Ronaldo Segu: How Grizzlies Summer League attraction bloomed among NBA veterans in Greece

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2023-06-01 13:00

Ronaldo Segu didn't become a soccer player as he wanted to. He didn't get to play in the NBA either, even though he made Ja Morant ecstatic with his moves. Nor did he manage to lead his first pro team to Greece's top division, albeit winning season MVP honors. But all that doesn't matter anymore, and here's why.

Credit: Psychiko BC
Credit Psychiko BC

Usually, a player named Ronaldo shouldn't be playing basketball. Under normal circumstances, someone who had Ja Morant hyped up and dancing with his ball-handling skills and pump fakes shouldn't be making a living in Greece's second division.

And in a perfect world, it would only make sense that the team with the best record, the season MVP and the Coach of The Year would be the first to get promoted to the country's top flight. 

For better or for worse, nothing of all that is true. Ronaldo Segu took up basketball as a professional occupation as soon as he came to terms with the fact that his family couldn't finance his dreams of becoming a legit soccer player.

"I used to play soccer before I started to take basketball seriously. Unfortunately, soccer in the States is very expensive, so my parents couldn't afford it. Then, I started playing basketball," Segu, 22, told BasketNews in Athens. 

Credit Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Being of Haitian descent, the American guard said the way his parents came up with his name was rather simple.

"My father's name was Ronald, so they just put the -o at the end," he explained.

"For real! That's how it came about," he emphasized. "I grew up watching a lot of players. So, I started working out and tried to be one of the best in the area."

That area is West Orlando, Florida. Ronaldo is, of course, an anagram of Orlando, but let's leave it at that because the story you're about to read is full of mind-boggling coincidences.

Segu, a 6-foot speedster, excelled at isolation and mastered an up-tempo style of play that suits his skills. His primary goal was to elevate his game through a program that would help him evolve. 

Buffalo stayed consistent in their pursuit of Segu, who chose the New York-based college over New Mexico, South Florida, Towson, and VCU.

Following his four-year college stint with the Buffalo Bulls (2018-2022), he measured up against other prospective NBA players in the 2022 Summer League. Segu found himself on the Memphis Grizzlies' 15-player summer roster for the 2022 Salt Lake City tournament.

Heading to Utah, he was carrying his averages of 15.2 points and 5.0 assists per game from the previous season, plus 1,115 career points and 359 career assists in four seasons with Buffalo. He even decided to forgo his extra year of college eligibility to pursue a professional basketball career.

His best moment in the Summer League came against the San Antonio Spurs. In the Grizzlies' final game of the tournament, Segu posted a breakout performance that included 13 points off the bench in just 14 minutes of action. However, his absolute highlights came in another game.

On an easy day for Memphis, as the Nets Summer League roster couldn't hold them down, Ronaldo Segu suited up for less than five minutes. In that time, he got 2 assists and 6 points. But he also made it to the headlines for his impressive handles, double spin move, and high-IQ play that made Ja Morant go berserk. 

Following that play, there were thousands of reactions all over the internet and social media, as fans rooted for Segu and wanted to see him suit up next to Morant in the Grizzlies' backcourt.

"It was a great feeling coming out and playing before a superstar player like that," Segu recalled.

"I know it's rare to find stuff like that. It was a really good moment in my basketball career, so I appreciate him for that too. He showed me love, and it was a very exciting moment," he said, referring to the Memphis' star player. 

The former Buffalo Bulls point guard had been used to getting a lot of media attention since his days at Orlando Christian Prep because of his attractive way of playing. Whether it's his hesitation dribble or his explosive first step, Segu received a huge fan following in his home country. 

New Orleans Pelicans' CJ McCollum remarked on how attractive Segu's way of playing is. ''I like his game,'' he said during the Grizzlies-Nets telecast.

Despite having a limited role with the team, Segu proved his worth coming off the bench. During his time in Salt Lake, Ronaldo played three games and averaged a total of 8 minutes per contest.

