Mavericks Rookie Ryan Broekhoff Talks Eating Overseas, Going Vegan and More
DALLAS -- Australia isn’t exactly known for its endemic cuisine. Nor would Ryan Broekhoff have been mistaken for a full-on foodie in his idyllic seaside town of Mornington, where he grew up on Vegemite, roasts and “meat and veg” outside of Melbourne.
But the rookie forward for the Dallas Mavericks had ample opportunity to expand his palette while playing professionally in Turkey and Russia. And with the help of both his teammates at Besiktas and Lokomotiv Kuban and his then-girlfriend (now wife), Katie, “Rowdy” did just that.
Though he and Katie are mostly vegan now, Ryan didn’t hesitate to dig into “The Maverick”—a meaty, spicy, cheesy sandwich—while sitting down for coffee and conversation with CloseUp360 at LDU, an Australian-style coffee house in Dallas, over the summer. The 28-year-old opened up about food and family at home and abroad, his engagement in Paris (prior to his wedding in Bali) and the couple’s turn toward veganism.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
CloseUp360: How would you characterize Australian food?
Ryan Broekhoff: I don't really know. Australians don't really have a certain cuisine, I guess, as their own. We have a few little things here and there that are popular. We've got Vegemite, which is like a breakfast spread. We've got Lamingtons, which are kind of like a sliced dessert. We've got a few little things, but basically just steal from all the other countries. We got fish and chips and meat pies from England, all the pasta and stuff from Italy, and burgers and stuff from here in America. So we're kind of a big melting pot of all different cuisines.
CU360: Did you do much exploration food-wise during your time overseas?
RB: While overseas, I tried my best to try the cuisines of the countries that I was in. So there were a few experiences that were really, really good, and there were a few experiences that, let's say, weren't as good. In Turkey, they have beautiful food, use a lot of like spices. They love using like lemons and stuff to bring out the flavor in the food. It's very simple. It's usually rice, meat, vegetables, but just the way they season and cook them is delicious. In Russia, I actually tried, I can't think of the Russian name for it, but it's basically chicken in gelatin? Yes. It was a unique experience. I think it's something of a traditional meal, but I think one try was probably enough for me.
CU360: How would you describe the experience of playing basketball overseas in foreign countries like Turkey and Russia?
RB: The experience of playing overseas in Russia and in Turkey, you know, are very unique and something I'm very happy that I did get the opportunity to do. It helped, I guess, turn me from a college student into a full independent man, being able to live and work in a foreign country that doesn't speak English as a first language. A lot of people don't speak it too much at all. And just being able to survive and being able to adapt to new cities, and find your way around and find ways to be comfortable. I'm very lucky I had a supportive wife that traveled with me, too, and really helped take care of me.
CU360: How did she enjoy the experience? Or did she?
RB: She enjoyed the experience. She was very happy that we finally were coming to the U.S. But she loved the experience. We got to travel to countries that we never thought we'd be able to or we hadn't heard of, I guess, as well. But being able to travel through Europe and see some of the most beautiful cities in the world. We went to Paris; it's where we got engaged. We've been to Prague—we loved that city as well—and a few other countries and cities that kind of tick off the bucket list that we wanted to see. And to be able to do that while playing over there, and a pretty quick flight, was something that she really enjoyed. It obviously brought us closer together, living over there and being just sort of us two, dependent on each other. So I knew if she could survive living overseas, she was the one for me.
CU360: That's why you decided to get married this summer, once you'd already come back?
RB: Well, yeah, we got engaged earlier this year. It was all sort of quick. And I knew I was going to come over to the states and try really to make a team. But we obviously didn't know if it was going to happen or not. But in the future years, 2019, I'm hoping to play with the Australian team in the world championships. And 2020 is the Olympics. And we're, like, “Well, we've been together for five years.” We know what we want and she had it all planned. So it's, like, “We may as well. Let's get married now while we can have some time and can really enjoy it, and not sort of feel rushed like the next summers may be.”
CU360: What did you do for the engagement in Paris?
