long as he sees that you’re improving, the sky is the limit. He taught me a lot of things on and off the court.

In any case, it seems that Spanish coaches have accompanied you throughout your career, even in Germany. At ALBA, even the GM, Himar Ojeda, is from Spain.

Yes, Himar was actually the person who signed me in my first professional year. He was the GM of Las Palmas, kind of the junior team of Gran Canaria, in the Spanish second division. So, he brought me there, and when I had the opportunity to come to ALBA and work with him again, I jumped at it, and the results speak for themselves.

You were the 2019 EuroCup MVP. How easy was it for you to adjust to the EuroLeague level overnight?

I don’t know about overnight (laughs). What helped me was that I was able to play in my first EuroLeague year with ALBA, a team I was very familiar and comfortable with. That gives you a lot of confidence. I tried to do the same things that I always had done.

Do you mean that initially, you had a hard time adjusting?

Yeah, I think so. I think anyone would. There’s more size, more physicality, and guys are more skilled. You need to be at the top of your game every night. Also, the schedule is unlike anything in Europe. Learning to take care of yourself, be responsible, and get treatment.  

It seems a bit peculiar, but you’ve been playing in Europe for ten years now, and your personal accolades (the BBL MVP and the EuroCup MVP) came when you were almost 30. How different is Luke Sikma of ALBA compared to the player that we used to see in Spain from 2011 to 2017?

I don’t think I’ve changed too much. My role has allowed me to show a lot more things that I can do in terms of playmaking and becoming a better shooter and defender. I’m never satisfied with who I am as a player.

I try to be comfortable where I’m at, and that has led me down a successful career. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Re-signing with ALBA for 4 years in 2019 was somewhat surprising to many, as American players rarely commit to a European club for so long. However, the most surprising part is that you actually stayed in Germany despite your performances which could easily have brought numerous EuroLeague teams to ALBA’s door.

What’s behind this loyalty? Did other EuroLeague teams try to buy you out of your contract?

There’s been an interest of other teams trying to sign me, for sure. But I’m a person that trusts his gut more than his logic. Since I got here four years ago, I’ve grown as a player and really played my best basketball. I don’t think that’s any coincidence. Our style and my role here have allowed me to show my talents.

I’m really happy being at this club. They’ve treated me well, and I have a lot of respect for Marco (Baldi, the managing director) and Axel (Schweitzer, the president).

I want to represent the city. It’s a kind of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” thing. I’m really enjoying coming to work every day. I know that’s not the case with everyone playing overseas. It’s a place that I came to love, a match made in heaven. I’m excited to see where it goes.

Were you ever tempted to change the environment?

That’s a good question. There are always times when you ask yourself, and after a couple of bad games, you think, “maybe I need a change of environment”. But I have a lot of confidence in myself and good people around me: my family, my friends, and my teammates.

I always try to take a step back, realize what I have, and appreciate it. It’s not me being content staying here. I want to keep growing as a player, help the club grow, and be more of a well-known name in Europe.

It’s a long process of being part of something and seeing it go from EuroCup to the EuroLeague. It’s been a really enjoyable ride, and I’m excited to keep pushing the limits.

Where can it go from here? What’s the next goal?

The team and the club can be more consistent competitively, especially at the EuroLeague level. As you become better as a team, you get the opportunity to make the EuroLeague playoffs or the Final Four.

That will come in due time. First, you have to work for it. But if we keep on the same line as in the last four years, there’s no reason why we can’t keep growing.

You played the 2012 Summer League with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It might sound like an obvious question - because almost every American player would like to be in the best league in the world, close to their family and friends, but would you be intrigued to play in the NBA?

I mean, do you think you would be a good fit and enjoy basketball there as much as you seem to be having fun in Europe?

I grew up as an NBA fan - and especially a Seattle Sonics fan (rest in peace). I went to a lot of games. My dad was playing and also coaching there. I was really familiar with the NBA environment. Growing up, you always dream of playing in the NBA.

Have I thought about making a try to go for it? Of course. But I understand that in my position and as I get older, opportunities are fewer. It’s always in the back of my mind that it would be great to play in the NBA one day.

I have enjoyed my last ten years overseas, and I’m happy with how things have gone for me. Hopefully, I will continue to have a good career here.

Personally, your style and trajectory remind me of Chuck Eidson. He was EuroCup champion and MVP in 2009, had almost the same height as you, never played in the NBA but did very well in Germany and Spain. He was also a very smart player and had great court vision.

Is there anyone you modeled your game around, apart from your father who had that similar old-school “over the head” jump shot and some great rebounding instincts?

