Naz Mitrou-Long longing for overdue Greek passport, chance to play with Giannis

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2022-02-16 11:25
Credit: Pallacanestro Brescia
Credit Pallacanestro Brescia

Whenever Naz-Mitrou Long finds some spare time between practices and games with his first overseas team, Pallacanestro Brescia, in Italy, he likes to lie down on his sofa and watch basketball.

"I'm a true basketball junkie. When we get off the phone, I will sit on my couch, pull up a game, watch it, end up taking a nap and continue it after. That's who I am," the 27-year-old guard admits to BasketNews.

When the conversation you're about to read took place, Mitrou-Long had a wide variety of contests to choose from. On the top of his list was a Milwaukee Bucks-Los Angeles Lakers duel.

Amedeo Della Valle

Amedeo  Della Valle
Position: SG
Age: 28
Height: 194 cm
Weight: 88 kg
Birth place: Italy

But the game itself and the Bucks' 131-116 victory were just sidekicks to Giannis Antetokounmpo's personal show, as the Greek Freak finished with 44 points on 17/20 from the field.

"Giannis had an insane performance last night," Mitrou-Long concurs.

"To see what he's doing at 25, that's the second coming of something insane. So, I'm definitely going to watch that game, and then I'm going to watch the first game we played against Trieste a couple of times to prepare for the next one," he adds.

One would expect nothing less from a player who has literally dedicated his whole life to basketball, as he admits. Moving to Europe at 27, after an uneventful three-year NBA stint that included two teams (Utah Jazz 2017-19, Indiana Pacers 2019-20), Naz Mitrou-Long didn't change the continent just to get his feel for the game back.

"I want to be a champion," he firmly points out.

"When all is said and done, and my career is over, I want to play at the highest stage that I could possibly play at. I want to maximize my potential and contribute to a championship-winning team, wherever that might be.

I genuinely don't just play the game just to play it. I like all the joy and the ecstasy that you feel off of winning and the emotions," he further stresses.

Credit Pallacanestro Brescia

One of the perks of playing the game he loves could be the possibility of joining the Greek national team.

Naz Mitrou-Long has never been to Greece. It might look like the most insignificant of all the facts pertaining to his background, but for the Canadian-born baller, it holds a special meaning.

He grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, to Jersey Long and Georgia Mitrou. His father is of Trinidadian descent, while his mother is a Greek-Canadian, as she was born in Sparta and then immigrated to Canada along with her family when she was a child.

However, Greece's relationship with the Mitrou-Long family hasn't been simple. His mother was the first to apply for a Greek passport. Then came Naz and his brother, Elijah, who played in Greece for the last 18 months and is currently with Apollon Patras.

"We have a break right after the Final 8 of the Italian Cup, and that's the first place I got to see," Naz promises.

"My mom has been there before, but I need to get there soon. My brother loves it up there."

The much-coveted passport that will make both brothers eligible to join the Greek NT has been one of the most time-consuming and dragging cases in the recent history of Greek basketball. Fans of Olympiacos and Panathinaikos have envisioned Naz Mitrou-Long defending their team's jersey as a domestic player.

"It's still in the COVID era when a lot of things are prohibited. There's still no timeframe for it, and the only thing I've heard is that it's coming soon," he explains.

The words "soon" and "tomorrow" are among the most frequently used ones in Greece, which probably explains why that passport has gotten caught up in the web of bureaucracy.

"My mother has applied first, and she's spearheading it because she was born in Greece. She actually came to Greece for that primary reason, and she got all the paperwork in," Naz explains.

"We've done everything that we can for my mother to get the passport - and from there, for myself and my brother. So, I'm not sure why it's taking so long."

One thing is certain, though: the Greek Federation has tried to speed up and facilitate the process as much as possible.

"Yeah, the Greek Federation has been as diligent as they can," Mitrou-Long confirms before breaking down the reasons for choosing Greece NT over Team Canada.

"It's not that I made that decision," he makes clear.