Even so, he showed how productive he can be, posting 7.3 points per game and shooting 62% from the field.

Before the Summer League began, Memphis announced that the team signed Vince Williams Jr. and Kenneth Lofton Jr. to two-way contracts. Considering the NBA teams may have up to two players under that type of contract, Segu could join the franchise's G-League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle, and work his way up. 

However, he wasn't able to land a contract in either league.

"They had a bunch of guards that were already established. They had their core guys. That Summer League was for me to display my skills to other teams. It didn't work out, but that's alright," he commented. 

Being undrafted and unemployed, Segu thought he shouldn't pull down the curtains on his basketball career just because his maiden effort to go pro was fruitless. Thus, he did what most players would choose to do - he went overseas. 

"Coming out as a rookie, I didn't have so many options because it was late," Segu admitted.

His name first came up on the news in early August, at a time when most European clubs were still shaping their rosters. The team to have been reportedly interested in signing him was Lavrio BC, then coached by current Panathinaikos Athens play-caller Christos Serelis. 

Segu's job opportunities were limited. First, he thought about talking to some G League teams. But then, he saw a new chapter opening up for him. He changed representation, choosing one of the biggest agencies in Europe (Network Sports International), and authorized his new agent, Nikos Spanos, to handle everything.

At some point, Segu saw articles about Lavrio, a team that has been best known for helping players take the next step in their careers, and asked his Greek agent about that.

"I don't think they really wanted me," the young point guard now reflects.

"It was something to say that I'm on the European market and available. The deal fell through, or they didn't like my game. So, after that, I decided to go to Psychiko and wasted no time."

Psychiko came in second in the 2021-22 Greek second division, earning themselves the right to play in the Basket League. But when they were asked to file the paperwork and provide the required guarantees, the club based on the northern side of Athens backed down. 

Segu was presented with the offer and a brief history of what had transpired a year ago.

"I knew that the team had a great season last year but couldn't play in the first division, even though they had been promoted. They wanted to add me to the team to push them over the top."

Credit Thomas Pappas

Segu did just that, pushing Psychiko to first place in the regular season with a 21-9 record, which would have normally sufficed for them to be promoted.

Alas, the Greek Basketball Federation had changed the competition's format, which meant that a playoff series and a Final Four would decide both the champion and the teams promoted.

Psychiko came into the main event as the undisputed favorite in the Elite League (the name of Greece's second division, nothing short of a euphemism), as they didn't just display the best record amongst all participants. Still, they also had the league MVP in Ronaldo Segu and the Coach Of The Year in veteran tactician Giorgos Remendelas. 

What could possibly go wrong, especially in a tournament held on neutral ground, the Ano Liossia Olympic Hall? Well, enough for Psychiko BC to finish the season empty-handed, losing out to Triton, Giannis Antetokounmpo's hometown team.

In fact, Triton's captain, Michalis Kamperidis, was teammates with the two-time NBA MVP and his brother Thanasis at Filathlitikos, another second-division team that didn't get promoted because of a single-game loss.

Psychiko was one of those cases where a high-aspiring team falls victim to a single bad game and sees the Final Four format ruin a terrific run. If the scenario rings a bell, it's probably because, very recently, another Greek team paid a heavy price for their lapses in the season's most important contest. 

"We feel like we've been hit by a train," Olympiacos Piraeus' head coach Giorgos Bartzokas admitted a couple of days after his team lost the EuroLeague final to Real Madrid. Bartzokas was voted COTY, while Sasha Vezenkov was named EuroLeague MVP. And, of course, Olympiacos had finished the regular season on top with a 24-10 record that didn't serve them much in the title game in Kaunas. 

Even the final score was almost identical. Real Madrid won 79-78, while Triton conceded one point less (79-77). 

"Those awards don't tell me anything," a devastated coach Remendelas told BasketNews after the semi-final outing that had his squad eliminated.

