Tomas Satoransky is wearing a different jersey number and playing a strange role. At a European qualifying game for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in mid-September between the Czech Republic and rival Russia, Satoransky, the Washington Wizards’ backup point guard, is dribbling as the clock winds down in a tie game.
Wizards fans would recognize Satoransky in a No. 31 red, white and blue jersey, but on this Czech court, players clear out for No. 8 in white, their best player. Satoransky floats in the game-winning shot, one of the biggest plays in Czech basketball history, and in doing so, he eventually lifted his national team to its first trip to the World Cup.
“It was a very emotional game for us,” Satoransky recalled. “It’s special to play for national team. It’s something different. You proud of that. Wearing your national team jersey, it makes your family proud.”
It was quite a juxtaposition for Satoransky. In the qualifier, Satoransky reigned as “Czech King Tomas,” as he was once described by a Czech basketball publication. That was a thousand miles removed from being a bench guy in Washington who barely saw action in the postseason.
“Fresh start,” Satoransky has said often this month as he prepares for his third NBA season.
Satoransky — who wears No. 8 for his national team to honor a legendary point guard from his country, Vaclav Hruby — has returned to Washington with soaring confidence after the momentous shot. The Wizards have envisioned ways to use him on a versatile roster, and new teammates speak of their eagerness to share the floor with him.
“Tomas has been so easy to play with because he wants to make the extra pass, so it’s not like Tomas is a jack,” Austin Rivers said. “Tomas wants to go on the floor and make the right play.”
Satoransky has earned a reputation as a selfless teammate and point guard who protects possessions since he arrived in Washington. Over the summer, Satoransky needed time to process why those skills were not needed by the Wizards in their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors.
Satoransky was the starting point guard — and a capable one — when John Wall missed eight weeks of the regular season because of a knee injury last season. Satoransky matched up against superstars Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Stephen Curry, and for the first time in his professional NBA career, he played in clutch moments. Though he’s no Wall, he proved to be a steady replacement and a big reason the Wizards held on to a playoff spot despite a long absence by their franchise player.
When Wall returned and the playoffs began, however, the Wizards brought in veteran Ty Lawson. Suddenly, Satoransky tumbled down the depth chart.
“With Ty, he brought an element with those small guards in Toronto,” Coach Scott Brooks said in explaining Satoransky’s benching. “It was that quickness that he could counter against Toronto. . . . It was matchups. If we got by them, it may be the other way around.”
Intellectually, Satoransky understood why Washington went to Lawson. But as a competitor, Satoransky disagreed with the decision. After the playoffs, Satoransky returned to the Czech Republic and talked openly about the “bitter” — his translated words from an interview — end of his second season.
“It was right after the season,” Satoransky said, explaining the various interviews in which he aired his grievances. “I was frustrated that we lost. It was a frustrating season. A lot of ups and downs. We felt like after tying the series up 2-2 that we had a chance to beat Toronto. We didn’t. And obviously I felt after the season that I could play some bigger role, but this is behind us.”
Brooks didn’t mind that Satoransky vented his feelings. In fact, Brooks appreciated the emotion.
“I like guys who care, and I love Tomas’s care level. It’s high, and if it didn’t bother him, I don’t think we would want him on our team,” Brooks said. “I’ve coached guys and been on teams with guys — Coach didn’t have to play them. They were fine just collecting the check twice a month. So that I love about him. I hope that he wasn’t happy. I wouldn’t have been happy, either. But he’s a team player. He knows that you have to sacrifice.”
Brooks kept up with Satoransky’s games over the summer and texted him after the big shot over Russia. Brooks texted again after the Czech team’s win over Bosnia that clinched a World Cup berth.
“With his national team,” Brooks said, “I think he’s taken another step.”
Satoransky said he needed only a few weeks to let go of what happened at the end of last season. By the time Satoransky and his wife went on their delayed honeymoon, he had moved on. He stopped thinking about the playing time and started training. And as summer ended, he was busy elevating the game of basketball in his country.
“We’re always fighting against soccer and ice hockey,” Satoransky said of basketball’s popularity back home. “I think the success from our national team can build something up.”
Back in Washington, Satoransky returns to his role behind Wall, though newcomer Rivers adds a different component to the second group. Now the Wizards have two combo guards who can control the pace or play off the ball. A crowded backcourt, to be sure, but the “Czech King” remains confident and undaunted.
“I’m taking it as a fresh start,” Satoransky said, “and I’m taking positive things from last season.”
Wizards top Heat
The Wizards improved to 1-1 on the preseason with a 121-114 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night at Capital One Arena.
Washington continued its three-point trend, hoisting 39 attempts, one more than it put up Monday night. Accuracy remained a work in progress, though; the Wizards made just 12 in shooting 30.8 percent. Markieff Morris finished as the most efficient shooter, hitting 3 of 5 from the arc and scoring 13 points. Morris also pulled down 10 rebounds. Bradley Beal (8 for 18 overall, 3 for 11 from three) led all scorers with 20 points.
Center Dwight Howard, still dealing with a back injury, did not play, but Brooks still used a 10-man rotation that would seem fitting for the regular season. Wall played 24 minutes, scoring nine points (4 for 12 from the field) to go with nine assists. Satoransky, who closed with five points, four assists and five rebounds, ran the second unit most of the final quarter before yielding the floor to the younger reserves.