In its first Turkish Airlines Euroleague season, FC Bayern Munich has proven to be everything but your average newcomer in the competition. Bayern survived the regular season and started the Top 16 with back-to-back wins. Three consecutive losses, however, have dropped Bayern into a tie for fifth place in Group F at 2-3. Its floor general and most consistent player until now has been playmaker Malcolm Delaney, who is also a Euroleague rookie after having earned All-Eurocup first team honors with Budivelnik Kiev last season. Delaney played off-guard for Budivelnik, but was switched to full-time point guard when he arrived to Munich, a change that is paying off really well. Delaney ranks sixth among all Euroleague players in performance index rating average (17.6 per game), is the competition’s 10th-best scorer (14.8 ppg.) and ties for ninth place in assists (4.3 apg.). He has drawn 99 fouls in 15 games, ranking second. Delaney is now focused on one thing: breaking Bayern’s current losing streak in order to aim for bigger goals, like the playoffs. “I think that the Euroleague needs new powerhouses,” Delaney told Euroleague.net. “We are just getting started at this level but making it to the playoffs would definitely be a great accomplishment. That is my personal goal for the team. I think we can make it to the playoffs.“
Malcolm, congratulations on a great season until now. Both you and FC Bayern Munich are Euroleague newcomers living up to the high expectations. How have you managed to play so well right away?
“Thanks. It has been fun. I think that playing in the best competition in Europe and against historical programs has been more fun for me. This is one of the reasons why I play well, from facing good teams in a good competition. After my season in Budivelnik, I took some time off and got my body back right. I prepared the same way as always: I have a pretty good recipe and kind of stick with it. I never played the Euroleague before, but this is the perfect time for me.”
Munich has responded as a city to top-level basketball with sellout crowds and an electric atmosphere at the Audi Dome. How does it feel to be part of something new in such a big city?
“It feels great! Last year, I had a good team, but we didn’t have a lot of fans supporting us: basketball was not big in Ukraine. Here, like you said, we have sellout crowds and fans really support us even if we are not playing well. I really love it here.”
After a great start in the Top 16, Bayern lost its next three games. How has the team worked during the break in order to break that losing streak?
“We just need to play well. I think we haven’t played our best basketball. We played really well in the last three games in Germany and I think that if we continue to play like this, we will be winning some more games. I just think it is time for us to play better. If we do, I think we can beat pretty much anyone if we play well.”
Your next opponent will be Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, one of the leaders in Group F. How much are you looking forward to that challenge?
“I am looking forward to it, everyone has nothing but positive things to say about Maccabi. It is definitely going to be fun for me to play against one of the top Euroleague teams and on that has a big history in the competition. For me, that motivates me to play well. I am sure, my teammates feel the same way.”
After that, Bayern plays three of the next four games at the Audi Dome. How important will it be to restore consistency at home?
“We already lost a few games at home. We didn’t play well against Galatasaray and then CSKA outplayed us. We need to start taking advantage of home games and win as many as possible. It is going to be very important for us because, with this crowd, we really do have a home court advantage.”
Last season with Budivelnik, you played shooting guard a lot. Now, you are mostly playing point guard. Was it difficult to adjust?
“No, but I am still learning the position. I’ve always played it: in college, they used me a lot as a point guard. Last year, I don’t think our coach used me well because I am not just a scorer. I can score, but also make my teammates better. I came here for that reason: they said they would let me play the ‘one’, which is what I wanted. This is the perfect position for me and I think that a lot of teams didn’t give me a chance at the ‘one’. Now, a lot of people can see that I can play the ‘one’.”
You rank second in the 2013-14 Euroleague in fouls drawn, too. What does a player need to go to the foul line often?
“That has always been my game, finding different ways to score rather than take 20 shots a game. I’d rather try to get free throws. For my body type and what I do well, I think one of my qualities in my offensive game is getting to the free throw line. I can’t be the most athletic guy, but I play smarter than most people. That’s big for my game, trying to find different ways to get my points and help my team out. If I am facing a great opponent and he is in foul trouble, I try to do my best to go at him. If a big man is in foul trouble, I try my best to get into pick-and-rolls and attack the pick. Stuff like that helps out my team. It’s not only me scoring or getting to the line. Getting some opponent into foul trouble helps the team, too.”
You are playing with a lot of freedom, too, making decisions always with the ball in your hands. How comfortable do you feel in Coach Svetislav Pesic’s system?
“Oh man, I love it! He trusts me and has given me the keys to the offense. He is basically developing me into the leader of the team and as of right now, I think that is what I am. He is confident in what I can do, trusts my abilities and knows that I am going to make the right decision. I make mistakes but he accepts doesn’t get too mad when I do it because I am still learning the position. He knows that I am trying my best to do whatever it takes to win. I love his system. We have a good balance, inside and outside. He lets me go in transition, and that’s the best part about my game.”
Of course, Bayern Munich is a sports giant, very different from any team you played for in the past. What is the best part about playing for a such a strong, huge organization?
“Definitely, the project of developing basketball is the best part about it. Of course, the soccer team gets all the respect, but now it is kind of fun because everybody is looking to see what the basketball team is going to do. Just walking out and the way people respond is definitely a lot of fun. I never played on a big basketball team and this is an up-and-coming European powerhouse. I love playing for FC Bayern, a big, big club in Europe. Basti (Bayern soccer superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger) is always around. He comes to practice and is very good friends with everyone on the team. I am not sure that a lot of superstars in other Euroleague clubs hang around with their basketball players and constantly communicate with them. This support from him and everybody else is definitely showing all the fans that people are actually taking basketball very seriously. That’s a good thing for us, I really appreciate it.”
No German team has ever reached your next goal, the Euroleague playoffs. How important would it be to see Bayern among the best eight in Europe?
“It would be great. I think that the Euroleague needs new powerhouses. Like I said, our soccer team is there already and it would be great for Germany, definitely for Munich, and for us. We are just getting started at this level but making it to the playoffs would definitely be a great accomplishment. That is my personal goal for the team. I think we can make it to the playoffs.”