I grew up being a Larry Bird fan. Of course, I don’t think I’m Larry Bird at all. I respect his ability to do a lot of things on the court.

He could play multiple positions, he was a competitor and did whatever his team needed to win. His highlights are mostly buckets and passes, but it’s also hustle plays, rebounds, and some clutch plays.

I always thought that my value is to be effective one way or another. That’s a huge asset to have. Roles can change from team to team. But if you help your team to succeed and win, that can lead you to a great place.

So, I used to watch Bird’s highlights, videos, old games whenever they came out on NBA TV and see how he competed on every play. That’s what I tried to do in my game.

By the way, is your father watching your games and European basketball in general?

Oh, yeah. It’s great for him, especially EuroLeague, because he can wake up in the morning. It’s nine hours difference from Seattle to Germany. So, he makes coffee and watches the game since he always has the free time to do that. He’ll send me little messages after the game.

Right now, he’s more of a fan than anything. We’ve passed the time of him being a little bit of a coach. He really enjoys being an ALBA fan and watching me play.

Does he watch other games as well?

No, he’s a homer. He just wants to have some skin in the game. So, he’s mostly watching me and ALBA games.

What does he think of European basketball?

I think he really likes it because it reminds him of when he played in the NBA. There are no guys taking nights out, the competition level in every game is incredible. Obviously, it’s more of a team game and not one guy taking 30 shots. So, he appreciates that. He gets fired up for the games, loves to talk about it, and always has some questions.

Now, he understands more, but in the first couple of years, the European rules and style of play were different than what he was used to in the NBA. So, he’s definitely a European basketball fan now.

With positionless basketball becoming wildly in fashion, the post-up play has been pushed to the sidelines in recent years. How do you keep it alive?

I think it’s not as important or as emphasized as before, in terms of the low post. But I think it’s necessary, especially in European basketball. The court is not as spread in Europe, and the three-point line is a bit closer.

You need some people to be effective down there in the post. It’s not necessarily a big guy anymore. You need guards that can post up and open a lot of things on offense, playing inside-out basketball.

So, I think it’s still very important. Obviously, it’s not the old 90s days, when you dribbled the ball down, set one screen, throw it inside and watch him take six dribbles.

The emphasis is on taking open shots from the three-point line. But if you’re effective from the low post, you’re always going to be an effective player - especially in Europe.

When you play with your back to the basket, what’s your thinking process? Is it to take advantage of a possible mismatch and score or find a teammate who’s open for an uncontested shot or cuts to the baseline?

It depends on the situation. Nowadays, there’s much more switching in basketball. So, a lot of times, getting to the post and finding a good paint touch against a mismatch is really important.

You have to be able to attack the switch, use your size advantage, and either score or gain a rebounding position. Depending on the big, sometimes they back off, and you get an open three from the big that’s guarding the guard.

In terms of a straight matchup in the low post, I like to see if there is an open pass. Obviously, it’s harder to pass after you dribble. So, you want to take a first look at the beginning to see if a double-team is coming, how much the other team is helping, or if you have one-on-one coverage in the low post.

Your father, Jack, is a Hall of Famer, author of the trademark Sikma move, the reverse pivot or inside pivot. Is there any trademark move that you have mastered or trying to work on?

Myself, offensively? In comparison with my dad’s move, I don’t think so. But I’d say the right-hand behind the back pass in different situations turned out to be my trademark. It ends up in the highlights a lot of times, and many people see it.

It’s something I’m comfortable with, and it’s a little bit unique. The thing I like about it is that I can use it effectively most of the time. If I had to pick one move, it would be that one.

How long do you see yourself playing with ALBA Berlin?

If things keep going so well, obviously a long time. I’m excited about the vision of the club and where they want to be. It’s a club that likes to grow young players. To be able to see that growth has been incredible. It’s a really sustainable way to grow your program, pretty unique at the EuroLeague level.

I’m really happy here. I love my role, the club and the team, the city, and the fans. I don’t see why I couldn’t stay here for a long time.

Realizing that my dad played 14 years, and this is my eleventh. It would be fun to play at least as many as him and maybe surpass him. That’s a little goal for the future.

I’ve been lucky to be relatively healthy my whole career, and that plays a huge part. I’ve learned how to take care of my body. I realized that I can’t eat so much junk food all the time.

My game has never been about physicality and athleticism. So, I can always find a way to be effective, and if I keep doing that, I think I can be playing for a while here.



Show comments

catroove
excellent interview and even better player! such a pleasure to watch!
2021-11-19
+2
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