In his time at Maryland, Landon Milbourne saw a lot. Three NCAA appearances. Two ranked finishes. A 25-win season. A joint conference championship. He played with Maryland players both famous and infamous - D.J. Strawberry and Mike Jones, James Gist and Jin Soo Choi, and, of course, Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes.
After a fine senior campaign in which he averaged 12.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and over a block per game, Milbourne left for Europe to ply his trade. He started his professional career in France with Stade Olympique Maritime Boulonnais in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and after a year there ended up with Limoges CSP. Both teams were in the French second tier, and after repeated success he was able to make the leap to Panionios, one of the better teams in the Greek top division.
Panionios plays in Nea Smyrni, a suburb of Athens that, while holding a population under 80,000, is the second-most densely populated municipality in Greece. "Bigger than it may appear" is not untrue of Milbourne as well, who, at 6'7", may be an undersized power forward in Europe, but has proven himself ready for the task at all levels with an intense ferocity on both sides of the floor.
Last season, Panionios finished third in the Greek league, making them the best Greek team not to make it to the Euroleague, the top annual continental competition in European basketball. Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, like in soccer, are the powers in Greek basketball, and while Panionios were two wins away from second place, they ended up playing in the Eurocup, the second tier European competition.
We had the opportunity to talk with Milbourne, who is back in the states for a small break before heading back to Europe.
Testudo Times: So this is the second new country that you're living in. What's that experience like, moving from the US playing ball over here to France and Greece and playing over there?
Landon Milbourne: It's just different, because, you know, different cultures, different ways of living. As far as basketball is concerned, there's not too much different, you've just got a new group of teammates every year, another coach and you have to adjust to him. But for the most part, you know, you just try to make the best out of it and come home with some wins.
Landon talks about winning a lot throughout the interview - especially when we get to his goals. The Eurocup is nothing to him, simply because it's not the Euroleague, and you can tell that all he wants is to be able to call himself a champion.
TT: How about in terms of off the court? What is the basketball culture like over there?
LM: In Greece the basketball culture is real strong, stronger than it was in France. [Panionios] had a real good history in basketball, the people knew a lot about basketball, so they were really, really supportive and it was a real fun year.
Panionios's parent club was founded in 1890, and they started playing basketball in 1919 - so as far as we can tell, it predates any official American leagues.
TT: You guys, Panionios, finished third in the league, played in the Eurocup. Are you going back to that team or are you going somewhere else?
LM: I signed for two years, but there's a buyout option so for right now, as of right now I'm coming back, but you know if another team comes and offers something worthy of considering we'll see, but for right now I'm coming back.
TT: You moved to a new country both of these times, have you learned any of the language in France or now in Greece?
LM: I learned enough just to get around. I don't really get too deep into it because the Greek language is, like, ridiculous. With how fast they talk and the cadences and everything, it's just very difficult to learn. Because it's Greece, a lot of the people speak English so I don't really have a need to learn as much as I did in France. But Greece, everybody pretty much speaks English, my teammates speak English, the coaches, most of the people around the city, so I've had a pretty good time.
Landon laughed, hard, when thinking about the Greek language, as if the thought of learning it had never occurred to him (probably a smart decision on his part).
TT: You talked about how on the court, it's not that different. People talk about the European style of basketball a lot, do you think that's more similar to college than the NBA?
LM: Definitely, definitely more similar to college. I had a hard time coming out here my first couple months because my mentality was just, you know "score, score, score, score". But if you look at the top teams in the Euroleague playing for championships, nobody on the team averages more than like 15 points, you know, you might be lucky if you get one guy that averages 15, the rest of them are pretty equal. You might have a starting five that all averages ten points or something. It's usually not about the numbers, it's more so about the percentages and how you fit with the team, what kind of player you are and what you can bring to the team, because, you know, a lot of Americans that get brought over, sometimes they don't get brought over to score. Sometimes they get brought over to rebound, or play defense or something, it depends on which team wants you.
This past year, in 25.5 minutes per game, Milbourne averaged 9.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, and 0.4 blocks per game with Panionios. He was the third-leading scorer on the team, behind Nikos Pappas at 16.8 per game and Vladimir Jankovic at 12.2. Pappas has played for the very strong Greek national team and has since moved on to Panathinaikos.
TT: Defense was one of your strengths at Maryland, so have you seen that aspect of your game really being utilized more over in Greece?
LM: Yeah, definitely. In Europe, I'm an undersized four, so I usually take advantage of that. I guard pretty much every position, we switch on the pick-and-rolls, we switch on the pick-and-pops, so I might guard point guards or centers...I have to show versatility on defense - and offense, as well. It's been a good experience for me, because of who I'm going up against, and I just have to keep it positive.
TT: You went from the second league in French basketball to the top league in Greece, so I imagine that had to be a pretty big talent jump, right?
