Motley goes through South Korea to become a EuroCup star

Dec 06, 2021 by David Hein Print
Motley goes through South Korea to become a EuroCup star

South Korea is not a league most players in the 7DAYS EuroCup have used as a stepping stone. But Johnathan Motley did just that and now is playing at a First Team All-EuroCup level.

The Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar big man Motley leads the EuroCup in scoring at 23.0 ppg and ranks first with an average performance index rating of 27.4. His 3.0 offensive rebounds per game are second-best while his 6.6 total rebounds are 10th-most. He is also tied for sixth in blocks at 1.0 swats per game while also chipping in 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals. Oh, and he shoots 73.2% on two-pointers – the second-best mark in the EuroCup.

“I think I'm headed in the right direction,” Motley said. “I like the way the game has been for me. I really want to try and stay out of foul trouble and rebound a little more, but other than that I think I'm playing good basketball so far.”

“I think I'm headed in the right direction… I think I'm playing good basketball so far.”

Motley has registered the third and fourth highest PIRs in a single game this season - 39 against MoraBanc Andorra in Round 1 and 38 versus Boulogne Metropolitans 92 in Round 3. He also is tied for third in most points in a game with 30 against Metropolitans and fifth for his 29 points versus Andorra.

Motley’s early path to Russia was not uncommon for many in the EuroCup. After going undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft following a strong junior season at Baylor University, Motley spent three seasons shuttling between the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers and the G-League for the Texas Legends and Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario.

“My favorite memory is my first 20-point and 10-rebound game in the league when I was a rookie playing for the Mavs,” he said of the game with 26 points and 12 rebounds against Detroit in April 2018. “It was a fun game. It was one of the first times I got a chance to play and I did really well.”

But the back and forth became a burden for the 2.06-meter Motley.

“I just got tired of sitting on the bench. It felt like I was rotting away and while I'm still young I just want to enjoy playing the game of basketball again,” he said. “The NBA is very tough if you’re not in the rotation every night. It takes a toll mentally.”

Motley started thinking about abroad and playing more.

“I figured if I left and had a legit role it would make me happier long term, and so far, it has been true,” he said. “I've enjoyed every moment being over here playing so far. Hopefully, I can keep playing well and the team will continue to have success.”

When the subject of heading to South Korea as a first stop abroad came up, Motley went to his friend Jameel Warney, who had played there before and was MVP of the league.

“I knew something about the league. They showed the most interest at the time. It was really simple as that,” he said about playing last season for the Incheon Elephants. “I was just happy to go play somewhere where the pay was good and they allowed my family to travel with me.”

Motley dominated right away, averaging 20.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 blocks in the league in 2020-21.

“I learned that the game is different everywhere and you have to be able to adjust to become successful. I did a good job at that and played well there,” he said.

Motley said there are many underrated things about South Korea and South Korean basketball, especially how they treat you off the court.

“I met some of the nicest people in the world while I was there. They really helped me with anything I needed and also my family’s needs as well. They treated us with the utmost respect and courtesy. I think that's one thing that's underrated,” he said. “They also handled every little small thing you could think of for you so you can focus solely on basketball. It was nice being there, I really enjoyed it.”

Motley was also used to being in a big city like Incheon with 3 million people, coming from Houston and spending his NBA/G-League career in Dallas and Los Angeles.

“I think I'm headed in the right direction… I think I'm playing good basketball so far.”

“It was different, of course, because of the language barrier. But it was a good experience. The people locally knew who I was so it was good vibes everywhere I went. I developed some good relationships with the locals while I was there,” he recalled.

Then this off-season his focus was to head to Europe to, as he said, “test himself”.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I can dominate anywhere,” he said. “I chose Loko because I knew they were a good stepping-stone club. A lot of players who play here have the opportunity to jump up to high ranks. I also loved the coach's playing style, and I thought it would benefit the way I play, which it has so far. So I think I made a good choice,” he said.

It’s hard to argue against that with the way he is playing.