"I didn't like them, they were regular season accolades. They didn't make sense, what matters is what happened in the Final Four," he pointed out.

Credit HBF

Ironically, this year, Psychiko had made their intentions clear about playing in the Basket League in case they secured promotion. Another reason why Remendelas, who has been coaching Psychiko for 20 straight seasons, was in total disbelief.

"I still haven't realized what happened, it's beyond me," he conceded in distress.

"In my mind, I think we'll play again. It's what coach Bartzokas said. Really, I feel like I've been hit by a truck right now. I can't stomach it because we were better in everything except the 3-pointers, in which we are the top team in the division. The system doesn't favor the best team, but that's how it is," he remarked. 

One can say that Psychiko had it coming. What is there to expect of a team whose captain states on the eve of the Final Four that he "wants to feel a little bit like [Kostas] Sloukas and Vezenkov"? And how can this team's fate be any different when that same player goes under the name [Nikos] Papanikolaou? Olympiacos' captain Kostas Papanikolaou has nothing else in common with his 38-year-old colleague except for his last name. 

The icing on the cake would be for Segu to feel like Vezenkov, before or after Olympiacos' lost final. Even though that's not the case, the American guard can draw comparisons between his team and the EuroLeague finalists. 

"We had players of a similar type. Our point guard Giorgos Koukas was like Sloukas, so the comparison towards the team is definitely there, but I wouldn't say I'm like Sasha Vezenkov. He's a really good player, but I wouldn't compare my game to his, except for the accolades that we both won," Segu said with a smile. 

Looking back on his first professional season, he can keep smiling. In the coaches' voting for the regular season MVP, he was the obvious choice with 19.2 points (on 84.3/54.9/37.3% shooting splits), 3.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 18.4 in PIR per game. He was the league's top scorer and second in Index Rating.

"It all went exactly how my agent and I had talked about," he reflected. "I think I made a name for myself in Greece and Europe. I showed I can play with the top guys even though I was one division lower than everybody else. The league was very physical and way better than people thought," Segu observed.

Remendelas saw his go-to guy score 29 points in the Final Four game against Triton, where Psychiko came up short. Despite his rich scoring production, Segu was no exception, as he went 1/8 from distance. 

"He's a gifted and talented player, who knows how to finish plays," the Greek tactician noted.

Segu, who goes by the nickname 'Rondo' for reasons that owe as much to brevity as to his skill set reminding of Rajon Rondo, has the ability to cross over a defender and is all too happy to play the role of the distributor as opposed to being a scoring guard, something that many young backcourt players aspire to.

A quick glimpse of his highlight reels reveals a player who can create confusion on the perimeter before cutting in, drop dimes with shovel passes, and sink shots from deep when left wide open.

"Rondo's characteristics matched the rest of the players because they are different," Remendelas stressed.

"He can cut through the defense, he's got that hesitation dribble that not many players have, and he's terrific on iso. Of course, as time went by, opponent teams figured out how he plays and managed to adjust. Sometimes they leave him open, but he's not a bad shooter. He may have a slow release, but he makes them."

Another issue Psychiko's head coach sees in Segu is his decision-making, which he calls "not good." 

"Still, looking also at the highest level, many players with similar talent don't always make good decisions and take too many shots," he argued. 

Remendelas has no doubt Segu can easily play at a higher level, given he works on his body to become stronger.

"He knows that. He doesn't lack athleticism at all. He can dunk the ball with his head," he joked.

Segu is indeed very much aware of his weaknesses that he wants to turn into strengths.

"I need to be more aware during the game. The season was hard because I didn't get to play in my true position. I had to be put on the wing, but everywhere I'd been, I was a true point guard. I didn't get to show my passing abilities.

Nothing wrong with that, it was the best thing for the team. But I feel like I wasn't able to display my full potential," he lamented.

Going forward, Segu wants to get better at making better reads.

