As you probably know, we are in the Eurocup quarterfinals. We are definitely where we wanted to be right now. We knew it was possible and the greatest thing for me is that we are undefeated without having playing our best. I know that, personally, I am not playing my best. We still have a lot of room for improvement and I think that if we stay healthy and keep improving, we are just going to get that much better. I am looking forward to seeing how good we can actually be when everybody is healthy and we are playing our best basketball. We may have played a few games at our best, but there is a lot for us to show and that people haven’t seen yet.
We defeated Brose Baskets in the eighthfinals, even though we had to play Game 2 without Anthony Randolph. I think we should have put them away in the first game in Bamberg, but we relaxed a little bit in the second half. Bamberg is not a bad team – especially playing at home, in Germany… German fans are, all around, the best in terms of supporting their team whether they are winning or losing. I think that their fans really gave them a push in the second half, we didn’t take advantage of our lead and Bamberg came back. In Game 2, we knew that we couldn’t give them a chance to advance. We just played hard on defense and that helped us to get a good lead early in the game.
Our defense has been solid all season and that is our biggest thing. We have a lot of offensive weapons, but in the games in which we play good defense, teams don’t really have the chance to play against us. Randolph is playing really well. It is always tough for Americans to come and play in Europe fresh out of the NBA – and Anthony has been in the NBA for a while. He is used to the NBA lifestyle and playing style. Earlier in the season, he had to find out what he could be good at in Europe and I think that once he found that out, after Christmas, he has been unstoppable. He is probably the most athletic, tallest and longest player that I have played with. His athleticism and skills set is perfect for playing really well in Europe. I don’t think there is a center that can match up with him one-on-one. We kind of have that advantage – he always finds the mismatch.
It is good to play with such talented guys – it helps me out a lot. I don’t have to score here – and for the last month or month and a half, I haven’t been shooting the ball well from three. I have been able to do other things to help the team because we have three other guys that have been playing probably their best basketball in the last month and a half. So, for me, it kind of makes my job easier because there is not that much pressure on me to score. I know we have guys who can score and me being the point guard, I know to make those guys better by putting them into situations in which they can be successful. It is kind of helping my game, because it is helping me develop other aspects of it. That is a plus; every year in Europe, I try to add more things to my game and those guys are helping me balance my all-around game.
We have a lot of left-handed players – Krunoslav Simon, Anthony Randolph and Derrick Brown. Left-handed players are always the toughest to defend and having three of them, three guys that can really score the ball, is good for me. When players are left-handed, the defense is not really used to play against guys like that.
We face Unics Kazan in the quarterfinals. If we play the way we are capable of playing, it will not be a problem for us to advance. We beat them twice in the VTB League and like I said, we haven’t played our best, so if we continue to get better, we shouldn’t have a problem. But they have one of the best scorers in Europe in Keith Langford and a strong roster, too. Still, I think that if we do what we are supposed to do, we will be fine.
Valencia is the defending champion so everything has to go through them and I thought that their series against Bayern Munich would be a great one. It has to be tough when you are 6-0 in your group, come out and play against Valencia, who probably played their best two games in the entire competition. It just wasn’t a good matchup for Munich coming out of that group. Still, seeing Bayern lose that series by more than 50 points was crazy. I definitely didn’t expect that. Valencia set the tone at home; when they won like that at home, they put Munich in a tough situation. They are not a team that is used to playing the way you have to play to rally and win that series – and that totally threw them off.
It was my birthday last week! My family came from the States – my brother, my cousin and my best friend. We won our game against Bamberg the night before and we went out for dinner with some of my teammates. We met with the rest of the team in this karaoke place. On my birthday, Richard Hendrix, who is the team’s chef, made a barbecue for me. He cooked out on a grill for the people who live in our development and that’s pretty much it! I enjoyed it; it was pretty good and I got to spend it with my teammates and my family. It was good for me.
In the next six games, one team will win the Eurocup and make it to the Euroleague. For sure, it is a big prize. I made it to the Eurocup semifinals two years ago and my team was not half as good as we are right now. I am pretty confident that if we get there, things will be much different this time. I am looking forward to it, but first, we have to get through Unics. If we get through this round, we will be a tough team to beat!