The San Antonio Spurs announced yesterdat that they have penned the 260-pound mix of Australian-New Zealand muscle Aron Baynes to a multi-year guaranteed contract.
Baynes, 26, a four-year pro out of Washington State University, was brought over from Slovenian giant Union Olimpija Ljubljana after recording monstrous Euroleague averages of 13.8 points and 9.8 rebounds, including seven double-doubles in ten contests for Ljubljana.
He recently represented Australia at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where he averaged 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on 65 percent shooting from the floor.
Baynes will wear No. 16 for San Antonio and is expected to make his Spurs debut either Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, or Saturday versus the Phoenix Suns, depending on how quickly the Olympian Boomer completes his visa paperwork.
I caught up with Baynes moments after he settled into his new AT&T Center locker, sandwiched between All-Star guard Tony Parker and ex-Ljubljana swingman Danny Green, to talk about his overseas success, his transition over to the NBA and what coach Popovich has in store for his new big man.
What did representing Australia in the Olympics do for your confidence?
"Playing in the Olympics pitted me against some of the best players in the world, and there's no better way to improve than by playing against the best. (Australia) didn't just compete, though. (Australia) were able to win a few games too, so it was a great boost for my confidence before starting the regular season with Olimpija Ljubljana."
What has the experience been like playing in Slovenia?
"Playing in Ljubljana was excellent. The city was really nice and the people were friendly. The organization was also really great. I've enjoyed my time with the players, coaches and staff, who are all great people both on and off the court. I'm really going to miss playing with my teammates."
Were you disappointed Ljubljana didn't qualify for the Euroleague Top 16?
"Even though (Ljubljana) didn't make the Top 16 games we were able to compete against some of the strongest teams in Europe during the first round of the Euroleague. Being a young team that Ljubljana is, (Ljubljana) gained a lot of experience from those games. "
Were you upset the negotiations between Ljubljana and Maccabi Tel Aviv broke down last month?
"I was excited when my agent told me about Maccabi's interest, but I was very happy in Olimpija and I was fine with staying there for the rest of the season. Yet, it was nice to hear that a successful club like Maccabi was enquiring about me."
There were numerous NBA teams willing to bring you over, why did you choose the Spurs?
"The Spurs are one of the most respected and professional organizations in the world. This is a good situation for me to get into and learn from some of the best coaches and players in the world. Also, they have a promising history of taking foreign talent and working with them to produce high-quality NBA players."
Are you looking forward to reuniting with (Spurs guard) Patty Mills and (assistant coach) Brett Brown?
"It is an added benefit of going to the Spurs having Patty (Mills) and Brett (Brown) there. In eight years of playing basketball overseas I haven't had a Aussie teammate, so I'm definitely looking forward to the experience. Also, Brett has worked with me a lot over the last four years as Australia's national-team head coach, so it will be good to continue learning from him."
Talk about your conversations with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
"I have only had a brief talk with coach (Gregg) Popovic. He basically said I need to come in and do the things that got me here which is bring energy, toughness and do whatever the coaching staff wants me to do. I said I'm here to learn from them and from the veterans that will be ahead of me."
How do think your game will translate to the NBA (the U.S. is Baynes' fifth country in four years)?
"There is always an adjustment period whether you're heading to a new team or to a new league. I just want to go in and do what I can to find my role on the team as quickly as possible."
What should Spurs fans expect from you?
"I want to be a presence both offensively and defensively. I play with lots of energy, I put a lot into rebounding, playing defense and scoring when the opportunity presents itself."
Who do you think would be the next Australian NBA player?
"It's hard to say who I think will be the next Aussie in the NBA because there are a number of really talented players in Europe such as Joe Ingles (FC Regal Barcelona), and a few NCAA college players like Matthew Dellavedova (St.Mary's). It will probably come down to one of the two."