"I'm a Canadian born and raised, but I acknowledge and love the fact that I have Greek ethnicity in my blood. Canada will always hold a special place in my heart, but it's a very talented organization and program. I think doing things for yourself isn't wrong sometimes, and you have to look at the bigger picture.

I want to do something special which is play at the biggest stage. The Olympics and helping your country is one of those.

With regards to Canada, I wasn't in the program when I was young. I was a late bloomer, so there was no strong connection. We've just waited it out because of those reasons," Mitrou-Long says. 

The former NBA guard acknowledges that the passport can open more doors for him at the highest level.

"Potentially, if it works how I've heard it does," he notes.

"I'm not in control of that. I'm here to win. That's the number one thing I heard coming to Europe. There are millions of teams and players. Winning is so valued, and that's what gives you the stamp."

However, to get some stamps, he will need a passport first. Mitrou-Long reveals that once the case is closed, he won't make any attempt whatsoever to conceal his emotions.

"I will be very excited, ecstatic when that day comes when I have the passport in my hands," he says with sheer excitement.

"My brother says to me all the time, 'I might drop a couple of tears.' It means that much to us. The day it becomes official, I'm going to have the passport lying down on the table, and I'm going to take a picture of it.

That's how you all know it's official. Because it's highly anticipated for me too."

However, the Iowa State graduate might have another interesting situation if he does get the passport: playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"I'd be lying if I said he's not another incentive for me to join the Greek NT," he concedes.

"He's arguably the best player in the world right now. I actually got the chance to play against the Bucks one time. He's literally a freak of nature. He has a championship pedigree. His whole mentality in regards to coinciding with Kobe Bryant is something that I admire because I grew up a Kobe Bryant fan.

To be alongside him and help contribute to bringing something special to Greece is definitely enticing, no doubt."

For the last four years - to say the least - his name has been linked to at least four Greek teams: Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, AEK Athens, and Promitheas Patras. The Reds were the team that came closest to signing him in 2018 when David Blatt had just taken over.

In October 2020, then-Zalgiris coach Martin Schiller revealed that he had been trying to persuade Mitrou-Long to move overseas, adding that it was time for him to come to play in Greece.

"I know that Olympiacos tried very aggressively to sign him one and a half years ago. He was playing for me in the Utah Jazz affiliate team, and I was glad he stayed, but as someone who wants what's best for him, coming to Greece would be the right thing to do. Getting the Greek passport will help him, but he'll also need some time to adjust," the Austrian coach said.

Credit Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images/AFP

"There were a lot of healthy conversations, and we were close to making some steps in those directions," Mitrou-Long now ponders.

"I think there was common ground and understanding that they wanted to see more out of me, and I had more to prove. That was respectable, regardless of what I believed.

But Patras have got my little brother right now. He's holding it down over there."

If Elijah is balling out in Greece next to Naz's former Iowa teammate Giorgos Tsalbouris, Pallacanestro Brescia are more than happy to have his elder brother as one of their leaders. Mitrou-Long averages 16.6 points on 40.8% three-point shooting, 4.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 3.2 turnovers, and 17.2 in PIR over 23 LegaBasket Serie A contests.

Brescia are currently sitting third in the standings, only next to AX Armani Exchange Milan and Virtus Segafredo Bologna. They boast an impressive 12-7 balance which might allow them to knock on the door of European competitions next year.

But the most accessible short-term goal for coach Alessandro Magro and his players is the Italian Cup, which will be held in Pesaro between 16 and 20 February.

The team from Lombardy had a terrific 2017-18 campaign when they finished 4th in the league and reached the Cup final game. This season bears a strong resemblance to it.

"It has a great home feel to it. I love Brescia," Mitrou-Long comments on the team.

"First and foremost, it starts with everybody on top. Mr. Mauro Ferrari has done a great job of selecting who wants to steer this ship, and then it goes down to Marco Patuelli being our general manager and Ale being our head coach.

