Bruno Caboclo recalls NBA struggles and memorable Brazil game, reflects on Morant's case

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2023-08-29 06:57

Bruno Caboclo talks to BasketNews about Brazil's World Cup ambitions, his transition to the NBA, and the reasons he thinks cast him out of the league. He also names the best teammate he's ever had and weighs in on Ja Morant's character.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

As Brazil are trying to get over Raul Neto's severe injury that will probably keep him sidelined for next season, the team from South America is looking to secure a spot in the World Cup's Round of 16.

The game that decided which team would capture first place in Group H in Jakarta was the one against reigning EuroBasket and World Cup champions Spain. Facing one of the toughest opponents without your starting point guard isn't the best scenario that the Selecao had envisioned, but Brazil had no choice but to play their cards right. That happened for almost 32 minutes against a rival with more depth, but wasn't enough.

Now, the squad is trying to keep their heads up and their spirits high, even though Neto's injury during the opener against Iran had everyone in shock at first. That's the impression Bruno Caboclo conveyed to BasketNews.

"The first day it happened, our morale was shaky. But after that, Raul was very calm about it, understanding what was going on and not being able to do much," the big man said after Brazil's last practice before facing Spain.

"Everybody got calm. We went there and gave him support. But now we have to do a little bit more because he's out."

Caboclo, 27, doesn't think his teammate's absence will change the team's plans in any way.

"We played our prep games without him, so we're ready for the challenge and we'll play for him as well," he noted.

Caboclo said Brazil's main goal in the tournament is "to get a medal." "And the second one is to qualify for the Olympics," he then added.

Having been one of Brazil's best players during the Americas qualifiers, Caboclo averaged 15 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and one steal per game. He filled in the stat sheet and was a revelation to those who did not follow him closely.

Caboclo delivered one of the same against Spain, producing 15 points on 6/10 FGs, 11 rebounds and two assists for a PIR of 25. He also dominated the paint against last EuroBasket's MVP Willy Hernangomez. Bruno and Willy have at least one thing in common, as they've both spent seven seasons in the NBA.

The main difference is that the Spaniard has played more than three times as many games in the league as his Brazilian counterpart. Moreover, Willy came back to Europe to join FC Barcelona, while Caboclo had his first European experience with Limoges in 2021 and has never played in the EuroLeague.

His excellent season with ratiopharm Ulm, which culminated in a historic championship title in the BBL, wasn't enough to bring him to Europe's top competition. Caboclo was one of the key players on the roster, averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in Germany, and 17 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the EuroCup, where he was an All-competition Second Team selection.

Does he feel like a EuroLeague career is missing from a resume that spans over nine seasons overall?

"I think there will always be something missing in an athlete's career," he responded.

"If an athlete is satisfied with his career, it's better for him to retire. I will continue to work hard and seek new challenges and achievements for my career. I don't know why I didn't have EuroLeague offers. There's nothing I can do about that. I always choose the right opportunity for me."

That chance came in the form of an offer from Reyer Venezia. The Italian club wants to have a say in the EuroCup title race. So much so that they paid out Caboclo's buyout to Ulm, who had tied the players to a deal that ran through 2024. The deal was concluded pretty early in the summer (June 30), as all sides involved didn't want to waste time looking for other options and exploring the market.

Credit FIBA

"It's a very good chance for me because Italian basketball is very strong," he said. "It's going to be my first time there. I'm excited and I want to be focused for the whole season."

Caboclo looks back at his campaign in Germany with a feeling of pride. Having his Brazilian NT teammate Yago dos Santos nearby, the duo provided -- alongside Spanish prodigy Luan Nunez-- several magic moments.

"It was my second season in Europe and I think I did a good job," he reflected.

"It was a fantastic season, not only because of the title, but also because of the team we became. We came together in a very positive way and that's why we had this wonderful result. Playing in a league like the BBL and the EuroCup helped me to understand more of the European style, and that was very productive for me," he continued.

Caboclo, possessing an impressive 231cm wingspan, was born in Osasco (Sao Paulo) and began his basketball growth in his home country. In June 2014, he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors with the 20th pick. From 2015 to 2018, he played with the Raptors 905 in the NBA Development League, winning the title in 2017.

The Memphis Grizzlies offered him two 10-day contracts that eventually led to a long-term deal that was cut short after one year. However, Caboclo had an outstanding 2018-19 season in Memphis, which translated to his career-best averages in several categories (8.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 24 minutes).

