DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell’s big interview to

American forward joined Loko more than a year ago and has 51 appearances for the club at the moment. In his first big interview to Russian media, he talks about his mindset as a player, his NBA career – and a bit of his private life.

DeVaughn’s interview in Russian you can read here.

We also have the English version which can be seen below.

– How did you get into basketball?
– From a young age I just always had a ball in my hand and was taller than most people. I was this height early, I was 6'4" in middle school, so I just felt like I had to do something with my height and basketball would work out. My first year in college, my grandmother Claire passed away. Before this moment, I don't think that I loved basketball the way I do now. I think when she passed away it gave me a different motivation and hunger to be successful as a basketball player. I began to take it more serious and just work on my game. Before this I didn't have as much skill, I was just athletic. So, when she passed away, I became more focused because she's basically who raised me. I had my parents but my grandma I was very close with. I think when she passed away it put a battery in my back for me to be successful in basketball. So, my first two years I was at a smaller school and then after that I transferred to Illinois State and had two good years there.
– Do you stay in touch with your NCAA teammates?
– I actually do. Paris Lee, he plays for ASVEL. Deontae Hawkins, Deshawn Knight. I have a bunch of them just throughout the years. Even old teammates from professional and stuff. I usually keep in touch with them if they're good people.
– Some people say that VTB United League is close to NCAA. Do you agree with this?
– I just think basketball in America is very different than over here. You can say it because they have the rules, three seconds and stuff like this. But it just depends. I think VTB United League is more similar to college than to NBA. That's a better way to put it.
– You've played seven matches in the NBA. Did you have enough time to feel all the atmosphere of this league?
– I did. For me it was a good experience, a good learning experience. I think my time in the NBA was cut short for whatever reason. But for me it was just a good learning experience being able to play against Kevin Durant and LeBron James. My first game was against LeBron. It was definitely a good experience for me.
– You played alongside Nikola Jokic and Mike Malone. What can you say about them?
– Two great people. Jokic is a great leader. All he wants to do is win. He was a lot younger than he is now, so I didn't even think that he knew that he was going to be as good as he is. He's not into social media. He's very into himself. He's more into his family and horses and other stuff. Over the years I've seen him getting better. It's no surprise for me that he's a two-time MVP and they won because Malone is a great coach, very straightforward and honest. I wouldn't have wanted him to play for any other organization.
– Are you glad that Denver Nuggets became champions?
– Yes, most definitely. Malone basically shouted out all of the teams in the past, including the team I was on. The years built up. Everybody was a part of their success last year. That was a big time.
– Do they have a chance to defend the title this year?
– I think so. I think they have to worry about Clippers maybe, and if Milwaukee on the other side in the East can put it together. But other than that, I think they can defend it. Jamal Murray has always been good in the playoffs. And Jokic is Jokic.
– Do you stay in touch with someone in Denver?
– Right now, on the team in Denver, the only one I have a speaking relationship with is Jamal Murray. But other than that, all of the players that I was with, they got traded off like Torrey Craig, Monté Morris, Jarred Vanderbilt, all of these guys. They're no longer there, but I keep in touch with them.
– Do you still think of returning to NBA?
– Of course! I would love to!
– Did you think a lot before joining Loko?
– I didn't know much about the Russian League. Earlier on in my career I only had one offer from Saratov and I knew I wasn't going to go there. So, I never really paid too much attention to the Russian League and what came with it. I always had friends like Okaro White I knew before when he was in UNIKS, Isaiah Canaan, Jonathan Motley. I knew a bunch of guys that played in Russia and they always had good things to say. When Loko came up, Jonathan Motley was like, go. So, for me, I didn't really give it too much thought. I was coming off injury also. And I just wanted an opportunity to prove that I am healthy and ready to play again.
– What was your first impression of Loko?
– Very professional. I like Krasnodar, I like Loko. The organization is very professional. Good staff, good coaching staff, good players. I'm impressed with the way they operate as a team and everybody being on the same page. I think this is important. As an American, I'm far away from home. So, the fact that everything is understood, it makes my job easier. All I have to do is play. I don't have to worry about what are we going to eat on the road. It's just basketball. Go play. For me, it's a blessing. I'm extremely grateful to be here and be a part of Loko. It's just time to win games.
– How do you like it in Russia?
– I think it's good. For me it's peaceful, quiet. The only thing is the weather isn't so great during the winter time. I went to college in Illinois and it's big snow there and cold, so I'm kind of familiar with it. Sometimes with the travel it can be a little difficult, but other than that for me it's no problem.
– What do you usually do when you have free time?
– Play video games.
– What kind of?
– Call of Duty. That's all I do at my free time.
– Do you know some words in Russian?
– I know a few: “privyet”, “kak dyela”, “khorosho”, “poka”, “spasibo”, “pozhaluysta”, “nyet”. I think I know some bad ones but I'm not going to say them.
– We’ve seen your girlfriend on the stands several times. Does she live in Krasnodar?
– No, Audrey came in November for one month and then she went back home. Back home, we have two dogs. Tank is a boy. He's a bulldog. And Nyla, she's a lab mixed with a beagle. So, Audrey's always focused on the dogs and things we have back home. But for All-Star break, I will go home and come back right before and I will bring her for the rest of the season.
– How did Audrey like Krasnodar?
– When she came last year, she didn't like it at all. It was the middle of winter, like February. And it was so dark in my apartment and outside was snowing and dark. And she's like, I can't do Russia. And then she came in November and she, you know, she saw and met more people. You know, like people on the staff, JB's girlfriend and different wives and stuff around. So, she built relationships out here now, so she's more comfortable to be in here. And is ready to come back.
– Do you feel that fans in Krasnodar love you?
