There perhaps hasn’t been a better, more unexpected story in the NBA over the last couple weeks than the emergence of Salah Mejri. The 7-foot-2 Tunisian center burst onto the scene out of relative obscurity to score 17 points and grab nine rebounds against Oklahoma City earlier this month, then scored five quick points and blocked both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Friday night against the same Thunder bunch. Finally, he recorded a double-double yesterday in his first NBA start.
Mejri joined “The Hardline” on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket this afternoon to talk basketball, his past, and more. Click below to listen to the full interview, and keep reading for some of the highlights.
Salah Mejri on The Ticket
Mavs rookie Salah Mejri joined The Hardline to talk about his emergence onto the scene.
On not feeling like a rookie: “I’ve played basketball for a long time. You know, I’ve played big games, like championship games, finals, playoffs. Since I’ve got here, I’ve been working to get used to the NBA, and was really working hard because it’s different from FIBA basketball. The coaches told me, ‘Your opportunity will come. Keep working hard.'”
On when he started playing the sport: “I started at the age of 18. They told me in high school, ‘You’re tall, why not play basketball?’ and I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to play basketball. I want to play soccer,’ because everyone’s playing soccer over there (in Tunisia) … At the same time, and studying and basketball weren’t related to each other, so I had to negotiate both of them. Sometimes I missed practice, sometimes I missed university.” (He would later earn an engineering degree.)
On his footwork, and how playing soccer helped him: “Playing soccer helped me in a lot of things, not only in football — I’m a guy who has a winning mentality, and that came from soccer, I think. To be quick with my size, too, it came from soccer. To play soccer, you have to be quick, you have to have good feet, really good touch.”
On his impact against the Thunder on Friday night, including blocking the two Thunder superstars: “When I got into the game, I didn’t think that I would change it, or I would be important to the game. I was like, ‘OK, coach gave me an opportunity.’ He spoke to me the morning of the game. He was like, ‘You played good in OKC last game, so be ready. We may give you some minutes.’ … The first blocked shot was not really big for me, but the second blocked shot was big because it really moved the team. It moved upside-down. Everybody was screaming, and they really liked it. It brought a lot of energy.”
On adjusting to the NBA: “I’ve been in Europe (with Real Madrid). I was playing in maybe the biggest team outside of the NBA. I’ve been playing every game. … I’m not 21, I’m not 22, you know. I’m 29, so I can do this, I can do that. But they always remind me, ‘Hey, you’re a rookie. You have to do this, you have to do that.’ I didn’t accept that in the beginning, but then I admitted I’m new here. I’m a rookie, so whatever they ask me to do, I have to do it.”
On his girlfriend, who’s a Spurs fan (gasp!): “She’s turning to the Dallas Mavs now. She was screaming more than everybody the last game we played in Dallas. I’m converting her to a Dallas fan.”
Catch “The Hardline” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1310 AM (and 96.7 FM) The Ticket.