They've had a vision, and that's why they've re-started this year. Not to say that the team didn't have special players last year, but that's how they felt. With their vision and direction, they've put together a puzzle piece.

I have to commend them first and foremost, but we also have players who love the game. I could literally go down the line with our whole roster. Everybody wants to win. It all meshes and comes together."

Credit Pallacanestro Brescia

Naz Mitrou-Long also talked to BasketNews about his season in Italy, his "partner in crime" Amedeo Della Valle, who's the scoring leader in the Serie A, his biggest NBA takeaway, and how the nickname "3sus Of Nazareth" stuck with him.

The hashtag accompanying the team this season reads 'Dream big'. How big are Brescia's dreams?

We want to dream big, and there's no limit to it. We can't put a cap on dreaming big. We want to win and bring success to the city of Brescia and to our program. The Final 8 is definitely in our sights. We just want to be the best team that we can be. As our coach says, we're doing that by being humble - and that's not going to change.

Brescia's last defeat was two months ago, to AX Armani Exchange Milan. Since then, your team has been on an 8-game-winning streak.

The standings seem to be a considerable disparity between the Milan-Virtus Bologna cluster and the rest of the teams. Is it so, or do you think those teams can be beaten down the road?

I would be ignorant to say numbers are lying because they don't. You can clearly see that Milan is holding their way in the Serie A and the EuroLeague. Then, you have Virtus Bologna, who also is a great team, well put-together, and well-coached.

With that being said, it's basketball. Here in Europe, in 40 minutes, on any given night, you can get beaten. We pay our respects to the players and coaches of those organizations, but we want to challenge those guys. We want to give them the ultimate competition and maybe de-throne them.

You have formed a formidable duo with Amedeo Della Valle. Coach Alessandro Magro has drawn comparisons with the dominant Terrell McIntyre-Rimantas Kaukenas combo, who played in Siena from 2006 through 2009. How have you managed to be so effective and find the right balance when playing together?

I think it's because we have mutual respect. I have no shame in saying this: Amedeo is probably the best shooter I've ever played with. He's very knowledgeable and has a high I.Q. We feed off each other. When either one of us is hot, the whole team knows it.

With regards to the history of Italian basketball, Siena had been a powerhouse. So, I'm honored to be in any type of conversation as far as being a part of a dynamic duo, as those two great guys had been in the past.

Playing with Amedeo is an honor because I have him to lean on, and he has me. But it's the whole group as a unit. Without it, we wouldn't have had success as a team.

Credit Pallacanestro Brescia

Amedeo has said that you both attended the same High School, Findlay Prep, in Las Vegas, which has left a long-lasting impression on your game. Is it so?

Yes, it is. Although we were a year apart, we played in the same system, went through the same grind, and were successful at the school. I admired his game, and we made jokes all the time about how I used to watch him then. He used to wear all those accessories: the shooting sleeve, the tights, the nice kicks...

But he was always a hell of a shooter, and every time we saw each other, it was always good vibes. There's something about Europeans in general. We just click. When I saw him here for the first time, we were both ecstatic from day one. That hasn't changed since.

The team also comprises veteran players with EuroLeague experience, like David Moss and Kenny Gabriel. To what extent have they made your transition to Brescia smoother?

It's literally everything! I was having a conversation with our Players Development coach Isaac Jenkins, and I was telling him that I wouldn't have been able to transition as smoothly as I have if it weren't for guys like that.

Kenny Gabriel has won at the highest level, and so has David Moss. There's no secret to success; that's hard work, and those guys are the epitome of it.

David is my roommate on the road, and anytime I get to pick his brain, I do it. Kenny shows me videos of his time with Panathinaikos, how the streets looked, and the feeling in the arena when they won the championship.

I can see the emotions through their faces, contributing to the "dream big" mentality.

Overall, was there anything about the European game or the Italian league that gave you a hard time? - because it looks like you adjusted pretty quickly to it.

The first couple of games were not easy for me.