– Yeah, for sure. I think they love all of us. With some of the dunks and crazy shots that I make sometimes I can see why they would say that they love me. But I'm here to do one thing and it's win games. I can't get too caught up in the fans. I can't get too caught up in the referees. What I can control is what's most important. It's coming and playing hard every day.
– Let's speak of the current season. Why did the team start not so well after the finals?
– I think part of it was, obviously I was out for a month, so I think that was a huge piece. I think JB was out for a couple of games. And he came back from the States. So, I think just the timing, maybe not being in shape. And I think maybe part of it is probably just being a little relaxed, you know, because of what we did last year and in SuperCup where we beat CSKA and Fenerbahçe. I think that's why we got off to start at 1-4.
– This season, in six games against other Top-4 teams Loko won five of them. Why do you play better against better teams?
– What I've noticed just being here since last year, I feel like when we play bigger teams, we just want to win. So, everybody just makes plays to win. And when we play teams that aren't so good, not everybody, but some players want to like prove a point or prove that they should play or can make shots or whatever the case may be. I think it's more feeling like it's an easy game. So, maybe one can take a certain shot falling out of bounds or step back or something extra and it's like not team basketball. But when we play bigger teams, better teams, everybody's on the same page and understands that we want to win. And when we play as a team, nobody's bigger than us.
– Are you okay working with Aleksander Sekulić?
– Sasha? Yes. He's a great coach. He's not crazy or yelling or anything like that all the time. Obviously if you mess up or do something wrong, he's going to get on you, but he's like an understanding person. You can go to him and talk to him not only about basketball, you can talk to him about real life stuff. So, I think that he's a coach that players dream to have. He gives us all freedom. He puts us all in position to excel at our games. For example, he's not going to have Sasha Shcherbenev post up. He's going to have more in the pick and roll stuff where he's going to grow as a player.
– Okaro White said that Sekulić can work in NBA. Do you agree?
– I agree 100 %.
– In November you became the MVP of the VTB United League. It took three years since someone from Loko got this prize. What do you feel about this?
– For me, I didn't think that it was something that I was going to get. I honestly didn't even think about it. I understand that I was playing well and we were winning, but me personally, I don't play for this. When you get MVPs, it's great. I got a few MVPs before in my career. I've been an MVP candidate for many different seasons. It's a good feeling. But for me, it doesn't really matter. For me, if we win, it's better. In November and December, we’ve won maybe 14 games out of 15 or something like this. This feels much better to me than getting a monthly MVP.
– This season, Loko have won every game at home except for the first one. At the previous season, it wasn't even close to that. What has changed?
– Yes, I noticed that last year we weren't so good at home. I could never really figure out what was the reason. Last year, I came halfway through, so my voice wasn't as heard as it is now. I want to be good away and home. But last year, I felt like I could have played better at home, personally. It's just something that I focus on, to just be better in front of the home crowd and just protect home court. I've always been on teams where we protect home court. If we're home, it's like a 90% chance we're going to win. I think certain guys don't necessarily look up to me, but just respect my voice and what I bring to the team. I think that plays a part in some of our success.
– What were your emotions when you’ve known that you are selected to the All-Star Game?
– After getting the monthly MVP, I felt like I would get to All-Star Game. I had a plan to go home for a long time and just relax. But getting there is good. I've never played an All-Star game as a professional, so I think for me, it would be a good experience to be a part of it.
– There are a lot of young players in Loko: Yemchenko, Martyuk, Shcherbenev, Yelatintsev. How is it to play with them?
– It's good because they're hungry, they try to be better, they have a work ethic and a drive. The only thing with dealing with younger guys is the level of consistency. Other than that, as far as personality and stuff, they're all good young guys. I just try to be there for them, be in their corner. Give them constructive criticism, pat them on their back when they're doing good. Let them know that there's always room for improvement. Even if you have a 20-point game, you can always be better. On the other side, even if you have a one-point game where you don't play, you're going to have another opportunity. You can always be better. I just try to preach to them that what you do today doesn't matter when tomorrow comes. 20 points yesterday, you have another game in two days. What are you going to do then? What are you going to do after that? I think it's starting to show with them becoming a little bit more consistent. Martyuk has been very good and listening. He's been playing very well as well.
– Do you have a rival in the VTB United League?
– I think a picture is painted now that CSKA may be our rival. But for me, that's not the case. I think every game should be approached as a rival. But for me personally, if anybody was our rival, it would be UNIKS. Obviously because they beat us last year. I don't think it's blown up as a big deal when we play them. We just play them. But for me, that game, when we play UNIKS, is much more important than any other game. Obviously, I would love to play well when we play them and beat them. But also right now, it doesn't matter as much as it does in the playoffs. What we're doing now, when we're winning all these games, it's good for standings and all that stuff. But when the playoffs come, it's a different type of basketball. It's rugby. It's hockey. It's not basketball. For me, it's just maintaining what we have right now, continuing to win as much games as possible. And then when the playoffs come, it's like a different, you've got to flip the switch on and go.
– What should Loko do to win the title?
– If we keep what we have, it would just be understanding what we have and keep the mindset of next play, next play mentality, next game mentality, win or lose, next play, next game. Next few seconds. We can't dwell on the past. For example, we lost to Nizhny. We lost. It happens. You're not going to win every game. But how you respond from this is what matters the most. We're not going to be perfect. We're going to make mistakes. So obviously work on the areas where we could be better. Everybody should know their role and understand what we need from you. I think that's important to any team. When players understand what you bring to the table for the team, this brings success.
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