Aaron Harper has been the face of Levski Sofia for the last three seasons. Harper quickly became not only topscorer for his Bulgarian team, but one of the most popular faces amongst kids, playing basketall around the whole country. Couple of cup wins, MVP awards and scoring champ titles, and there he is, three seasons into his "Bulgarian adventure". What brought Aaron Harper in Bulgaria, his wise advices and the story, he never told before, in the following Q&A:
Q: You are known as the leader of BC Levski and the athlete who can score easily 40 points a game only if you decide. Please tell us how you found yourself in the gym? How did you start playing basktball?
Aaron Harper: My father and my big brother used to play basketball. I was going with them to watch them play every time and it was normal for me to be the next one on the line. I have always loved to play basketball and I had just looked up at them and started. I had started in the Boys' and Girls' club in the city of Jackson. I was 7 and was short. I really grew in high school.
Q: Are there any other athletes in your family?
Aaron Harper: Besides my brother and father, my mom used to play the game as well. My big brother was better than me at some moment but he had never gone to play professional.
Q: Every single kid has its heros while growing up. Who were your basketball (sports) heros or role models? Who was the hero you wanted to be like when you grow up?
Aaron Harper: There is only one answer to that question. We say "LIKE MIKE". Everyone wants to be like Michael Jordan. He was my hero, my only basketball role model. He is still. Nobody else ever. When I was young i was watching and reading all about him. Wanted to be like him so bad that i was copying all he was doing.....
Q: What was the hardest moment in your career so far that you have had to struggle with?
Aaron Harper: Every time i lose is a hard moment for me. I reject losses and losing. It is not in my blood. It is not in my DNA. I have never learned to lose for so many years of playing and being professional basketball player. I hate to lose, so i am still learning to accept defeats.
Q: Is there any moment that left you breathless and speechless so far? What is your most precious "basketball" moment so far?
Aaron Harper: It was 1996 and i was playing with my high school team against a senior who was stronger, older, bigger, more exprienced and way more confident. It was about the time i have started to realize that basketball is what i want to do and i am really good in it. So i was playing aginst this guy and it very cool and modern back in the days to shoot after you put the ball under your leg and then spins it around your waist. So i did it and scored after. The crowd got excited and the guy got mad becuase i kind of embarrassed him. I felt so good and i was happy. This memory is very sweet for me and it will probably means nothing to you but when you are young and you are starting the things you do for the first time are really impoprtant and lifts. Another great memory is my State High School championship in Mississippi. Then the title in France, the Cup in Bulgaria, the Balkan League trophey.
Q: How come you became such a great shooter? Have you spent much time in the gym shooting and how many shots were you doing per day (per practice) in order to perfect your shots? Are you still working on your shooting skills or only when you were young?
Aaron Harper: It is God's gift, I am blessed. You know how some people can sing, other can draw, third can play musical instruments. Well, I can shoot. I have always been a shooter and a scorer. It is in my blood. But do not get me wrong. I have also worked hard. When i was starting I put hard work in my practices. I had been taking extra shots every day at each practice. Do not remember how many they were but i did. Just i was doing nothing special. I just got it. Later in my career after high school i was working on the details of my shooting. I knew i could score. So i had started to work on shooting the ball the same every time and do not move even an inch from the way the ball should goes off my hands. I was paying attention to the details so i can be perfect. At first it was hard because i was not making baskets but later it worked out.
Q: What was the thing that you had most troubles to adjust and adopt in Europe when it comes to way fo living and basketball? Is there anything you have never managed to get used to after so many years playing basktball far away USA?
Aaron Harper: Hmmm, in Europe everything is smaller. You know how in America everything is huge and big. So your beds are smaller, your doors, cars, apartments, evrerything. The the language barrier and the clutural differences. It was hard for me to adopt and especially if you switch the teams every season, but it is also interesting. It is very different overseas - food, traditions, people's temper, even the metric system. European people are different too. When it comes to basketball - i had problem in the beginning with the travelling and the time outs, but it was not a big deal. Regarding the style of the basketball in Europe I am adjusting easy. It was hard playing the game. You see, as a basketball player you have to adjust at every level - boys basketball to high school level, then college, then professional teams. You do not have other choice but adjust. Each level is stronger, quicker, faster and more tactical.
