|One of most pleasant surprises in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague so far, Bennet Cantu of Italy, aims for its third victory in four games on Wednesday thanks in large part to a player who joined the team less than a month ago. Giorgi Shermadini, a 22-year-old center who already has a Euroleague title, has been instrumental the 2-1 start for Cantu after 17 years away from the competition. After three games, Shermadini's per-minute perfomance index rating (1.03) ranks him second overall behind only October bwin MVP Andrei Kirilenko of CSKA. Shermadini has been noticed not only by everyone around the Euroleague, but also by tens of thousands of bwin Euroleague Fantasy Challenge players, where he has been chosen for more teams than anyone else. Shermadini doesn't give much importance to stats, however, but about him making Cantu as successful as possible, as he says in this Euroleague.net interview. "I don't play for stats or anything like that, just to help my team win as many games as possible," Shermadini told Euroleague.net. "I have felt comfortable since I got to Cantu, and I am sure that also helps me to do well. My personal numbers are not very important compared to Cantu getting wins."
Hello Giorgi. Congratulations on a great start to the season. How good are you and your Cantu teammates feeling about the first two victories?
"Thank you. First of all, I have been here for just three weeks so being in this situation is great. We are feeling well, won our two games at home and lost on the road against Caja Laboral. I think everything is fine right now, even when we know every game will be even more difficult from now on. But yes, it has been a good start for us. Winning at home is very important in this competition."
You arrived late in the preseason. How did you adjust so quickly to playing with this new team?
"Well, I got a lot of playing time since I arrived here, 20-25 minutes. This is a new team for me and Cantu changed some players this summer, too. I have tried to do my best since the moment I got here, my teammates and coach has given me a lot of confidence. Our coach put a lot of trust in me and I wanted to give him that confidence back by trying to help the team as much as I could every time I stepped on court."
You now have the Euroleague's second-best per-minute performance rating. Last season, you finished fourth. What's the secret to doing a lot in a relatively little time on the court?
"I didn't know I was one of the index-per-minute leaders, to be honest. We have played three games and tried to do what I had to do on court. This is the way I played - I don't play for stats or anything like that, just to help my team win as many games as possible. I have felt comfortable since I got to Cantu, and I am sure that also helps me to do well. My personal numbers are not very important compared to Cantu getting wins."
This season's first win against Nancy was also the first Euroleague game for Cantu fans in many years. What was the atmosphere like that night and how did they help you win?
"Oh, they helped us a lot, not only against Nancy - all the time! Of course, the first game was really important to all of us, especially since we played at home. Cantu is a small city but basketball is really important in here. Everybody likes basketball and they all come to our games to help the team and us, their players. They give us a lot of support - pretty much everybody. It is unbelievable."
Even losing in Vitoria against Caja Laboral, the team played well. What did that game show you about this team's competitiveness?
"I think so. We didn't play good defense in that game and couldn't get back home with a win. Personally, I didn't play that well, especially in defense. I had some mistakes and we ended up losing the game by around 10 points. Caja Laboral is a great team with very good players. They have played the Euroleague for many years and always make it to the Top 16 and the playoffs, so their experience helped them to win that game, too."
Cantu confirmed its power against Bizkaia Bilbao Basket. Which were the keys in that important win?
"We knew we needed to beat Bilbao to stay in a good position to go to the Top 16. We played very good defense against them - unlike the game in Vitoria - and that was the biggest key to that win. Bilbao is a very dangerous team but we managed to dominate the game with good defense. We were very happy for this win but at the same time, we know we haven't done much yet but winning a couple of games. We need to go step by step if we want to have chance to make it to the next round."
In its two wins, Cantu has held its opponents under 70 points so far. How important is defense for you and this steam?
"Defense is always very important for any team, but it is true that Cantu is a defensive-minded team and I like it. We watch a lot of videos before every game, focusing on the opponents' offense - our coaching staff shows us our mistakes, analyzes the opponents and how they play, who is a good shooter or not... We change things for every game and practice a lot of new things, which is interesting. For instance, the changes we made after the game in Vitoria allowed us to play better defense against Bilbao."
After winning the Euroleague with Panathinaikos, you have been loaned to two other Euroleague teams. Do you enjoy these chances to get more playing time?
"Of course. I started to see extended playing time since I joined Olimpija. For a young player like me, it is very important to play as many minutes as possible. I know our coach is playing me as much as he can and no matter how much I play, I will always do my best to help my team."
Last year you were part of a special season with Union Olimpija. What was that like?
"It was very special, very good. We had a very good team with many good players. For instance, Olimpija is a much younger team this season. We had a very good season - we went to the Top 16, reached the Adriatic League final against Partizan and won the Slovenian Cup. It was a great experience for me."
You are not the only Georgian player in Cantu, as Manuchar Markoishvili is also in there. You played together at EuroBasket 2011, too. Was he a factor for you to join Cantu this season?
"A little bit, yes. Of course, Manu is helping me a lot. He was here when I arrived and we had known each other for many years, playing together for the Georgian national team. He knows everybody here and I was happy to have Manu in the club, showing me around the city, helping me a lot in practice. He is always ready to help me out and is a very important player in this team, of course. It is great to speak Georgian with him, too. Having him in the game makes me feel even better."
Having three full Euroleague seasons behind you and a big role now at age 22 is quite an achievement. What can we expect from Giorgi Shermadini in the future?
"It is difficult to say what the future will bring. I have to focus in the present and as far as the Euroleague is concerned, we want to go to the Top 16. So the only future we can think about is the next game - that has been my focus since I got here. Everybody is thinking on the game against Olympiacos, it is the only thing that matters right now.