Those close to Tom Thibodeau know he’s all about having tough players – reminiscent of the Knicks in the 1990s, when he was an assistant coach.
Apparently, Thibodeau has really got one in Frenchman Evan Fournier, son of world-class Judo-competing parents.
Fournier’s father Francois is a former World Cup champion judoka, a four-time national champion and one of the French national-team coaches. His mother Meriem also weaved an esteemed judo career.
As a kid, Fournier — the Knicks’ most expensive offseason addition ($78 million over four years) this offseason — didn’t just compete in basketball but was on the way to following his father’s footsteps in Judo.
When the shooting guard was asked what belt he got up to, Fournier said he would practice on the sidelines with his father’s teams but nothing became formalized.
“It wasn’t official,’’ Fournier said at Monday’s Media Day. “I can kick your ass, though.’’
Thibodeau got a strong recommendation from his friend, Steve Clifford, who coached Fournier in Orlando as one of the toughest-minded competitors he’d ever coached.
That was enough to sell Thibodeau.
When asked what drives him, the Saint-Maurice, France native said, “I enjoy winning. I just think it’s just how I was brought up from a fighters’ family. Both of my parents were judo fighters from the national team. So I’ve always been around fighters my whole childhood. A lot of hard workouts, hard practices. Guys throwing up because they’re tired. As a kid, it just kind of stays with you. It’s a part of who I am. I enjoy winning. I enjoy battling and I enjoy competing.’’
Post Plus reported earlier this month Knicks GM Scott Perry preferred a stronger run at swingman DeMar DeRozan over Fournier. Thibodeau lobbied hard for Fournier who now replaces the departed Reggie Bullock, heart and soul of the Knicks’ league-leading defense.
Bullock, a Baltimore product, was also known for his toughness but didn’t know judo.
Julius Randle said it’s “great’’ all the Knicks and coaches are vaccinated and don’t have to do with Kyrie Irving-like issues.
“Being available every night is great,’’ Randle said. “And we know we have our guys available, that’s the biggest thing. The fact that we can practice together every day. Regardless, (as long as) guys (don’t) get injured, whatever it is, they’ll be available to play. So I’m excited about it.’’