Q: It has been 3 years you play in Bulgaria. What is your first memory by our country?
Aaron Harper: I remember it was really cold and it was raining. But i liked the city. It was different than all the places i have been at so far. Sofia is a big city, capital and I enjoy it. My coach Titi met me at the airport and he took me to a small restaurant for dinner. It is very strange and shocking how you can still see horse and carriage here and there.
Q: What you like and dislike about Bulgaria?
Aaron Harper: I almost like everything about Sofia. It is a big, modern city, which gives you lots of opportunities to live your life. You have things to do here and it is never boring - malls, movie theatres, clubs, restaurants, entertainment places. I like the people here and i have created a few friends here. I like my team, the teammates. Really feels good to be here. Bulgaria treats Americans great. Like the people around a lot. The only one thing i probably will never get used to is the traffic. It goes crazy when it rains or is pretty hot.
Q: The current season your team Levski has lost 2 finals very dramatically in the last seconds, coming short - the Bulgarian Cup and the Balkan League? Thinking of it now after some time has passed, what do you think was the thing that Levski was missing?
Aaron Harper: Very hard time for all of us. Cannot even describe how it felt. It was like somebody put bad spell on the team. We played good even better in some moments of the game and we came short. We were prepared mentally, physically and tactically. And we have worked hard. But it has never worked out for us. It is so painful to lose by 2 or the way we did. Mabe we have had lack of concentrationin the key moments. It is like playing cards - you have bad cards and you cannot cange it, but you still have to play the game. We have good players in Levski this season and the squad was good. If we were not good we won't be at the finals. But these moments make you be stronger and better men.
Q: What Levski should cange mentally and tactically in order to dethrone Lukoil Academic? Do you have to change the way you think or something related to the basketball only?
Aaron Harper: People should know that when it comes to Lukoil Acadmic you should be very relaxed but more mentally stronger. And when you step on the court you should forget that they are 10 times champions in a row. They are just a team like the rest. Their players are human beings just like the Levski players and they have their weak points as well. The thing with them is that each one of them has role and when you comine them they have it all. So if we want to succeed with them we should be mentally relaed, have our roles and play tougher. They are confident and it is normal, because they have a good team, but we have to find how to beat their confidence.
Q: What is the piece of advice you want to drop to the young ball players, who want to be like you one day - a succesful professional basktball player?
Aaron Harper: To never say "NO". Never let anybody tells them what they can do something. They have to stay strong, believe in themselves, work really hard, pursue their dreams. Be humble. Work hard and be yourself. Do not try to be somebody else. There is your spot out there in this World. Stay focused and do not let the small unimportant stuff gets in your head. Be real, do not fake, chase your dreams. It is right there. You will have ups and downs but do not give up.
Q: What piece of advice did you get when you were young and that you would never forget?
Aaron Harper: I always think fo something that my mom told me: "Just take control of the things that are in front of you, do not look in the future and do not turn back to the past. Take one day at a time. Do not rush."
Q: How you see yourself in the future when you hang the jersey on the wall? Agent, coach or anything else oustside basketball?
Aaron Harper: I think I will still be connected to basketball. Probably coach, but a high school coach. I want to teach the kids the fundamentals. I have been trough a lot with basketball so I hope I can pass it to the young people and help them be succesful. Why not to change somebody's life for good and be motivation?
Q: Your message to the fans in Bulgaria: Aaron Harper: Fill the arenas up a ilttle bit more. Basketball is growing here and the greatest game ever needs you. Wish everybody success in the basketball World.
1. Favorite meal: All kinds of pasta 2. Favorite beverage: Peach juice 3. Favorite sport: American football 4. Favorite athlete: Serena Williams, Michael Jordan 5. Favorite movie: Juice 6. Favorite actor/actress: Eddie Murphy, none 7. Favorite music: Hip Hop, R'n'B 8. Favorite song: I believe I can fly by R Kelly 9. Favorite singer: Beyonce, Michael Jackson 10. Favorite automobile brand: Chevrolette 11. Favorite NBA team, NFL team, baseball team: LA Lakers, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco 49ers 12. Motto: Hate It or Love It
Interview taken and translated by Lili Borisova, Originally posted in Bball.bg.
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