19 September, 2017
02 May, 2018
5 DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell | Photo: Yannick Coppin
09/04/2018
News
to read

Mandatory: Akoon-Purcell on Bakken Bears' rise in Europe

AARHUS (FIBA Europe Cup) - The emergence of the Bakken Bears threat in the FIBA Europe Cup and their deep run in the Play-Offs may seem like a fairy tale to many. Not DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell. The team's top scorer had this mapped out all along.

After a strong campaign in the Basketball Champions League last season, the 24-year-old guard from Florida had his sights set on the title from the get-go in the FIBA Europe Cup and the high-flyer and his teammates are still on track in the Semi-Finals.

After the Danish champions knocked out Ventspils in the Round of 16 and eliminated ESSM Le Portel in the Quarter-Finals, we caught up with Akoon-Purcell to talk about their success, the highlight factory in Aarhus and playing basketball in Denmark.

#Mandatory

A post shared by DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (@dap44_) on

Looking from the outside in, it really has been a fairy tale season for Bakken Bears in the FIBA Europe Cup. Is that how it feels for you guys in the locker room as well – was it something you ever expected?
Basically, we're in a position where many people didn't expect us to be but, coming into the season, we know we had a lot of talented guys and a potential to go very far. We stuck with that and that has helped us. Our confidence is through the roof right now, which is a good thing.

This is already the best-ever performance for a Danish team on the international stage. Do you feel an extra buzz from the local media, the fans and just everyone around the team in general? I heard the arena was sold out for the Semi-Finals whitin a couple of hours…
I guess you could say that, because now we have a lot more media people following us now that we've made it so far. But it wasn't much of a surprise for us, the team. It's not going to distract us from what our plans are. It's good to have everyone following us, but we're not done yet.

"When we didn't qualify for the Basketball Champions League, we had a little talk with the American players on the team. I told them that since we are going to the FIBA Europe Cup, I feel we have a great chance to win the whole thing ."DeVaughn Akoon-PurcellDeVaughn Akoon-Purcell

You had a number of big wins throughout the course of the season, a couple in overtime…but that last game in France must have been something special. Although it technically wasn't a win, was it the most impressive one for you?
I would say that arena was definitely by far the most packed one we have played in. They had the best crowd that we played against, so it was a tough environment to play in. It was very fun and it was a great game. We were down by 20 points, which was like 6 points overall because of the point difference. We stuck with it in the second half and, once we got to overtime, we knew their guys were kind of tired and we picked our game up a notch in overtime and stepped on their throats and they gave way a little bit.

Did you have any specific goals as a team in the FIBA Europe Cup, coming into the season?
In the beginning, when we didn't qualify for the Basketball Champions League, we had a little talk with the American players on the team. I told them that since we're going to the FIBA Europe Cup, I feel we have a great chance to win the whole thing so we need to lock in and try to do that. And we've done a great job so far. All of us believe that we can do it, so we just have to show everybody. So I don't really view it as a fairy tale for us. Everyone around us does, because it's never been done before but these are talented guys and a great team.

Although I'm sure it was a valuable experience, playing in the Basketball Champions League must have taken a toll mentally with a 1-13 record. Is the mood any different in the locker room this year before international games?
Yeah. It was kind of tough for me; they didn't build our team for the Basketball Champions League last season. They say we kind of lucked up and got in there because we played well in the qualification game. Coming from where I come from and the confidence that I have, I feel we can beat anybody. It was tough at the beginning, when I'd come in the locker room and some of the players were like: 'Let's not lose by 20.' And I'm like: 'We can beat them by 20 if we just do what we are supposed to do.' It came to a point, where I knew we were going to win because everybody wasn't on the same page, so I kind of had to chase stats to get my name out there.

You have a couple of new guys on the roster. Jaye Crockett, in particular, has been a big help this season. Do you think the team as a whole has taken a step forward?
Yes, most definitely. Jaye Crockett is a hell of a player, really athletic. I love playing with him. But it's not only him. We have our starting 7-8 guys and we all know our roles very well and we accept what each one of us does. I think that's what really helps. I think we're very different compared a lot of teams because we can go small, we can go with a big lineup where I play point guard sometimes. And we can switch it up depending on who we are playing and I think it helps in a major way when it comes to these FIBA Europe Cup games because it kind of throws certain teams off with the different lineups that we can use.

