|Group A is the most balanced one in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Regular Season not only this season, but ever! Three teams - Fenerbahce Ulker, Caja Laboral and Bennet Cantu – are tied for first place at 4-3. Three others - Gescrap BB, Olympiacos and Sluc Nancy – are right behind at 3-4. One of the best Euroleague newcomers this season, Marko Banic of Gescrap, is fully engaged in this battle. At age 27, Banic has already been chosen as the Eurocup MVP and reached that competition's semifinals twice with Gescrap, but had never stepped on court in a Euroleague game until this year. Far from being intimidated, Banic is having a great season. He is averaging 16.1 points and has made more two-pointers – 45, with an outstanding 68.2% accuracy rate – than any other player in the competition. Banic is loving the experience and wants to enjoy it as much as possible by taking his team to the Top 16, as he says in this Euroleague.net interview. "Ever since I got to Bilbao, my main goal was to play in the Euroleague with this club. It was a dream that we managed to make happen and I am very happy about it," Banic told Euroleague.net. "Of course, I would have liked to play in the Euroleague earlier in my career, but doing it with Bilbao is very special for me."
Hello Marko. How has the Euroleague season been for you and Gescrap BB so far?
"Well, I believe that our overall performance could have been a bit better, but our future is in our hands. We now face a really, really important game against Bennet Cantu. It is really a make-or-break game for us. We hope to play well and win it in front of our fans."
You already played against Cantu. What do you like about them?
"Cantu is a very solid, homogeneous team. They don't have any superstar, but have many great players with a lot of experience. I really like the way they play together as a team. They have the patience to look for a good shot and usually find it. I am sure it will be a very difficult game for us, no question about it."
In such a balanced group, point-differential is going to be critical. You have the tiebreak advantage against Olympiacos and Nancy. Are you looking into that, too?
"Yes, like everyone else, I suppose. It is a very important factor especially in this group, which I think is the most balanced one ever in the Euroleague regular season. Nobody will probably know if they go through until Game 10. We have to go game by game, try to win it and then think of point-differential if there is a chance for that. So far and like you said, we have the tiebreak advantage with Olympiacos and Nancy. We will try to beat Cantu tomorrow and hopefully we will be in a situation where we can think about that, too."
Only three road wins have been recorded in Group A thus far - including yours in Vitoria. How important was that win and why is it so difficult to win on the road in this group?
"This group is very, very balanced. Every team has a tough time when playing on the road. All teams play with a lot more confidence in front of their fans and that is seen in the results. We lost at home against Fenerbahce, but quickly recovered by winning in Vitoria, which has been very important to us. I didn't expect so few road wins - but at the same time, I thought the group would not be with close."
This is your first Euroleague season. Is it what you expected to be - or is it even harder?
"This is a very beautiful experience for me, as a player, as well as for the club. It is a whole different game rhythm, the Euroleague games are much more intense. I think than teams play tougher than in the Spanish League. I am sure that playing the Euroleague will help me to get better as a player and improve some aspects in my game."
Back when you were in Zadar, you sat on the bench for some Euroleague games, but did not get to play. Did you expect to be part of the competition much sooner than 2011?
"Ever since I got to Bilbao, my main goal was to play the Euroleague with this club. It was a dream that we managed to make it happen and I am very happy about it. We did an excellent job in the Spanish League playoffs last season and little by little, I hope that our team will start to play at that level. We have to use that playing level as a reference, a goal, and not be obsessed with it. Of course, I would have liked to play the Euroleague earlier in my career, but doing it with Bilbao is very special for me."
You are unfairly perceived as too small for inside post play. What did you have to learn to overcome being shorter than most players you go against?
"Well, I am not a very athletic player, but know what my weapons are. Before a game, I always focus on my opponents' strengths and weaknesses. It is very important for me to analyze my opponents and focus on what I should do against them – pick-and-roll, shoot from outside, play in the low post. Playing with a big center like D'or Fischer makes things easier for me, too. D'or is not only a great defensive player, but knows how to play on offense. He moves really well, has a good outside shot and passes the ball really well."
This is your seventh season in Bilbao. What do you like so much about Bilbao and the club to be here for so long?
"Oh, Bilbao is a special place - it's my home! There are a lot of people I love in this city. I enjoy life here. I am very happy in Bilbao, it is a great place not only to play basketball, but to live really well, too."
You won the Eurocup MVP two years ago. Now that some time has gone by, what did that mean in your career?
"Being honest, as you mention this I still get chills down my spine! It was a great moment in my career, a great award not only for me, but also for the great work our team did that season. The only thing I regret is that we couldn't make it to the Eurocup title game in Vitoria. We had it all in our hands - Vitoria is really close to Bilbao, there were a lot of fans that came to see us. I regret that we couldn't do better but still, I am very proud of that MVP award."
Is there a special atmosphere at Euroleague games in Bilbao?
"Well, people come to the arena with more excitement, yes. People know what it means to play the Euroleague, an excellent competition with great teams and a great organization. So I would say that people are more motivated than in the Spanish League. The Euroleague song before the games gives you a little extra energy sometimes!"