Thunder center Byron Mullens has signed with the Greek basketball club Panionios, becoming the first Thunder player to circumvent the NBA lockout by heading overseas.
Mullens' contract allows him to return to the NBA whenever the lockout is lifted, meaning he won't miss a second of the Thunder's season — if there is a season.
In a Q&A with The Oklahoman just hours before leaving for Greece on Wednesday, Mullens talked about his decision to play overseas, whether he thinks more Thunder players will follow suit and the joy of married life.
Q: How did this deal happen?
A: Basically I was pretty much just waiting to hear about what's going on with the lockout and was talking to my agent about it. And we decided to see if we could get a deal going overseas to play. I've been working out all summer. We thought it'd be best to just get a different feel. You can only get better to a certain point working out by yourself.
What was appealing about playing overseas?
Just the experience. There's probably not going to be an opportunity to go over and see Athens, Greece. Aside from just going over and getting the experience of playing basketball, I'll also get to experience going over there and seeing another country. It didn't really matter where it was, I was going to jump on it either way.
Did you have any other offers?
Yeah. We had a few other teams. But we were kind of sitting around waiting to hear from them. But when we heard from the team in Greece, they were kind of 100 percent (in) with their deal. So we just took that one.
Have you ever been to Greece?
Nope. This is my first time.
What are you most looking forward to, the city or the team or just the atmosphere?
All the above, really. One of my college teammates is over there playing with them now. So I'm kind of looking forward to teaming up with him again.
So you already know some of your new teammates?
Yeah, Jon Diebler. We played at Ohio State together. And Zisis Sarikopoulos. He played at Ohio State. He's from Greece.
How much better do you feel like you got before signing with Panionios?
I feel a lot better. I've been working out with a lot of trainers this summer. I've been back at Ohio State working out with those guys, with (Buckeyes assistant coach) Chris Jent and my trainer Michael Thornton. I've been working on a lot of stuff, shooting dribbling, really all the above. I'm just really looking forward to playing in an actual game instead of open gym and working out by myself.
Do you get the impression that more of your Thunder teammates may try to sign overseas?
I'm not really sure. I know our team is doing our own thing, getting together in Austin and getting together in Louisville next week. Some of the guys on our team have been in the league for a little bit, and they've got their name out there. They're playing and getting the time they want. So it's kind of up to me. I'm going over there to get (playing) time and playing experience and just make a name for myself.
With the lockout, is there one issue that's most important to you as a player in negotiations?
I just want to get back, get back in Oklahoma. Whatever we have to do to do it. I'm not really going to talk about the situation and what we need to do or what needs to happen, but we just need to get back to the court.
You recently got married. How's that been so far?
Married life is great. I'm enjoying it. This is a trip for both of us. She's going out there with me. A little apartment in Greece will be our first home. So this is going to be a trip to remember.