"I'm fast enough to finish at the rim, make pocket passes, pass with both hands and get the open three. I want to let everybody know that I'm a point guard. I feel like I have to be better with time and have a better awareness of the game," he pointed out. 

The best player in this year's Basketball Champions League is someone whose stature doesn't exceed 1.75 meters.

TJ Shorts has been leading Telekom Baskets Bonn to unprecedented heights. Segu is a bit taller, but he can definitely feel the connection with a player who's constantly defying the odds. 

"For sure, he did an amazing job. He probably helped me out in ways he doesn't know," he admitted.

The two don't know each other but share the same agent. Segu got to watch Shorts' quickness, the way he was distributing the ball, and his lack of fear.

"Every undersized guard, at any level, makes their presence felt by being fearless -- and TJ Shorts deserves a lot of recognition," he stressed. 

According to Remendelas, the best player he got to coach this season must definitely choose his next step carefully and opt for a good league that can help him improve.

He believes a team in Greece's top division would be a good fit. Regardless of whether or why the situation with Lavrio didn't work out, Segu has now raised his stock up to the point where he can actually name some of his preferred destinations. 

"I'd like to see myself at Peristeri," he revealed.

"It's one of the teams I watched a lot this season. I feel like I can play easily at Peristeri or PAOK. Watching their games, the way they transition, and how my friend [Sylvain] Francisco plays up-tempo, fast, making quick reads, and being a scorer and a passer, I feel like I can come in and fill in those shoes if he leaves. I can do the same thing, if not better," he audaciously claimed.

Credit Thomas Pappas

One might become entangled in a string of coincidences again, but it's true that Segu has indeed seen a lot of Peristeri this season -- and not only because they have an interesting team coached by EuroLeague legend Vassilis Spanoulis.

The reason is rooted in the young guard's friendship with several Panathinaikos players - both former and current.

First came Dwayne Bacon. The connection was obvious, as they both hail from Florida.

"It's almost the same city," Segu pointed out. "We had a close relationship even before I came to Europe. It made it super easy when he came to Panathinaikos."

During his time in Greece, Bacon was spotted watching Segu's games next to his close friend Paris Lee, who knew Bacon from their common stint at AS Monaco last season.

"He's really good friends with my best friend from college, Devaughn Akoon-Purcell," Lee explained to BasketNews.

"He introduced me to Rondo when he first got to Greece. I've taken him under my wings since, and I like what I've seen from the start until now."

Segu described Lee as one of his closest friends ever since the two players met in Greece.

"Anything I needed, Paris would come to my games and tell me what I did wrong. He's been trying to help me keep growing and humble, giving me advice," he said. 

Next to Bacon and Lee came Derrick Williams. Having another American veteran by his side made Segu feel more comfortable.

"Those guys took me in. They made a living here easier. Being around them helped me grow my game a lot. They showed me how to be a professional over here and conduct myself," he acknowledged. 

"We all try to make sure that he's doing well and give him our support," Williams told BasketNews.

"It grew over the season. The thing we all have in common is basketball. We all came out here to Europe to provide for ourselves and our families," the 32-year-old forward said. 

But Segu's prominent followers aren't limited to the green side of Athens. Some of them reside far from the OAKA arena. The Elite League Final Four allowed Isaiah Canaan to watch Segu in action once again.

The shooting guard of Olympiacos Piraeus keeps in touch with his PAO colleagues, with Segu making the most of being in their company.

"Isaiah came to my last game and gave me real advice. We talked about the game and me going forward. He told me what I have to do to take the next step and how I could have done better in certain situations during the game," Segu said. 

"With Isaiah Canaan, we're rival teammates," Derrick Williams continued.

"He's a great guy at the end of the day. He's helped all of us. He's one of those guys that you need on your team. I'm glad that Rondo has another guy like him, who's been to the NBA and knows what it takes to get to the top."

Lee describes the relationship with Canaan as competitive on the court but amicable off the court.

