Former University of Connecticut star Khalid El-Amin is enjoying his European life. Playing point guard for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, El-Amin has finally received a chance in the Euroleague.
El-Amin quickly became one of the main players of Lietuvos Rytas and averages 11.3 points and 3.2 assists in 26 minutes per game.
RealGM sat down with El-Amin to talk about his short NBA career, European adventures and future plans.
RealGM: You had a great junior year in college and it looked like you had everything it takes to be in the NBA. Did you feel that you were ready to make that step?
El-Amin: I think that after my junior year it was time for me to go. I was ready to go mentally. It was time for me to go professionally. I made a decision with the help of my family and my coach. I made a decision to go and I think it was the best decision at that time.
RealGM: Do you think that the Chicago Bulls were the best organization for you to begin your professional career with at that time?
El-Amin: It was the right situation because we had a young team. I think the average age was 22-23 at the time. I was able to come in right away and play. I started the first 13 or 14 games. I was able to get my feet wet in the NBA and understood that NBA is the best league in the world with the best players. Unfortunately at that time we didn’t have any veterans on the team to keep me going so it was a long season.
After I didn’t play for a long time, I got down and I think it showed in my play. I think if I had that veteran player to tell me to keep working, keep going, I would have remained at a high level of playing. Everything happens for a reason. I learned a whole lot being a professional in the NBA and I think it helps me here in Europe.
RealGM: What are your best memories from the NBA days and do you keep in touch with your old teammates?
El-Amin: Not too much. I keep in touch with few college guys I played with. With guys like Elton Brand, we’re still friends but for the most part we’re keeping in touch over emails and Skype.
Now, though, Europe seems like my life. The best memories are about being a professional, being in the NBA, enjoying the life, trying to be the best player I could be.
RealGM: Did you ever regret your decision to come to Europe? There are some guys who don’t stop trying to make it to the NBA.
El-Amin: My agent laid out my options for me and I think coming to the Europe was the best decision for me at the time. I had a family to take care of. I didn’t want to keep pushing the NBA if I could come make good money in Europe. That’s what I decided to do. I still tried to maintain and play in Summer Leagues. Unfortunately, I just never got other chance to stick on with a team, therefore Europe became my number one priority.
RealGM: You played in a lot of countries, almost in every part of Europe except Russia. What things do you like the most in Europe?
El-Amin: It’s just different culturally. I take more attention to the similarities than differences of Europe compared to the States. You’re free everywhere to do whatever you want for the most part and that’s what I stick with. I don’t try to look at what is so different about each country. I tried the best restaurants and best food, best entertainment and I stick with those things to keep me happy, keep me going and stay focused on doing my job. I don’t give in to the negative things of what’s happening and I just try to stay positive and enjoying myself in whatever city or country I’m in.
RealGM: Are there any things, which you still don’t like in Europe?
El-Amin: I just don’t understand why everything most of countries takes so long to do. Sending money back home takes an hour to complete and the post office takes a long time to send stuff and receive things, but I’ve come to deal with those things and it’s okay.
RealGM: How much has the departure of Sarunas Jasikevicius and Jerry Johnson, two PGs, hurt the team? Right now you’re the only playmaker on the team.
El-Amin: I guess I’m the only pure point guard on the team now, but I’m going to make most out of it. I’m not going to cry about it or put my head down. I look at this as an opportunity to really show my talent and I really try to do my job and make the most of it. I’m going to play big minutes and I understand that, but we have some great teams in our group and I’m going to have to show myself. Fortunately for me I have good guys, who can shoot the ball and who can play, therefore I’m not alone on the court.
RealGM: You’ll have to face the best point guards in the league like Dimitris Diamantidis or Terrell McIntyre in group E games. How important is that for you?
El-Amin: Each game, I have to be ready to play. I understand that it’s going to be five-on-five and team-on-team games, not one-on-one. I have to be ready to play and lead my team to best that I can do it. Hopefully, it will be enough to put us in the position to win at the end of each game.
RealGM: It’s not a secret that Lietuvos Rytas is a true underdog in group E. How do you evaluate your teach chances to make it to the playoffs?
El-Amin: The same way we made the Top 16. No one gave us a chance to make that. We have to be ready to die on the court. As long as we leave everything on the court, fight, have a war out there, everything could happen. That’s what we’re going to try to do.
RealGM: Do you believe that Europe is a place, where you will finish your career?
El-Amin: Yes, I think it’s safe to say that. Europe has been very comfortable for me and very good to me. After each year I will pursue all my options and I will weigh all my options too, and we’ll see what will happen but probably I will finish my career in Europe.
RealGM: I read that you’re training your children during summer time. Does it mean that coaching is a thing where you see yourself after retiring as a professional basketball player?
El-Amin: For sure, I will continue to stay around basketball. Maybe not only in coaching but also in other areas. However, I would love to coach after my playing career is over