Australian Jonah Bolden happy to hone NBA dream in Israel

The excitement of being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in June's NBA draft has subsided; Australian Jonah Bolden didn't make the team's roster for the coming season, and now he is excited about playing for Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel-Aviv, focused on making the transition to the NBA next season as smooth as possible.

"From an organization standpoint, this is my first time with a top-tier Euro League team, so there's a difference in organization, professionalism, stuff like that," Bolden tells ESPN. "It's definitely a change for the better, that's for sure."

Bolden, the mystery man of the draft, was selected 36th overall by the Sixers, and immediately rumours abounded that he would be 'stashed' back in Europe to further develop his game before being brought back to the NBA.

Bolden said back in June that he envisioned himself playing the small forward position once he landed in the NBA -- "my ultimate goal is to be a small forward, with my skill set I believe I can play the D to guard a small forward, and utilise my handles for my height, and my shooting ability" -- but Philadelphia already have a glut of versatile big men and minutes would have been hard to come by in either forward position.

Bolden showed enough during the first two weeks of Summer League in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas to impress Sixers management and the coaching staff. In eight games he averaged 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds.

"It was just about coming in and getting rid of that 'mystery [man]' label," he says. "It was just about showing what I can do, and how I can impact a game."

Bolden was so impressive that there was talk the Sixers might create room to add to him to their roster, but the team decided that sending him to Europe was the better option.

"There was rumours about this and that, but they broke it down for me of why they couldn't [add him] this year and I just respected that," Bolden says. "For me [it's an opportunity] to get another year to go improve my game and come back better next year."

Initially it was thought that Bolden would return to Serbia to play with Red Star Belgrade, who held his rights, but Maccabi approached Bolden's management team with an offer. Maccabi and Red Star negotiated a buyout to enable Bolden to move to the Israeli club.

"It came about when I was still with Philadelphia in Summer League and things were still up in the air. When Philly made the decision that I was going to have to play this year overseas and come back next year, [Maccabi] said 'we want you, we're just trying to negotiate with Red Star to get you here'."

Philadelphia president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo, who has been one of Bolden's biggest supporters, says the team is thrilled that he will get a chance to develop further with a club as renowned as Maccabi.

"The fact that he's playing at a higher level of competition and against some of the elite players in Europe, I think it's only going to help him quite significantly," Colangelo said.

"He has already shown and proven that his talent and athleticism and the things that he brings to the game as a young player, it's exciting for us to think about how he might impact us and our young players in the future.

"We'll be going there in the coming months to visit Jonah and monitor his progress and continue to work [with him]."

The adjustment to Maccabi has been easy so far.

Bolden averaged 11 points and five rebounds in the team's opening four preseason games; to give some perspective, the leading scorer on the team is averaging 12 points per game. The competition is much fiercer than the Serbian league, but Bolden says he's definitely up for the challenge.

"Teams will give their best to us when they play us and we saw that first-hand," he says.

"They just came out and played with the same physicality as in Serbia - if not more. They're much older guys [than in Serbia] and more experienced players. They also have a lot more imports here than in the Serbian league."

Still, Bolden has set some goals for this season. He understands that, as elite as the competition in Israel and the Euro League may be, there's still another level up to get to the NBA so he plans on improving "everything" about his game to make that jump.

"For me it's just focusing on developing my off the dribble, face-up, go to the basket type moves. I'm just trying to improve everything. My decision-making, my pick-and-roll. Everything."

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