EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: TJ Shorts talks North Macedonia, BCL Championship, Paris & Tyrese Rice ahead of Israel clash

Aug 11, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

The Israel National Team begins Olympic Pre-Qualifying action this weekend in Estonia when they tip off on Saturday night (7pm) against North Macedonia in the first of three group stage games. The blue-and-white will look to get off to a good start and finish in one of the two first places in their group in order to head to Poland for the Final Four and the right to advance to the 2024 Paris Olympic qualifying competition next summer.

However, in a group with the host nation Estonia along with the Czech Republic and North Macedonia who are led by budding superstar TJ Shorts, head coach Ariel Beit Halachmi’s squad will most certainly not have an easy time.

Just before the games get underway, The Sports Rabbi spoke with Shorts about his time with his adopted nation, his role models as well as his phenomenal season that was with Bonn and of course the expectations for this upcoming continental competition.

“I’m definitely looking forward for the Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament coming up and it’s always great representing the country as I see myself playing for North Macedonia as an honor. I’m looking forward to stepping onto the court and competing.”

“Every time we step on the floor the expectation is to try to win basketball games and qualify for something. We will take it one game at a time and that starts with Israel on Saturday night as we try and get a win.”

TJ Shorts – Photo Credit: FIBA

Shorts and North Macedonia will be without a number of their players and that is the same case with Israel as Deni Avdija and others are unavailable due to injury, but nonetheless, the guard knows that the blue-and-white still have some experienced players that his squad will need to contend with.

“We know they are very young and an energetic squad. They are aggressive on both the offensive and defensive ends and they have a great young leader in Yam Madar who is a Euroleague player and has the experience of playing at the highest level.”

The Irvine, California native began his professional career back in 2019 when he signed with Ventspils after having attended UC Davis as well as Saddleback Community College. After a season in Latvia it was on to Germany where Shorts spent the last three seasons, first with Hamburg, then Crailsheim and this past campaign with Bonn.

Just prior to the beginning of last season, the 25-year old was contacted by the North Macedonian Federation about joining their national team program. Playing for the country came to fruition in November of 2022 when he laced up his sneakers in Eurobasket 2025 Pre-Qualifiers where he helped lead his new nation to a 5-1 record and into the regular qualifying competition.

TJ Shorts – Photo Credit: FIBA

“One summer I got a call from the coach and my agent and I thought it was great opportunity to further my career and get exposure on the international stage. It’s a great opportunity to represent this country and so far I’m really enjoying it.”

As for playing for a country that he had had very little contact to prior to joining them last year, Shorts sees it as a very prestigious opportunity, “It’s just a huge honor to put the country’s colors on and bring joy to the fans who are watching us as we see the passion that they have whether it’s at home game or on TV. I’m super grateful for this chance and they have shown me nothing but love and they are my extended family. It’s truly been great.”

One American who had a tremendous career in Europe as well as with North Macedonia was Bo McCalebb’s who won numerous personal and team award throughout a career that saw him star in Serbia, Italy and Turkey. But his name will always be synonymous with the 2011 Eurobasket, “I did speak to Bo the summer that I joined the team and he gave me insight about the team and how much they love would love me. Bo was a great player in his time and he helped Macedonia finish in 4th place in the 2011 Eurobasket. For him to give me that was huge for me as it was really uplifting.”

While Shorts may be short in height standing only at 5”6, he certainly stands very, very tall and has one of the most spectacular European seasons last year with Bonn when he won both the Basketball Champions League regular season and Final Four MVP along with the German League BBL MVP as well.

TJ Shorts – Photo Credit: FIBA

“It was incredible season and it was a great run becoming the Basketball Champions League winners and just coming up short in BBL German League. But now it’s all about just the consistency and continuing to show what I did wasn’t just luck as well as to continuing to have that mentality to prove people wrong and take that next step. It’s all about just being consistent as I made a splash in the international basketball world and I want to continue to build on that.”

“Going into every season I am always confident about myself and what I am capable of doing. But I couldn’t imagine that I would accomplish what I did and I would be lying if I had that on my mind prior to the season. But as the season goes on you can see that there is something special going on but you have to stay grounded as all of the accolades start coming in.”

Last year’s BCL campaign ended in the sweetest way with a championship for Shorts which he notes was a very significant milestone is his very young career, “It was probably the greatest moment in my sports career up until this point. Now when I look back as to how did we did such a thing, losing the first game and then 16 games later winning the title in Malaga it’s a real testament to everyone in the lockerroom after we had put in so much work to hear that final buzzer. Now when we are watching the documentary and taking a look at the pictures it really helps understand what had happened out there and this is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my career.”

Following the success at Bonn, both Shorts and his head coach Tuomas Iisalo moved to Paris Basketball in France where they will look to take the next steps together in their respective careers as they will now play in the EuroCup which could lead them to the best league outside of the NBA, the Euroleague.

Coach Tuomas Iisalo and TJ Shorts – Photo Credit: FIBA

“He had a huge influence on me and taught me so much about basketball as a whole. I’ve learned so much since we’ve been together and even now we talk about this coming season and how to attack different things on offense and on defense. He’s a basketball junky and he knows so much as he continues to keep giving me this knowledge as I am trying to soak everything up.”

“One of my goals to reach the highest level of basketball and this is was great step for me, to stay with my coach and make that step with him. You can’t look too far ahead, but we have goals and aspirations and we will put in the hard work and effort to get there.”

As for role models, Shorts selected two, one from the NBA and another who should be very familiar to Israeli basketball fans, especially those who support Maccabi Tel Aviv, “In the NBA it was Chris Paul who was the prototypical point guard that runs a team and does a little of everything and does whatever you need. In Europe, it’s Tyrese Rice who I modeled my game after being a scorer and causing havoc and one who won at the highest level. I was in contact with him throughout last season and the insight about being successful and how to control ones career. I’m super grateful for those conversations.”

TJ Shorts – Photo Credit: FIBA

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