LM: It is, but it just depends on how you look at it. The way I looked at it was I don't have to change anything with my game. Worst-case scenario I'd come out there and kind of be able to adjust...but that wasn't really the case because French ball is pretty much up and down and Greece ball is too, the way we play on my team, so there wasn't much of an adjustment. It's just in France, I was the main scorer, but in Greece I was the second or third scorer. It was good for me, especially in college I was able to learn how to adapt to different situations and different types of coaching. After being coached by Gary Williams, I can pretty much be coached by anybody, because he's so hard on his players and he expects so much of his guys. It just made me a lot tougher.
In France, Landon averaged 16.5 points with 5.1 rebounds in his first year and 13.5 points with 3.3 rebounds in his second, including a career-high 35 against Denain.
TT: You started talking about it a little there, what did you learn from your time at Maryland that you're applying in Greece?
LM: Basically, just growing up and taking care of your responsibilities as a man and as a teammate, you know because here in Europe you're on your own. There's nobody here, no family out here. I played with a coach before that didn't really speak English, so it's just hard to adjust to that, but you've got to do it. It's your job now and you've got to take care of what you've got to take care of, and whatever you're responsible for, you can't hold it up against you.
TT: With the big move from the French League to the Greek League and the buy-out available in your contract, what are you hoping for in the future?
LM: My main goal is to try and get to the highest possible quality in Europe and those are usually the Euroleague teams. So that's my goal, I want to be able to get on to a Euroleague team, on that level. I'm on a Eurocup team now, we did okay, we could have done better, but my main goal is to try and get on a Euroleague team and see how I fit from there, and then from there make it to the NBA the hard way. I got to go the long route, but I mean, it's possible, as long as I keep progressing every year. My agent's working for me and everything should work out.
This is where the winner's mentality really comes to play - his intensity comes through as he talks about his desire to play for a winner. Finishing third, making a secondary tournament, it's not enough for Milbourne. He has to win a championship, and it can't be one that can be excused as "lower".
TT: When you think back on your time at Maryland, what are some of your fondest memories?
LM: Some of my fondest memories are probably just being around my teammates. The time that we shared off the court made us stronger on the court. I had a lot of younger guys there as I got older that I had to look out for and teach, and that kind of stuff really makes me feel good as a person and makes me feel good as a man, knowing that I've experienced some things and I can share those experiences with other people and help the way that they think about things. I did that a lot at Maryland. Just the overall college experience is something I'll never forget. I talk to my European teammates about it quite a lot because they don't go through the same process as we do as far as basketball, they usually come out of high school and then go pro. They start playing pro as like teenagers, so they don't really get that college experience and I try to explain to them what it's like, and they never believe me, but it's just something I have that I'll never forget. I always think about it, I keep my Maryland gear on me while we travel and everything.
This, to me, was the most telling portion of the entire interview. It's clear that he loved his time in College Park and had an amazing college experience, but Landon is the kind of man who immediately talks about being able to serve as a role model for the younger players as what defines his time in college.
TT: Do you keep in touch with your old teammates?
LM: Yeah, always. I keep in touch with Sean [Mosley], Sean was in Poland this year, Dino [Gregory] was in Germany, Braxton Dupree, he was playing, I forgot where he was at. I keep in touch with a lot of guys who played at Maryland. James Gist was in the same league as me, we hung out a lot during the season. Boom [Bambale Osby] played in Greece as well, he started playing in Greece I think in January, so I got to see him a couple of times. So there are a couple of guys that I'm in touch with.
Dupree is playing in Bulgaria, and Landon was right - Boom started playing with Kolossos in Greece in January. Later, I asked him about Vasquez, and while he's been able to keep up with his NBA career, Milbourne said the two haven't really kept in touch.
TT: Have you been able to keep up with the Terps at all?
LM: I haven't been able to see any games because of the time difference. I don't get to watch anything unless it's the NCAA tournament and they put it online, but as far as the games I didn't really get a chance to catch any of those games. With the coach and the guys they got coming in, I know they're looking pretty good.
TT: When you found out Gary Williams was retiring, what was your reaction?
LM: I was surprised, the way that it went, but I wasn't surprised that he retired. I could kind of tell that it was getting to that point but I just didn't know that it was going to happen the way it happened. It's something that comes along with the territory, he's a Hall of Fame coach. There's not much left he could do as far as being a successful coach is concerned - he won a championship, he won the ACC championship, he's pretty much done it all, so I think it was only a matter of time before he retired. But it was sad. It was sad news, but at the same time I'm happy he gets to enjoy his life stress-free.
TT: You also have some music stuff going on, right?
LM: It's something I've been working on for a long time, probably since I was a kid. At school I didn't really have that much time to devote to it, but you know when you're in Europe you have a lot more free time to figure out what you really want and different things about yourself that you didn't know you could do, so I started playing with it. I'm not really looking to get a contract or anything like that, I just pretty much do it to waste time and have a little fun, take my mind off the game sometimes.
You can listen to Milbourne's music here. We thank Landon for taking the time to talk to us, and wish him the best in his future endeavors, basketball and otherwise.