“Everything starts for us on the defensive end” – Connor Johnson
When discussing a modern NBA big man, you have to look at rim protection as the primary responsibility. Secondary to that would be rebounding, ability to switch out and defend on the perimeter and then finally whatever they give you on the offensive end of the floor. Christ (pronounced Krist) Koumadje is a 7’4″ center from Florida State University who ticks off a number of boxes.
Mark Eversely spoke about the sheer size that Koumadje brings to the floor, alongside a surprising mobility, when Koumadje came in for a pre-draft workout on June 7. “I feel like he can really patrol the paint, and block a lot of shots” Said Eversely, regarding the big man.
When thinking of a team leader, it is easy for the mind to go first to point guard. Offensively, the lead ball-handler typically operates above the break, probing and surveying the defense for weak points. A point guard can be equated to “Quarterbacking the gym” according to Head Coach Brett Brown.
Conversely, however, the center position is best suited to make the defensive calls. The center has the vantage and height to survey the opposing teams setup and call out coverages, switches and such. Similar to a middle linebacker or safety in football. So when I caught up with Christ on Monday at the first day of mini-camp in preparation for the NBA Summer League, much of our conversation was not about shooting, running or shot blocking, but more about communication. Here are some highlights of our one on one exclusive conversation.
Jason: So when you were here for a pre-draft workout, Marc Eversely talked pretty glowingly on your communication on the back line and your mobility. Do you think those are the key things that stood out for you with this team and what attracted you to come to this team? I’m sure you had other offers.
Christ: As a defender you have to be vocal, you’re making your teammates jobs easier, putting guys in place. Being in the back of the defense, communication is very important. This team is looking for that as one of their identities. How to communicate on defense and get guys in help position and help each other so I think that’s a big thing. As a fit, I think just as a big you want to play with a team that gives you a chance to do what you do best and impact the game defensively. The Sixers and a few other teams in the league are doing that so I think it’s a good opportunity to come here and showcase my talent.
Jason: It seemed like you guys were running some 5-on-5 or full court in here. You guys were pretty vocal. Was it 3-on-3 or 5-on-5?
Christ: Yea we did full court transition stuff 5-on-5. Mostly defensive emphasis and getting on the same page with the guys. Getting us many reps with the transition defense running up and down.
Jason: You and Norvel are the two obvious centers, any other centers here?
Christ: Zach Hankins was also out there, he’s pretty good. Norvel, he’s almost a veteran at this point so it was good to learn from him and we talked some about what is needed and how to call out coverages.
Jason: So what impressed you or who else impressed you out there today?
Christ: All the guys. Even guys like the rookies, Shayock, Zach, being active, moving and giving that effort. Also watching guys like Zach work day in and day out because they’ve been here and done that last year, they’re almost like a vet. Asking him the spots to be and stuff like that so I watch him to.
Jason: Going back to communication, is that something you were always good with or something you’ve grown at over time?
Christ: No, I definitely got better at it. In college coaches were always on me as being a center and the back of the defense you have to be able to be vocal. Over time I’ve gotten better at it and just coming in after the season that’s something that I put an emphasis on. If you’re on the court, you have to help your teammates and communication solves a lot of problems.
Jason: You have a lot of wing defenders out here, that’s what stands out to me. How much easier does it make your job as a rim protector when you have guys that can re-route opposing ball handlers and force them into not as direct of a route to the rim?
Christ: It definitely puts you in great position, especially in help defense. You call for them to come over, and kind of like force them to score over you and can get blocked shots and sometimes rotating over can get you another [block]. Centers sometimes worry about leaving their man, but these guys are big, long, and active on defense so I can go over and block a shot, or impact a shot and get a deflection or something without worrying about my man getting a wide open dunk.
Jason: So do they call it a V-back, so if you go and challenge that you have someone coming behind you to make sure your man doesn’t get a wide open look. Have they gone over much terminology with you?
Christ: Yea we talk all about basketball, so like red. Red is to switch when a guy gets past the free throw line, and you stay with the ball handler when he gets past his man.
Jason: What were you first impressions on Lindsey and Conner?
Christ: Oh Lindsey she’s active. She’s loud, bring that energy on defense, jokes with taking full court shots and just brings a lot of energy from day one. They challenge me and get everybody on the same page. As a player you look froward to that type of coaching. It’s similar to what I went through at Florida State, the coaches were challenging and pushing me everyday and that’s what you want as a player.