Q&A: Former BYU and Lone Peak star Eric Mika talks G League Ignite, Scoot Henderson, state of the Cougars

Mika played two seasons for the Cougars before going pro.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ignite center Erik Mika is defended by Micah Potter as the Salt Lake City Stars host G League Ignite in NBA G League basketball at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.

West Valley City • Former BYU and Lone Peak center Eric Mika has been around internationally and a bit in the NBA as he’s navigated his professional basketball career. Since 2017, the 6-foot-10 Mika has played for the Sacramento Kings, Sacramento’s G League affiliate Stockton Kings, and teams in Serbia, France and China, Italy and Germany.

Now, at 27, he is playing for the G League Ignite, a team made up mainly of players who want an alternative path to the pros without going to college. Scoot Henderson, the presumptive No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA draft, is one of his teammates.

The Salt Lake Tribune caught up with Mika as the Ignite played the Salt Lake City Stars at the Maverik Center on Monday. The following interview is edited for length and clarity.

What has your experience with the Ignite been like so far for you?

The experience has been great so far. It’s been very different from my experience with the [Sacramento] Kings and their G League affiliate in Stockton, [Calif.] just because of the nature of this almost project, you can call it, right? It’s the NBA’s project to develop these young guys that are draft eligible and highly rated prospects. So it’s been cool because, I’ve told everyone, we have 17-year-olds on the team, we have a 38-year-old on the team and everything else in between. So being kind of in the middle of that and being considered quote-unquote a vet that still has things to learn from a really experienced coaching staff and some older players that have good experiences, and then also being able to share knowledge and prepare young guys for the next level — it’s a cool role. I’ve really enjoyed it.

How did you conceptualize that role coming in?

I think going into it, they definitely gave me a fair warning of what it was going to be, and it did sound appealing. I thought it sounded like a really cool way for me to have an impact on these guys, but then also to have a platform for myself just because there are so many prospects on our team, it’s just a natural stage for me to be seen as well, maybe more so than other G League teams because they’re being watched every single game by whoever is going to try to pick me up next year. As soon as I got to Vegas and we started working out, it was clear what my role needed to be for us to be successful. And I’m still obviously trying to work on that, but it’s been great.

You mentioned being able to play with a bunch of different prospects. Scoot Henderson is obviously one of those guys. What’s it been like playing with him?

Scoot is awesome. On and off the court, just good, good kid. Great player, so strong and explosive. It blows me away, seeing some of the things he does and the way he behaves and kind of acts and carries himself. You look at him and you watch him, you’re like, ‘He’s a pro already and he’s only 18. I forget that he’s 18 because he’s so good at what he does. I really believe the sky’s the limit for him just because he absorbs. You tell him something, you suggest something or a coach does, and he does it the very next play and he integrates it into his game immediately. I think he has a really, really bright future. He’s smart. He’s fun to watch, fun to be around.”

What would you say some of the highs and lows have been of your pro journey so far?

High was definitely going to camp and then getting called up again by the Kings. That was awesome. It was a good opportunity for me because it helped me see, like, it’s doable. I took a different route than the traditional way to get to the NBA. But I found my way and sort of carved my place out in the world of professional basketball. I can’t think of one moment where I was like, ‘Man, this is my low point.’ But there’s a lot of them. You have a lot of injuries. You have difficult coaches and situations, especially overseas. Sometimes you get cut. There’s a lot of them. But it’s peaks and valleys and you just have to sort of ride it and enjoy it when you can.

Have you been keeping track of BYU the last few years? What do you think of the Cougars’ new look this year?

I’m always around in the summer. I’ll play a lot of pickup with them just because they have consistent runs and I’m close with Coach [Mark] Pope and his assistant coach [Cody] Fueger that were there my freshman year. I like the look. I think it’s tough. It’s tough when you have all these transfers and BYU’s always had, not a disadvantage, but a tough go because you have transfers, you have guys coming back from missions. So the consistency and turnover make it hard. But I really like this group. I think they’re scrappy. I think they still have a long way to go. But I like that they play hard. That’s all that you can ask. And hopefully [they] have some carry over the next three or four years, especially as we go into the Big 12.

Do any guys stand out to you?

Just watching this year, I really like how Spencer Johnson is playing. I think he’s playing with a really level head, making good decisions, and he’s shooting well, which always helps. And then I love watching [Fousseyni Traore]. He’s just such an anomaly. He’s big, strong, fast, long. He can do it all. So I’m really expecting him to have a good year.

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