"Our general manager and the coaching staff put a great team together. We are probably the most athletic team in the FIBA Europe Cup."DeVaugh Akoon-PurcellDeVaugh Akoon-Purcell

A lot of coaches have said that you're an unusual team to play against, especially in terms of athletic ability. Do you see that athleticism, the up-tempo game as the main advantage you have over other teams in the competition?
Yeah, I would say that for sure. We have played a lot of great teams but we haven't ran into a team that has been as athletic as us in my opinion. Of course, Le Portel – they were very physical. We've played against physical teams, guys that play with a lot of finesse but I just feel we're the ones that really play up-tempo, pick up full court and be aggressive. I think that helps us and that's usually why we have a lot of highlight plays because when we play defense to get those stops and we get out and run, we throw lobs everywhere. It's really fun. Our general manager and the coaching staff put a great team together. We are probably the most athletic team in the FIBA Europe Cup.

Would you say that having the chance on a fun team like that means something extra to you?
For sure. The thing about our team, what I like about us, is that at any night any one of us could go off for 20 points. So if I have bad game, I know Jaye [Crockett] and Tony [Bishop] will play well or Darko [Jukic] and big fella [Michel Diouf] will play well. That's what I like about our team. We all just accept that, so if one of us has just 5 or 10 points, it's not going to be a matter of us being down as a matter of course. We all can play better but stuff like that happens sometimes. It's basketball. No one can play great in every game. That's the best part about our team, everybody is selfless.

5️⃣ #Mandatory

A post shared by DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (@dap44_) on

You're almost at the very top of the scoring ladder in the FIBA Europe Cup. Are you satisfied with how the season has been going for you personally?
Yeah. Well, I played really well until the last four or five games, where I haven't been shooting the way that I am supposed to be. But that's all fixable, they're going to go in when it matters the most. That's how I look at it. But I've been playing well. And I'm sure this season is not only going to open new doors for me but for everybody on our team because of what we have done.

What are your personal aspirations for the nearest future, the next couple of years? Where would you like to see your career go?
Of course I would like to play in the NBA. That's always been my dream. But I love it here in Denmark. Nothing is wrong with playing in Denmark to me. A lot of people look at it as a league that is not respected but the club always plays in a different international competition whether it's the Basketball Champions League or the FIBA Europe Cup.  I feel like I will play against great competition regardless if I were to stay here. 

It also boils down to financial stability and whether they would pay me what I would be worth to clubs in Spain, Italy, Turkey, France. Honestly, I'm not sure, my agent does all the negotiating with the clubs and I try not to think about it while this is going on. This is a really serious moment right now not only for me but the club as well.

"Tomorrow isn't promised. So right now it's mandatory for me to get this rebound or get this stop on defense or get this win to go to the next round. I pretty much look at everything as being mandatory for a positive outcome."DeVaughn Akoon-PurcellDeVaughn Akoon-Purcell

Denmark isn't a very popular basketball destination but from what I'm hearing, you've made it your home and you're quite enjoying it there…
They take care of me. I've got a nice house, a car. They give us all freedom as professionals. This is pretty much how I want it. I love it here. I didn't need to learn to speak Danish, they all speak English. It's been good.

There is one more question I would like to address before I let you go, can you talk a little bit about the #mandatory hashtag and what it means to you? We see it popping up on Twitter and Instagram once in a while…
I have been saying it for the last couple of years, but didn't really have a meaning behind it. Everything is mandatory. The whole thing is that whatever is in the moment is mandatory. Tomorrow isn't promised. So, right now it's mandatory for me to get this rebound or get this stop on defense or get this win to go into the next round. I pretty much look at everything as being mandatory for a positive outcome. That's the whole reason behind the #mandatory hashtag. A lot of people have picked up on it, I have a lot of friends who use it, a lot of guys overseas are starting to use #mandatory as well. It's kind of a little trend that I started.

FIBA