ecently, Dan Grunfeld ’06 signed a new deal in the Israel Basketball Super League with Hapoel Jerusalem. He’s been playing professionally for varying foreign leagues since 2006. Before playing professionally, he played at Stanford from 2002-2006. He’s also the son of Ernie Grunfeld, who played in the NBA and now acts as the GM of the Washington Wizards.
This is my interview with Dan.
The Daily Axe: How did growing up the son of a professional basketball player affect your development as a player?
Dan Grunfeld: First of all, it was really cool. Growing up, I was always going to practice with my dad and his teams, and when I was growing up that was the Knicks, so I was always hanging around practices. I knew all the players, and it just gave me, not only great personal experiences, but also just a lot of experience with the game of basketball, and being around it, so that was pretty cool. Going to games, traveling, all that stuff was awesome, and I really have fond memories of all that stuff.
From a personal standpoint, I mean, it’s great. My dad knows so much about the game and has so much experience at every level, and I think it’s a big advantage for me, as I was growing up and even today, just to be so close to someone who knows the game that well.
DA: What was it like playing at Stanford, compared to your experience as a professional player?
Grunfeld: Well, college is different, it’s a different time in your life. But I loved it; Stanford is an amazing place. It was just a great time, and at that age, you’re still learning the game, and really developing. I just had amazing relationships with my teammates, and I was on some very good teams.
It was just a real growing process for me, and I loved the time there. But once you become a professional, it’s a different ball game. You’re playing for money, and you’re not going to school, and you don’t have people looking over everything you do. So it’s a whole different world between being a collegiate athlete and a pro athlete, but they were both a lot of fun. I’d rather be a pro (laughs), but they were both really good.
DA: You’ve talked about some of your experiences transitioning from college. You played in preseason with the Knicks and eventually signed overseas. What was it like making the transition from college ball to playing overseas?
Grunfeld: It’s an adjustment. European basketball is really different from basketball in the states, and it’s definitely an adjustment. My first year out I played in Germany, and it really helped me get to know European basketball, and learn what’s it like to be a professional, to be on your own and take care of the things you need to take care of. I did go to training camp with the Knicks a few years ago, which was a great experience. After that, I went to Spain, and it’s been fine. When you come out of college, of course your focus is on the NBA, and that’s where you want to be. But as you get more experience and are around a little bit, you see there are a lot of great opportunities in leagues around the world. So for someone like me, I’m very content where I’m at and what I’m doing right now.
DA: In these European leagues, what’s the relationship with the fans like, in comparison?
Grunfeld: They’re really passionate, even compared to the NBA or college. In Europe, it’s definitely a more intimate fan experience than in the NBA because the towns are smaller. Fans of the team, I might see around, consistently. And they beat drums. They just do some things that are a little different. Sometimes they throw things on the court. They’re a little rowdy at times. I’ve seen fans spit on the court, which is not very pleasant. In college, obviously fans are students and your friends, which is cool.
DA: So it’s a lot more “up close and personal” playing overseas?
Grunfeld: I would say that’s accurate.
DA: The big story in basketball right now is the NBA lockout. What’s your perspective on the dispute the owners and players have with each other? [Note: This question was answered before the most recent developments in lockout negotiations, namely the players’ union's choice to decertify.]
Grunfeld: All I can say about that is, I hope a resolution is reached, and there can be NBA basketball. Because as a fan, we all love watching it, our favorite players and our favorite teams. I’m right there in that same boat. As far as who’s right and who’s wrong, and who should do this and who should do that, I leave that to the people who are actually in the room and know the specific details of the situation. I think there are smart people on all sides working on it, and I put my faith in them. I hope something can get done sooner rather than later, so we can all start watching basketball again.
DA: We talked about Stanford earlier. Since you left, there’ve been many changes to the program, including a new coach and a new AD. How do you see the program currently, and where do you see it going in the future?
Grunfeld: I think that our program, first of all, is in very good hands right now with Coach Dawkins and his staff. I know they’re working really hard and they’re doing a great job. I think every program has peaks and valleys, and we had an amazing run. And that was part of the time I was there, during that run. There were all these great teams, and Mike Montgomery had an amazing thing going.
But at the same time, Coach Dawkins has great experience at Duke, and I think our team right now is very young and they’re developing. But there’s a lot of talent there, and when you’re talking about a place like Stanford, which I guess is in the Pac-12 now, which is an awesome place to play and such a great place to study as well. So I have faith that they’re going to get the student-athletes that they had in the past and that they have right now, and develop them and have a great program for years to come.
DA: You’ve been very successful during your time in the Israeli Super Basketball League over the last couple of years. How are the style, speed, and coaching style different in this league, compared to others?
Grunfeld: All leagues have their specific qualities. For instance, the leagues in Spain are very physical. I think in Israel it’s a faster-paced game. Your 4s might be smaller 4s, maybe 4-3 or 3-4 type players, who do a little pick-and-pop and different things. So it’s an up-and-down pace. The coaching is very tactical: A lot of schemes and different things are thrown out. It’s an interesting place to play. It’s a fun place to play-a very competitive league with a lot of talent. You look at every team, and there’s guys that had a lot of success in college, and probably even the NBA. So it’s a very competitive league, and a fun league.
DA: Finally, you’ve written before that your favorite experience as a college basketball player was (in Stanford’s famous win over Arizona) “The Shot”, by Nick Robinson in ’04. What’s been your favorite basketball experience as a pro?
Grunfeld: I won a championship my third year, when I was playing in Spain. We won the championship in the second league. That’s a really big deal, because then you’re promoted to the first league, which is the best league in Europe [Note: This is a reference to the ACB.]. And we won the championship on our home court, and we had a victory parade, and all the stuff that goes along with it. It’s not often you win a championship, a real championship, and it’s an amazing feeling. So that was something I’ll never forget.
Thanks again for taking the time to talk, Dan.
(Headline image courtesy of Dan Grunfeld)