Oklahoma City Thunder: Sam Presti knew Thabo Sefolosha was special a long time ago

Defense is what wins championships, and Presti had to have the Sefolosha on his basketball team.
By John Rohde Published: April 1, 2013

“When we acquired Thabo, we certainly were looking for help in the present, but we looked at a long-term building block for our team because of what he represented, his identity as a player and also his competitiveness as we were building our team in the early stages,” Presti said.

Sefolosha didn't need to be steered in a different direction. He simply needed to stay the course.

The summer after acquiring Sefolosha, Presti became even more convinced he had made the right move after visiting Sefolosha and his family in his hometown of Vevey, Switzerland, a picturesque village on the north shore of Lake Geneva that's smaller than the capacity of Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Observing players in their home environment is vitally important to Presti and the eclectic Sefolosha oozes with intangibles.

His white mother was born in Switzerland and is an accomplished artist. His black father was born in South Africa and is a skilled musician. Sefolosha models part-time, doubles as a local cult hero and his summer camp is the ultimate destination for the Swiss youth.

When he wasn't playing basketball growing up, Sefolosha played soccer and was a drummer in a band. Presti also plays drums.

What Presti might appreciate most about Sefolosha is his commitment, focus and willingness to sacrifice. “People don't understand how exhausting it is to defend the other team's best player night after night,” Presti said.

It takes a special player to accept defense as his primary role, and someone extraordinary to not care who gets the credit.

“One of the reasons we feel the way we do about Thabo is because he's not driven by the secondary consequences,” Presti said. “Quite honestly, that's one of the reasons he fits our team and the profile of player that we value. He does an excellent job for us, and our internal value system is something that we weigh much more than necessarily what the wisdom of what crowds might tell us. We feel that way about Thabo. We feel that way about Perk (center Kendrick Perkins). We feel that way about some of our other guys as well.”

Thunder rookie coach Scott Brooks admitted he initially wasn't sure what he had in Sefolosha. “I didn't have a good feel for what he was as a player,” Brooks said. “I thought our defensive mentally changed when we acquired him. He's a big part of our success and then we made another jump with Perk (who was acquired Feb. 24, 2011).”

Though he is considered one of the NBA's top perimeter defenders, Sefolosha has been named to the league's All-Defensive team just once, and that was to the second team in 2010.

Sefolosha is as blunt as he is smart. Asked if he has gotten his due as a defender, Sefolosha did not hesitate.

“Not really,” he said. “I think I definitely should be (considered) one of the top 10 defensive players in the league for the last three years probably, but it's not something I focus on. I really don't care about the applause and all the attention. For me, winning is the most important thing. When you win, everybody looks good. We've gotten so much exposure by getting the Finals and winning the last several seasons. For me, the ultimate goal is to win a championship and to win every game, basically.”

With his next breath, Sefolosha admitted he still has work to do. “Defensively, I still think I need to improve a lot, stay focused, get stronger,” he said. “Offensively, I think it's my best NBA season so far.”