David Böhm knew that if he could help lead the Czech Republic’s youth national team to a win over a team that featured future top-10 NBA draft pick Deni Avdija, then the Czech Republic would become the favorite in a 2019 FIBA Tournament.
What Böhm didn’t know was that if he outplayed Avdija, his entire basketball career would change.
Before Böhm became one of the most productive freshmen in the Horizon League for the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team, the 6-foot-9 forward from Prague was representing his home country in an international tournament.
At the time, Böhm wanted to play in college and in the NBA, and he was waiting to get discovered. Then he faced Avdija and won the game.
“Some people from America saw me and said going to high school would help me adjust to the game and find better colleges,” Böhm said. “I said, yeah, why not.”
This year, Böhm averages 8.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game for the Norse. Last weekend, when NKU (5-8) lost two consecutive games to IUPUI, Böhm was the Norse’s most consistent forward.
In a 74-69 loss on Friday, Böhm scored 11 points and only missed one field goal attempt. In the second half, he scored 7 straight points for the Norse, and his two layups and a three-point shot in the second half tied the score at 59.
In a 65-63 loss on Saturday, Böhm had 12 points on eight field goal attempts. Böhm was used to a slower pace of play in Europe, but he said he’s starting to catch up.
“Coming from Europe, we play a slower game that’s less athletic,” Böhm said. “I wasn’t used to the speed of play here and the adjustment to the pace and physicality of the college game here. It’s so much different than what I’m used to back home.”
Böhm’s journey to NKU started with that game against Avdija, who now plays for the Washington Wizards. After the Czech Republic upset the tournament favorite, Böhm heard from coaches at Montverde Academy in Florida.
“It was an upset because they were supposed to win that tournament because they had Deni,” Böhm said. “He was the best player, but we won in the end.”
Montverde is one of the best high school basketball programs in the country with notable alumni in the NBA, including Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell and Joel Embiid. Montverde wanted Böhm to join its roster for the 2019-20 regular season.
That team ended up going undefeated, and it featured three projected lottery picks in the 2021 NBA Draft. But because of a last-minute change, Böhm couldn’t play for the high school varsity team.
“I was supposed to play for the high school team, but because of differences in the education system between here and the Czech Republic, I couldn’t play for the high school team,” Böhm said. “I played for (Montverde’s) post-grad team, which was high level, but not as stacked.”
Instead, Böhm joined Montverde’s post-grad team that featured other seniors hoping to play college basketball. Since they didn’t play in a specific league, the players on the roster divided minutes and shots pretty evenly, Böhm said.
Despite a smaller role, Böhm got noticed. He said NKU’s coaches liked what they saw at a tournament he played in Orlando, and after that they visited him at Montverde.
“I liked the coaches, and I decided that was best for me,” Böhm said.
This season, he hasn’t had an easy transition playing high-level basketball in America for the first time. During the offseason, NKU’s coaching staff had Böhm face different forwards and even guards during practice so he could get acclimated to defending different types of players.
Böhm struggled early on, and he only played 13 minutes in the Norse’s season opener. Even though he only averages 19.7 minutes per game this season, Böhm has committed three-or-more fouls in seven of NKU’s 13 games.
“Some of the games I didn’t play well were high turnover games and high pace games,” Böhm said. “There was a lot of confusion, and that’s when I’m not that good. I’m better at a slower pace sometimes when I know what to do.”
Even though Böhm has struggled against certain matchups, he has shown his potential, including last weekend’s series against IUPUI. As the biggest player in the Norse’s rotation, NKU has leaned on Böhm’s size and scoring ability at times this season.
This weekend’s series at Robert Morris could be another one of those situations. The Colonials’ two leading scorers are 6-foot-7 forwards AJ Bramah and Kahliel Spear.
Even though the Norse are coming off two straight losses to an IUPUI team that was in last place in the conference last week, Böhm said that NKU is on the verge of playing more consistently, himself included.
“We know when we are at our best, we’re one of the best teams in the league,” Böhm said. “We just have to keep working and the results will come.”