RB: She says she knew it was coming, and I think she probably did. So originally, I was thinking do it at the top of the Eiffel Tower, so we went there on the first or second day. You just kind of get up there and you're, like, “It's not as romantic as what you think.” It's really high and I'm not great with heights, and it's really windy up there. And the last thing I want to do is drop it out the side. So I had the ring with me, but I was, like, “Oh, we'll save it for another time.”
I was talking to a former teammate of mine, Taylor Rochestie. His wife is from France, just outside Paris. They'd been traveling a lot and he's, like, “Have a look at this place. This place is really nice.” So we went up to Montmartre. I think it was our last full day there. So we went up there and it's a real beautiful part. It overlooks all of Paris. It's sort of like an artsy district—people sitting on the street painting and things like that. There's a beautiful cathedral that sits on top of the hill. We went and looked at that, and then we slowly walked down the steps and the hill, and sort of at the bottom, I thought this is probably the best place. And then got down on one knee and actually asked someone who was walking by to take a photo, to try and capture the moment. My wife was in earshot, so I was trying to do it really quietly, but I didn't really get it across. But the lady somehow put it on video and got the whole moment, and it was perfect.
CU360: Did you get to dive into the cultures when you were in Turkey and Russia?
RB: I tried my best to dive into the culture while I was playing overseas. Turkey, while I was in Istanbul, I really took time to go and visit historical parts, read up about sort of history. There's actually an Australian war memorial [southwest] of Istanbul. We call it Gallipoli. It's called something else in Turkish, but it's where our troops landed in World War I, trying to make it up somewhere. It's something we now celebrate. It's called Anzac Day: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Basically it's sort of our military day to pay tribute to the people who have served our country and lost their lives. And a big thing is Gallipoli in our history, to be able to go down there and sort of see from outside. And we also got the Turkish memorial as well. That was an amazing experience. Me and a few of my Australian friends came with me, so that was great.
And in Russia, we tried our best. We went to Moscow, St. Petersburg, museums and historical places. We made some really good Russian friends that sort of filled us in a little bit on what life is like over there, and how sort of the politics work and things like that. So it was a great learning experience for us.
CU360: There are times players will go to different places overseas, and it's just basketball. That's all that matters. But it sounds like you really wanted to soak in the places you went to as well.
RB: Yeah, I wanted to get out and experience everything that I could. Basketball is a huge part of my life and I love it, and it's taken me everywhere that I wanted to go and more. But, you know, there are other things that are important to me, and to be just focused solely on basketball all my time—go to the gym, to the apartment, go to the gym, go to the apartment—I think I'd just wear out mentally. So just giving myself other avenues to explore and to learn and to travel, and that sort of stuff interests me and interests my wife. And it just helped break up the time when we were away from home for so long.
CU360: How long have you and Katie been vegan, and what are the particulars of your diet? I assume you share the same one at this point.
RB: We share the same diet, so it's about 75 percent vegan. That's what we would kind of equate it to. Being overseas, my wife did a lot of the cooking. So when you cook, you can kind of control what's in your food. But going out to restaurants and stuff overseas, there wasn't a huge variety of options for vegan. So if we went out and wanted to treat ourselves, then we would eat what we wanted, felt bad about it the next day. But it's just how it is.
I'm having a beautiful Maverick sandwich here at the moment and I don't feel too bad, but we're just trying to make the change slowly over time. And now that we're sort of based in one place, hopefully continue in that direction. And we both think it's been really positive for both our health and general well-being.
CU360: What was the thought process behind moving toward the vegan diet?
RB: We slowly moved toward the vegan diet. I watched a documentary called What the Health. It was recommended by one of my teammates who hasn't gone vegan, but just said, “You have to watch it.” So I watched that and sort of told the wife she probably should check it out, too. We watched a few other things and we just sort of thought to ourselves, although we're meat eaters—we love barbecue and steaks and everything—from a personal standpoint, we didn't feel as comfortable anymore sort of helping that chain of slaughterhouses and things like that.
