From NBA Summer League to Tel Aviv: 20-hour flights won't stop Ukraine's frequent flyer Sanon
TEL AVIV (Israel) - On Thursday night - or rather, Friday morning, Israeli time - Issuf Sanon was still wearing his Washington Wizards jersey. On Saturday, he was already blowing by defenders with "Ukraine" written on the chest.
You can talk all about dedication here. And feel free to quote your favorite national team player, how he's saying that playing for the country is a whole different animal. But the Ukrainian point guard took the "talk-the-talk" mission to a new level.
Update: Issuf Sanon landed in Tel Aviv two hours ago. He will play in today's game vs Italy at #EurobasketU20— Oleksandr Proshuta (@alex_proshuta) July 13, 2019
"It was a 20-hour long trip. From Las Vegas to Washington, then straight to Tel Aviv," Sanon said. On Thursday, he played 15 minutes for the Wizards against the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Summer League, scoring 4 points, with 2 steals also to his name.
He barely had time to take a shower before starting the long trip, which ended in the afternoon hours of Saturday. A quick check in to the team hotel, then putting on his favorite blue shirt with number 11 on and moving towards the Shalom Zysman Sports Hall to face Italy on Game Day 1 of the FIBA U20 European Championship.
"I ALWAYS WANT TO PLAY FOR UKRAINE, BECAUSE I AM FROM UKRAINE. I AM GOING TO DO MY BEST ALL THE TIME, EVERY TIME." - Sanon
"It is a good experience for me to come back and play for the national team, to be with my teammates. I will always play for the team. I'm here now, but I had like a 20-hour long trip. I'm tired. I just need to sleep," Sanon admitted.
The first game did not help his tired look. Italy blew out Ukraine 85-58, but Sanon gave them all he had with a team-high 14 points in 22 minutes off the bench. He had 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a block, and the fact that Ukraine were only a -5 team with him on the floor best describes the effect he had on the team.
And you don't even have to see the stats to feel it. Sanon was jumping up and down when he was off the floor, cheering his teammates after a good move, backing them up after a bad one, singing the national anthem from the top of his voice.
"I always want to play for Ukraine, because I am from Ukraine. I am going to do my best all the time, every time. I just want to show my best," Issuf keeps it short and simple.
The big defeat does not concern him. The competition system allows Sanon and Ukraine to grow from strength to strength before the elimination games arrive.
"It's just the first game. It's the same as it happened two years ago at the FIBA U18 European Championship, when we lost the first game to Italy by like 20, but then we were better against Spain and against Serbia and then lost by just two points to Turkey (in the Round of 16). It's just the first game. We need to be ready for anything," he explained.
A good night's sleep had Sanon locked in on Game Day 2, with the guard dropping 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, grabbing 6 rebounds and collecting 5 steals to propel Ukraine to one of the upsets of the tournament, as they defeated Serbia 68-63.
Call the fire department, Issuf Sanon is ON FIRE! 🔥🚒— FIBA (@FIBA) July 14, 2019
30 PTS in total and 14 in the fourth as he is single-handedly torching up @KSSrbije! 😨
📝 https://t.co/5YDGf0r0Kp pic.twitter.com/ZnFLaI9J71
But despite speaking of being ready for anything, not even Sanon was prepared to talk about his club future. The focus is on this tournament, especially because of the unclear situation with the actual timing of his move to the NBA, and the complications surrounding the newly formed Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana.
"I don't know nothing about this. I don't know nothing about this," Sanon repeated with a big smile on his face when asked about the club future.
It can wait. But wherever he lands, his new or old club must be aware - if Ukraine have a game on another planet just a day after his club does, Sanon will probably board that space shuttle and put on the blue number 11 shirt.