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7'4" Euro Behemoth Has Attention of NBA Scouts, the Rest Is Desire...and Diet

Published by Bleacher Report on Mon, 19 Jun 2017

TREVISO, ITALYAs a shot-blocker, Michael Fuseks timing is impeccable, impressive, perhaps even NBA-caliber. During his 2016-17 campaign with Spirou Charleroi in Belgiums top league, Fusek swatted away 9.7 percent of opponents shots while he was on the floor. By comparison, Utahs Rudy Gobert led the NBA with a block percentage of 6.4 percent this past season.But as a prospect who hopes to someday compete on the same courts as Gobert, Fuseks timing is off. If he were 18 or 19 years old, the NBA might salivate over the potential packed into his spindly frame, the fluidity with which he runs at 74, the touch with which he tosses hook shots through twine.But at 22closer in age to a second-round senior than any of the college freshmen set to dominate the top of the 2017 NBA draftFusek is more project than prodigy, a gamble rather than a guarantee.The potential is smaller with every month, says Kamil Rerabek, one of Fuseks agents, because the time is running and you cannot stop the age.Still, there was no missing him at Adidas Eurocamp last weekend. Last year, he was named the top center at the annual showcase in Treviso, Italy. This year, he was tabbed as the top defender while flashing a knack for passing that had a former NBA coach in attendance calling him Magic Mike.You cannot coach height, one Western Conference scout based in Europe told Bleacher Report.Fusek was already close to 69 at the age of 13 when Rerabek first found him in Gajary, a village of 3,000 people about a half-hour outside of the Slovakian capital of Bratislava. Fusek towered over his teammates, who in turn could have snapped his 130-pound body like a twig. You cannot do anything, Rerabek says. In that time, he cannot practice like the kids because his body was so different.Nor did young Michael have the mentality to make the most of his unusual physical gifts. He slacked off studying formulas in school and disregarded hook-shot lessons from his mother, a former professional basketball player in Slovakia. At the time, he didnt see the value in either education.I was young and stupid, Fusek admits now.But he was tall enough and fluid enough on the court to merit an investment. Rerabek uprooted Fusek from Slovakia and brought him to the mining town of Ostrava in the Czech Republic, the same town that produced former Washington Wizards lottery pick Jan Vesely. During his two years there, Fusek was exposed to the power of basketball as a window to the world. I saw there was much more than just Slovakia, Fusek says.General managers across Europe were intrigued by the tree-sized Fusek, but nearly all lacked the courage to sign a teenager who couldnt hold his ground against sturdier opponents.If you were a sane general manager, you would never bring in a kid that weighs 84 kilos [185 pounds] and measures 220 centimeters [about 72], says says Phillip Parun, another of Fuseks agentsBut Parun eventually found one: Jacque Stas, in Charleroi, Belgium. Fusek left the forests and castles of Central Europe for the Low Countries in the Northwest of the continent to pursue his hoop dreams.For the first time in his life, Fusek, at 18, was living alone, in a country where his Slovakian was as foreign to those around him as their French and English were to him. He put in the work, pulling double duty with Charlerois junior and senior squads. The team fed him shakes and bars packed with protein while he was on its premises, but his weight barely budged. Parun drove overnight from Prague to Charleroi to find out why. He arrived at Fuseks apartment at two in the morning, where he rustled Michael from his slumber.Whats for dinner, Mike' Parun asked.He opened Fuseks refrigerator. It was empty, save for a hard-boiled egg and some bread.So I threw the egg at him, Parun recalls. I said, Listen, the GM put a lot of faith in you. Were putting a lot of faith in you. Your parents have two jobs and youre feeding yourself toast. It doesnt work that way, Parun told him. If you dont pack on some weight, some muscle, youre never going to get through the first barrier to play basketball.Fusek needed more than just a stern talking-to. He had to learn how to feed himself, how to count calories, how to make a basic meal. At that point, even scrambled eggs were beyond his purview.So was the work required to move on from Belgium, let alone find a home in the NBA. He would practice plenty in Charleroi, but needed to be prodded to put in time outside of team activities. Parun would call Fusek at six in the morning, just as he was arriving at his office in Prague, to get him going.Listen, only a prostitute makes money staying in bed, Parun would tease. Its time to get to work.Parun tried something radical with Fusek. He pulled Michael out of Charleroi, where the pro club would continue to pay him, and shipped him to Washington, D.C., where he spent the winter and spring of 2015 studying the ins and outs of nutrition and physical training in the home of Blair ODonovan, one of the lead trainers at Healthy Baller in Rockville, Maryland. The next year, Parun sent Fusek back to the United States for the same crash course.The first time, he came back 28 pounds heavier. The second time, he added another 14 pounds to his frame. This year, Fusek hired an American coach, Trevor Bing, to live with himand stay on top of himin Charleroi for two months.When I was doing something other than watching basketball, he was on me, Fusek says. But I think it was good.They would watch game film together, picking apart Fuseks mistakes and studying the likes of Gobert, Oklahoma Citys Steven Adams and the Los Angeles Clippers DeAndre Jordanall much bigger and stronger than Michael, but with skill sets he could emulate.When the playoffs came, and Ivan Radenovic, Charlerois starting center, went down with an injury, Fusek was ready to contribute. He started twice during his teams first-round, best-of-three series against Aalstar. Charleroi won both of those games to advance, including one in which Fusek tallied his first double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) as a pro in Belgium.As much promise as Fusek showed, it wasnt enough to keep him in Charlerois rotation. He played just 27 minutes during the teams three-game sweep at the hands of Oostende in the second round.The Michael Fusek of today is a far cry from the one who first arrived in Belgium three years ago. That empty fridge of his is now beaming with vegetables, beaming with fruit, beaming with supplements, Parun says. That shy kid who once hid from strangers behind his mother now boasts about his height and length dwarfing Dwight Howards and hopes to revive Kareem Abdul-Jabbars sky hook in the NBA. That teenager who didnt know how to eat and didnt care for school now studies statistics, fixes computers and lectures his friends and associates on proper nutrition. That 20-something who didnt know how to work now spends his holidays in the gym.Fusek still has a long way to go before he reaches the NBA. His frame, while more filled out, isnt quite ready for the physicality of the leagues frontcourts. He doesnt yet have a reliable go-to movemuch less a counterto employ when the ball hits his hands in any spot other than right above the rim.None of this is a mystery to Michael anymore. If knowing is half the battle, Fusek is ready to fight.I need a couple more kilos up and also some skills for sure, Fusek says. Two-to-three years, I can be there.Even if Fusek bulks up and hones his offensive game, there will be those around the Association who wonder whether a center of his stature can survive in a league thats downsizing by the day.Look at what Steve Kerr did in the Finals, one league source said.Nonetheless, there is legitimate interest in Fusek within the NBA. He met with one team at Eurocamp and is scheduled to work out stateside for another before this years draft. With any luck, hell hear his name called at some point in the second round and continue his basketball odyssey in the Gatorade League. There, he will be less an oddity than the object of NBA-caliber trainers and nutritionists looking to turn him into a rotation player.It could be, then, that Fuseks timing is finally spot-on.All stats viaNBA.comandBasketball Referenceunless otherwise noted.Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him onTwitter,InstagramandFacebook, and listen to hisHollywood Hoopspodcast with B/RLakerslead writer Eric Pincus.
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