And once we did our research and saw through the vegan diet that we could get all the nutrition and everything through a plant-based diet, we thought we'd give it a try and see how it went. And we both really enjoyed it. The food, there's so much variety with it that, I should say, she has done an amazing job making it interesting and tasty, and also healthy.
CU360: How long have you and Katie been moving toward veganism?
RB: We probably started it about 8-10 months ago. So sort of after we'd got back to Russia for the last season, those documentaries started popping up on Netflix and everything. So it's probably been almost a year now. We're still working on it. We're still not perfect with it, but we're very happy with the results when we do sort of maintain it.
CU360: You feel better? You feel lighter?
RB: Just feel more even. It's not so much ups and downs. And eating a lot of meat and stuff can make you feel heavy. You know, it's just more of an even feel and lots of energy. Even sort of health-wise, I haven't gotten sick too much and everything like that. Whether it's attributed to the actual food or if it's just a mental thing, no one really knows. But as long as it works, it works.
Ryan's 5-Star Restaurants
Ryan: "Just some of the best Turkish food that I've had."
Ryan: "The 'Salt Bae'—it's his restaurant."
Atelier of Taste
Ryan: "It was a place right by where we lived ... which has really good food."
Ryan: "Great view over the Kuban River that runs through the city. Really nice food and a great atmosphere."
Ryan: "Our favorite ... an Asian fusion restaurant right by the water."
CU360: Do you have any passions outside of basketball?
RB: I think basketball is my major passion and it has to be if that's the career I want to pursue. But very interested in sort of how the body works and the science behind it. My college degree was kinesiology and exercise science, so I'd love to get into physical therapy or something along those lines. So those are things for the future. I love sport in general, whether it's basketball, whether it's American football. Now I'm in the States, a few people have asked me to join fantasy leagues and things like that. I'm a little behind on it all, but we'll see how we go. But basically I watch any sport. I'll go and play golf. I enjoy that. Basically anything to keep me active.
CU360: What does it mean for you to join the Mavs?
RB: Me and one of my closest mates from back home is a big Mavs fan. But I grew up sort of idolizing Dirk [Nowitzki] a little bit. I was always sort of an outside shooter, and I was, like, “What he can do at his size is something else.” ... I kind of grew up watching Dirk and sort of trying to emulate him a little bit. So for that to all come full circle, I get to spend a season with him and learn from him and watch him, and just see what it takes to have a career. And not just be good, but sustain that greatness for such a period of time. I'm just going to try to learn and help my game by watching him.
CU360: You guys have a really international team. You're from Australia, Dirk is from Germany, Luka Doncic is from Slovenia, and you’ve got other teammates from Canada, China, Greece, Puerto Rico and Tunisia. Is playing with people from different walks of life something you're comfortable with?
RB: Yeah, it's going to be a lot of fun with all the nationalities on the Mavs roster. Myself is Australian, Dirk Germany, Maxi [Kleber] is German, J.J. [Barea] is Puerto Rican. There's a Canadian in there somewhere. We've got guys from everywhere. So it's definitely, I guess, comfortable for me coming into an environment like that where playing overseas with international players as well as Americans. You almost feel like very similar to come over here. Obviously it's another step up and a lot more pressure, and everything that goes along with it. But to have so many guys from different walks of life, it's going to make conversations in the locker room pretty interesting.
CU360: What are your goals here in America and in the NBA, both on and off the court?
RB: I think my goals for my time here in America are pretty simple. I just want to help the team be successful and improve on previous seasons, and get back to where we hope to be, competing for championships. You know, personally, whatever my role is, that's what I'm gonna do and dedicate myself to. And I'm just hoping to be able to play well enough that I'll be able to have a long and successful career here in the NBA, and sort of stay stateside for as long as I can.
Off the court, I'm at that age, recently married, you know, it's that time. Just got a puppy. But obviously you want to have a family, and build a home and that with my wife. Not that we're in any rush, but hopefully we can just sort of stay pretty much in one place, and really build a home and build a family together.
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.