I remember going to Varese, and I was looking around to see a very dark atmosphere, with highlights of red. It was a very hostile environment because the crowd was harking on the refs and us.

It was loud and hard to get the play calls off. I remember saying to myself, "everything they said about European basketball, with regards to physicality, hostility, structure, is all true."

In the next game, when we played Trieste, something clicked. I watched a film and saw the pace I needed to play at and what our guys Kenny and David were talking about. My coming-up party was against Napoli, and since then, I've felt really comfortable being in this position.

Many were surprised to see you sign your first overseas contract with Brescia last summer. Brescia are not a powerhouse team, in the sense that Armani Milan and Virtus are, plus they're not playing in any European competition. Many wondered and said, "why Brescia, why now?".

First of all, my agent and I felt like it was time to go pursue something that could build my resume; allow people to see the true me, allow people to realize that I can do this from a professional standpoint and against better competition.

The G League is not the type of basketball that you get here in Europe or the highest level in North America. So, it was time.

There was a lot of hype about me coming here, but there wasn't really a team that wanted my true self. Ultimately, this is the organization that we fell in love with because they wanted me to be the point guard to lead the team and allowed me to learn through my mistakes.

It caught people off-guard, but it was no mistake to us. Once I had a conversation with the organization, I just felt comfortable.

You got to play only 20 NBA games across three seasons (2017-20). That's less than half the number of games you're expected to play with Brescia this year. I understand that it has always been your dream to play there, and it was something you weren't going to give up on, but do you think that maybe the payoff was too little compared to the time you spent there?

I don't, because the knowledge I got from watching the guys that I was fortunate enough to be around and compete against is immeasurable and priceless. I was on two very good teams, playoff contenders every year in Utah and Indiana. I can go down the list of guys I'm still in contact with.

Ricky Rubio will ring a lot of bells here in the European lands. That was somebody I studied every time I went to the gym - his pace, his passing ability, the way he developed his jump shot.

Then, you got stars in Donovan Mitchell and Malcolm Brogdon, who's one of my favorite players. He was kind of a Deron Williams type. I watched and competed every single day to be who I am today. Regardless of the 20 games or showing up and actually playing, it all prepared me for this moment.

Would you say that the G League has given you a lot more playing experience than the NBA?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look at the numbers. It's not like I was contributing much while in the NBA. I had some opportunities, but besides that, I was pretty much playing in the G League.

Do you see this season with Brescia as an opportunity to raise your NBA stock?

It can definitely contribute to that. We're not playing against people who haven't been highly regarded at some point. This is a well-respected league. But I'm trying to take that challenge on and not think about the outside noise. I'm just here to play.

You said in an interview that if it hadn't been for COVID, you'd probably have landed in Europe sooner. What made you change your plans, and where would you play back then?

I'm not sure. It could have been anywhere. We put a hold on that because I wanted to stay close to my family. COVID was a big deal, and the world didn't know what that virus really was. For it to be my first year to leave, I was uneasy being out here when literally the whole world was in shambles.

Would you like to be given the chance to play with your brother? One year ago, he said that he turned down an invitation from Team Canada because his goal and his dream have always been to play with Greece.

We're blessed. We were raised in a household where family is everything to us. He's not just my brother, he's my best friend. We talk as often as somebody can speak about anybody. So, if we share the same court, that would be a dream come true. The way we complement each other in real life would just carry on to the court.

How, by whom, and why did the nickname "3sus Of Nazareth" come up?

I went to Iowa State University, which is the home of the Iowa State Cyclones. They have one of the best college atmospheres in the country, and the fans there are as loyal and wild as they can be.

I played the role of the catch-and-shoot shooter. That's what they needed and who I decided to become for the team. I shot a lot of threes, finishing second on the all-time three-point list.

Somebody, somewhere, said I'm "3sus Of Nazareth" and obviously, Jesus is from Nazareth. The nickname just stuck, and I thought it was pretty cool. But once I got some sacrilegious tweets, I let the fans do that.

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