The Brazilian international thinks it's due to the team's chemistry that he still remembers with fondness that period in his life.

"We played with younger guys, so everyone was young and communicative. I think the energy was very good," he said. 

But the versatile big man had more to say about his transition from Brazil to the NBA, the Brazilian connection at Ulm, and the reasons he thinks cast him out of the league. Caboclo also recalled a memorable performance against Giannis Antetokounmpo, named the best teammate he ever had, and weighed in on Ja Morant's character.

What brought you to Ulm last January?

I had very good references about the structure and the city from Cristiano Felício, as well as Yago, who encouraged me to go there. Honestly, the structure of Ulm is sensational, as well as the city. Another factor that I thought was important was the fact that playing alongside Yago we would create more rapport with a view to the FIBA World Cup.

How receptive, similar, or different is German sports culture to Brazilian culture and Brazilian athletes? Why do many Brazilian players flourish in Germany and Ulm in particular?

Yago and I felt very welcome in Ulm, not only by the team, but by the city as well. The city embraced the team and as we progressed, the chemistry between us and the city got bigger and bigger.

It's like that in Brazil too, but the culture is more linked to soccer teams. I played for Sao Paulo (soccer team), and Yago for Flamengo, and the fans of these teams are also very fanatical about basketball, but at Ulm, the interaction we had with the fans and the city was different, especially in games.

At the end of the games, whenever we won, we'd celebrate half-court with the fans in the stands and that was fantastic.

How did you, Cristiano Felicio and Yago Dos Santos help one another out last season? 

Cristiano helped us a lot and that facilitated our quick adaptation to the city. He is an idol there. Everyone loves Cristiano in Ulm. The fact that Yago was there with me helped a lot on the court, as we already know each other a lot due to the fact that we have played together several times. But we've also spent time together outside of it.

Credit IMAGO/nordphoto GmbH /Hafner

Who's the best teammate you've ever had and why? 

The best teammate I had was Ja Morant, a great guy in the group and also very talented.

Who's the best teammate you've never had, but would like to?

I would like to have Stephen Curry as a teammate because I admire him a lot.

Were you surprised by the gun incident and all the controversy surrounding Ja Morant?

I don't know much. The time I was there, he was a nice guy. I think everyone will say the same. He was an amazing teammate.

Credit Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

How would you explain the incident he was involved in?

He's a young guy. Maybe because he's having so much money right now that he hasn't been used to. But I think he's going to adjust and make his life better. He'll understand that the things you do come with consequences. 

Which transition has been easier or tougher for you? Going from Brazil to the NBA or from the NBA to Europe?

I think every transition has its difficulties; but in terms of going from Brazil to the NBA, it was more difficult because of my age.

I was very young and had problems with the language. It was a different culture, I didn't have my family around, and that made my transition very difficult -- not to mention the style of play, which is also very different from the game in Brazil. The NBA game is much more physical and I needed to gain muscle mass to be able to adapt to this style of play, which was not easy at first.

What do you think made you a solid NBA player for seven seasons and what got you out of the league?

I believe that my style of play and the fact that I'm not intimidated by playing against great players, and some even idols, made me stay in the NBA for that long.

But I learned during my time there that the NBA is business. Today you are on a team, go to sleep after a game, and wake up being traded to another team, or even waved, and everyone who is there knows and understands that it works that way.

Who were your basketball idols?

I have many, but growing up I like Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard. They're all iso players who play in the wing. I was very tall and long and tried to do stuff they used to do on the court. 

In the 2019 World Cup, you held Giannis Antetokounmpo down to 13 points, in addition to blocking his dunk attempt that would have sent the game vs. Greece to overtime. Was that your best moment with Brazil?

Yes, it was an incredible game, but I wasn't the only one responsible for that victory. The whole team did well, and we managed to make it difficult for Giannis, who is an exceptional, extraordinary player. We knew that to win that game we would have to make it difficult for him and other great players in the Greek team. We prepared for it and it worked.

Back in 2017, Jerry Stackhouse, coach of the Raptors 905, said that you had room to grow from an emotional standpoint. What helped you mature after your NBA days?

Just getting more playing time, both in the NBA and Europe. It's always better than not playing. I went there very young and had some adjustment difficulties, but today I feel more mature because of my age and the experiences I've had during all this time.



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