Mirza Teletovic, Caja Laboral
December 20, 2011
|All eyes will be on one of the best shooters in international basketball, Caja Laboral forward Mirza Teletovic, when the Turkish Airlines Euroleague's most even group ever is resolved on the final night of the regular season Thursday. Teletovic leads Caja Laboral into a virtual do-or-die finale against local rival Gescrap BB as the Euroleague's leading scorer this season – but not just any leading scorer. His 22.8 points over the first nine games is highest regular season average in eight years. Always an incredible three-point threat – he ranks second all-time with 2.2 triples on average among players with more than 80 Euroleague games played – Teletovic has diversified his scoring this season by going to the basket and posting up more. Caja Laboral will need all of Teletovic's scoring diversity as it enters a lion's den with a sellout crowd of 10,000 fans at Bilbao Arena with the season on the line for both teams. "The relevance of this game, its importance, is so big that we would be extra-motivated no matter who the rival was," Teletovic told Euroleague.net. "...this is a do-or-die situation for us - also for them - so the only important thing is a win. The goal is clear. All we have to do is to stay focused as a team in order to get to it."
Hello Mirza. Tell us first what it has been like this regular season to play in the tightest, most even group ever in the Euroleague?
"Well it has been hard, that's for sure. The problem is that we had some bad games at home, some games that we lost that we shouldn't have lost, like the one against Gescrap BB, for instance. Also against Bennet Cantu we had some problems. We took some bad decisions in the decisive moments and that made us pick up some losses that made it harder for us. We have to keep on working and play together like we always do. It's the only way to go further."
Are you surprised at all to still be fighting for a Top 16 spot in the last game of the regular season?
"Yes of course. I mean, Caja Laboral is a great team, a big name in Europe, and it is always expected to be in the Top 16, no matter what. So it's a bit of a strange situation for us. There are always problems but we know that for this last game we will have to win and then we will be able to go on with the competition into the Top 16. So that is what we will focus on for now."
How is the team handling the extra pressure of this upcoming do-or-die game against Gescrap?
"Well, many of us have been around for several years now, especially in this competition. We have all played difficult games and have been in tough situations and we are used to it somehow. For instance, last year we had to win games against Zalgiris first and Lietuvos Rytas later at different stages of the season, and we managed to do it. We have players like Pablo Prigioni, Fernando San Emeterio, Milko Bjelica or even myself, who have plenty of experience in the Euroleague. This has to be a good help for us to face this new do-or-die situation, which this time happens to be against Gescrap BB."
Your matchup against Marko Banic will be critical, since you two are very different players. How much are you looking forward to playing against him?
"Well, I don't really look into individual matchups on court so much. If we want to win this game, we have to play like a team and play well like we did this last weekend to beat F.C. Barcelona Regal in the Spanish League. Marko Banic is a great player, but the fact that I play well against him won't make my team win the game, which in the end, is what counts. We all have to put our effort to be in the Top 16."
Gescrap managed to beat you in Vitoria in a sports rivalry gets bigger every year. Does that loss give you an extra motivation for the game in Bilbao?
"Of course. The rivalry is getting bigger every year and Europe gets to know more about it duel after duel. However, it is not a special motivation that the game is against Gescrap BB. The relevance of this game, its importance, is so big that we would be extra-motivated no matter who the rival was. As you said, this is a do-or-die situation for us - also for them - so the only important thing is a win. The goal is clear. All we have to do is to stay focused as a team in order to get to it."
You’ve been having a great season. After being close other times, was leading the Euroleague in scoring an objective for you?
"No, not really. My first goal as a player is always trying to help the team. If the team plays well, I play well. There is no other way. Fortunately for me, I get the ball in my hands a lot of times and it's coming out good so far, so it's a great situation for me. I never meant to be the top scorer of the Euroleague or any league for that matter, but if it turns out that way and the team wins, even better."
You were always seen as a great three-point shooter, but seem now to be running the floor and posting up more. Did you make a conscious decision to diversify your offense?
"Well you see, as a matter of fact, I think I became more of a pure shooter when I landed in Spain to play with Tau Ceramica and now Caja Laboral. Before being here I already used to play more in the post and do different things, but then I arrived here and started shooting more because that's what the system needed of me. I think I always had it in me, the only difference is that for one reason or another, this season I am doing it more again."
Back to this week’s game: What would say to a neutral Euroleague fan about what they can expect to see in this derby between Laboral and Gescrap for a place in the Top 16?
"Of course they can expect a huge game with an incredible atmosphere in Bilbao. There will be a lot of excitement on both ends because the prize for the win is a big one. I would also tell them to root for Caja Laboral and support us!"