Out of all the international prospects taken in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Jonah Bolden’s path to being selected by the Sixers with the 36th overall pick may be the strangest.
Bolden grew up in Australia, and transferred to Findlay Prep High School in Henderson, Nevada in order to heighten his recruiting profile. But his eligibility expired after just one semester, and Bolden was then forced to transfer to a post-graduate school in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
A four-star recruit after the end of his high school fiasco, Bolden opted to head back to the West Coast and play at UCLA. However, his collegiate career never really got off the ground in Westwood. He was initially ruled ineligible by the NCAA, and by the time he was cleared mid-season, Bolden needed to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, effectively ending his freshman year before it even started.
Bolden was able to get on the floor in his sophomore season, but averaged just 21.7 minutes per game, and frequently clashed with Bruins head coach Steve Alford. Instead of transferring and being forced to sit out a year, Bolden opted to start his professional career with FMP Belgrade in Serbia.
“At the time I just felt like I wasn't ready, wasn't satisfied with myself,” Bolden said about his decision to go overseas rather than declare for the draft. “I knew I could do more to prepare myself best for the league, for where I'm at right now. And I just felt I needed to work on a little more things, work on a lot more of my weaknesses, and I did so in 12 months.”
The Melbourne, Australia native used the same league that helped breed soon-to-be teammates Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to re-emerge on the draft scene. Like at UCLA, his time there certainly wasn’t easy. Bolden was forced to play for three different head coaches in the span of 40 games with FMP, but he had zero complaints about the situation.
“Yeah, for me personally, it was the best 12 months of my basketball career in the sense that I matured as a man,” Bolden said. “I take the positives out of that in the sense that they all had different approaches, they all had different systems, and I had to adapt to each and every one of them.”
One driving force that certainly helped Bolden maintain a positive outlook was his father, Bruce.
Bruce Bolden, a graduate of Boise State, played 17 seasons in Australia’s National Basketball League until his retirement in 2004. He was named the NBL Grand Final MVP in 1992 as he helped the South East Melborune Magic win a championship, and his No. 32 jersey hangs in the rafters at West Sydney Razorbacks (now the Sydney Spirit) games.
Jonah says his father has been his “No. 1 influence off the court and on the court”, providing him with advice throughout his winding basketball journey.
“Any coach or any team you're playing for, just buy in,” Bolden says his dad tells him. “The ball will come, the shots will come, just buy in, play defense and work hard.”
Based off his stats, it seems as though Bolden listened to his father about buying into whatever system he played for. He averaged 12.8 points and seven rebounds per game, and shot over 40 percent from three-point range on four attempts per game during his time with FMP. (For a more in-depth breakdown of his game, check out his scouting report from Jonathan Tjarks at The Ringer.) The ABA League named him as its Top Prospect in 2017, an honor that’s been won by players like Saric, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, and Boston’s Ante Zizic.
Prior to the draft, Bolden signed a two-year contract with Red Star Belgrade, the ABA League’s best team and a EuroLeague mainstay. However, Red Star has fallen on hard financial times, and Bolden says his deal does include an NBA out. He plans on being in Philadelphia for the 2017-18 season.
If Philadelphia does add Bolden to the roster this year, he’ll create an Australian triumvirate with forward Ben Simmons and head coach Brett Brown. Bolden says he and Simmons had a “good relationship” back in Australia, but didn’t keep in touch when they both landed stateside. They certainly have a lot more to talk about now.
“I just know I can approach [Brown and Simmons] off the court and know I can speak to them on a daily basis about anything,” Bolden said. “I know that coming from Australia, we all have each other's backs, so that definitely helps.”
Going from Melbourne to Henderson, Nevada to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire to Los Angeles to Belgrade and now Philadelphia covers nearly 25,000 miles. For someone to endure that kind of journey, they’ve certainly trusted the process.
“They say "Trust the process," for me the whole journey has been a process from day one,” Bolden said. “Leaving Australia to play high school over here, going to two different high schools, then two years at UCLA, then going professional.
So for me it's just been a whole process and I'm grateful for it, but I definitely believe in trusting the process.”