"People may be mad because of the rivalry," he said. "I respect that, but at the end of the day, he's my guy. Rondo is around all of us -mainly with me. I check with him every day, make sure he's good and try to keep him around me."

Both Lee and Williams are sure their friend has a bright future ahead of him. 

"He's a young guy. He has a lot of talent, and I'm excited about his future," Williams mentioned. 

"He's a star, man! He puts in a lot of work. He played in the second division, but next year it wouldn't surprise me if he played against Panathinaikos. He's an excellent player and knows how to control the game with his talent alone."

It wouldn't have come as a surprise if Segu, like any American player that sets foot on a lower division in European basketball, felt much bigger than the team itself.

That didn't happen with him since the Orlando-born player made clear right from the start that he's here to learn and progress. His complete lack of ego and willingness to listen to what coach Remendelas asked him to carry out on the court turned him into a popular figure in Psychiko's locker room.

"He adjusted right away, he had no problem," Remendelas remembered.

"He's very smart and sociable, a real catch. I don't know how we got him, he wasn't supposed to play in the second division," he added.

The veteran coach said Rondo's agent pulled all the strings for his client to jumpstart his career at that level. "We couldn't possibly have found anything better," Remendelas admitted.

Paris Lee is impressed with how his friend has managed to improve over the course of a single season. 

"He's become a hell of a player. I can see that he's starting to understand the style of play over here. He's able to control the game at a high level."

The guard of Panathinaikos thinks Segu has EuroLeague potential but would also like him to get his teammates more involved.

"He's shown that he can do that, leading his team to a winning streak. He shouldn't be playing in the second division, if I'm being honest. He's better than a lot of players in our division. I just can't wait to see him get the opportunity to show it," Lee said.

"I had been to Europe with my college team," Segu recalled.

Credit Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

"But it was for 3-4 days, and then, we went back home. So, when I figured I was going to live 8-9 months, I was ready for it. But when I got here, I told myself, 'Oh, this is really happening.' I had to make a lot of adjustments -- the sleeping time, the time I could communicate with my family back home.

I'm a very adjustable person. Once I came here, I put my head down and went straight to work. I don't think I struggled too much. I found my balance very quickly," he described.

Having found a balance between his on and off-the-court life, Segu was immediately taken in by his fellow countrymen. Lee is sure his cheerful personality has something to do with it. 

"He's a good dude, somebody you can rely on. I always want him around me because he's always positive and has great energy. He's like my little brother."

Credit AP Photo/Jeff Swinger

Williams describes him as a great person.

"He's quiet until he knows you, but he's one of those guys who can bring the charisma and the personality around," Williams said.

Panathinaikos are playing in the Greek league Finals, but the season is already over for Segu. Although his professional future is still to be determined, he expects a busier off-season compared to last summer and more offers to be thrown at him. 

"I'll take two days off and see what's next for me to play at the next level. My agent said it's still kind of early. He's a good dude, and I have faith in him. So far, he's put me in good situations," he said of Spanos.

Segu is excited to build off what he did this year and get better at certain things. His main goal is to keep proving he can play at the highest level.

"Coming in as a rookie, maybe the second division isn't where I wanted to be, but I feel like I can compete with the best," he argued.

Now, he's going to return to Orlando, watch some of his reels to see where he can improve, and take the advice of his coaches and Paris Lee. By the way, his friend wants to see him play with the team PAO just eliminated in the Greek playoffs. 

"Next season, he could for sure play in the BCL," Lee said. "I'd love to see him on [Vassilis] Spanoulis' team. I like what he's doing with [Sylvain] Francisco, and I would love to see him at Peristeri. Just being around a good coach and player like Spanoulis was, he'll definitely be able to learn the game more," PAO's guard pointed out. 

Segu won't be in Athens anymore to hang out with Lee, Williams, and Canaan, but his rookie season almost guarantees that sooner rather than later, he will be able to share the court with them.

Living up to the hype and a legendary first name is a task any ambitious player would be more than willing to undertake.


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