DJ Stephens opens up about playing overseas, high-flying dunks, more

DJ Stephens opens up about playing overseas, high-flying dunks, more

DJ Stephens, the man with the highest vertical leap ever recorded by the NBA, has made a career out of his mind-boggling slams (both in-game and in dunk contests) and ability to kiss the rim – literally. 

Stephens, the dunking machine out of the University of Memphis, is a 6-foot-5 guard/forward whose 46-inch vertical leap turned heads at the 2013 NBA Combine.

Although Stephens went undrafted and only played minimal minutes in short stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies, he's built a nice career overseas, playing in countries like Russia, Ukraine and France.

Wherever Stephens went, one thing was guaranteed: he was going to throw down some ridiculous dunks. Each and every game, fans in Europe would show up to see him soar above the rim and Stephens always showed out. 

Now, playing in Japan with the Chiba Jets, Stephens spoke to BasketballNews at the East Asia Super League’s Final Four about how dunking has had an impact on his career. 

“I feel like the fans are always excited to see me do really athletic plays, block shots, have a nice dunk, and stuff like that. Plus, plays like that are huge momentum shifters in the game, so I feel like it’s been a fun piece of my career overseas and in the States,” Stephens said.

Being dubbed Europe’s best dunker gave Stephens confidence and it meant a lot to him.

“It’s pretty cool,” Stephens said with a smile. "Especially when we’re getting older, but still having the athletic ability and still being able to jump high. I’m trying to cherish it as long as I can because as you get older, sometimes the athletic ability kind of gets away from you. So, I’m just trying to enjoy it for as long as I can.” 

Now at 33 years old, Stephens has moved to Chiba, Japan to play as one of their American imports. With injuries and age catching up to him, Stephens mentioned that the move can extend his career as playing in Asia is not as athletically taxing as Europe.

“I saw this as an opportunity for me to extend my career,” Stephens said when asked about his move to the Chiba Jets. "As I’m getting older, sometimes when you’re in Europe, teams don’t appreciate you as much as you get older. They want to bring in newer and younger guys. From my understanding, they appreciate all the players here. It doesn’t matter how old you are – if you can still play and you can produce, they want you.” 

Stephens’ stint for over a full season has gone well so far, especially once he acclimated to the style of play in Asia. When asked what he likes most about playing in Japan, Stephens said it's the fans and the team's huge fanbase. Japanese fans are some of the most passionate fans in the world and Stephens has greatly appreciated all the love that they've shown to him and their team.

“The fans. Some of the best fans I’ve ever played for -- real supportive in every game that we have," he said. "The arenas are sold out. Our fans buy merchandise with our names on it. You see towels being waved with players’ names on it. The fans are really loyal and supportive, so that’s a big thing for a basketball player -- to have a lot of support.”

Stephens shared that he's happy where he’s currently at and he'd like to focus on the remainder of the season to help the Chiba Jets win a title in Japan’s B-League.

“Yeah. I love it,” Stephens said. "They treat us really well and Japan is a great country to play in. The fans are really supportive and I just feel comfortable here.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on finishing the season right now in Japan. We’re trying to win as many games as we can, and then once the summer comes I’ll assess my options and see what makes the most sense."

When asked how playing in Japan and Europe compares to his stints in the United States, Stephens shared his thoughts.

“It’s tough because a few of the rules are a little different. I feel like the game is more physical in Europe than it is in the States," Stephens said. "But at the end of the day, basketball is basketball. You still gotta play the game, you still gotta compete, you still gotta put the ball in the hole, you still gotta play defense. So, both are two great competitive leagues but just different in a certain way.”

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