|He has been on the spotlight since he was 18, but Nikola Mirotic is now officially a Turkish Airlines Euroleague superstar. Back in the 2008-09 season, Mirotic shocked the world with a 35-point, 23-rebounds, 9-steal performance at the Ciutat de L'Hospitalet Tournament. Madrid was patient with its homegrown talent and Mirotic proved his value in the Euroleague last season when he averaged 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20 games in becoming the 2010-11 Rising Star Trophy winner. But he was far from done. Mirotic has taken the next step this season climaxing with a December explosion during which he has boosted his numbers to 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in leading the Whites to a 4-0 record during the final month of 2011. His performances not only led Madrid to clinch first place in regular season group C, but also earned Mirotic bwin monthly MVP honors. It seems that the best is yet to come for Mirotic, but knows he cannot reach any goal without the help of his teammates, as he expressed in this Euroleague.net interview. "I believe we have played very good basketball so far and by playing this way, we are getting a lot of positive energy," Mirotic told Euroleague.net. "We are playing really well as a team. We are together and also hungry. Things are going well for us, but we must keep fighting and take one game at the time."
Hello, Nikola. First and foremost, congratulations for becoming the bwin MVP for December. What does this award mean to you and how much of an honor is to receive it?
"Thanks a lot. First of all, I am very happy with the award. It motivates me to carry on growing as a player. At the same time, I don't want to settle for this. I have to thank my teammates for helping me out to play so well in December. It is still a long Euroleague season and at the same time, it is very difficult to win a monthly MVP like this. The most important thing is that the team won all of its games in December and finished the regular season in first place. I have to think team first, because awards are not important if your team loses. So I am very happy with the award, but also because Madrid is winning, too."
Let's go game by game, starting with that road win in Milano in early December. You had 10 rebounds for the first time in your Euroleague career. How special was that?
"It was a very important game for both teams and we managed to play a good game. We were still with Rudy Fernandez and Serge Ibaka, who helped us a lot to win the game. We played well in all aspects of the game and I got my first double-double in my Euroleague career. We were very happy with this win."
You went on to beat Maccabi Electra at home, in a direct fight for first place in Group C. How did you approach that game?
"Well, the approach was trying to be first in our group and if we wanted to achieve that, we knew that we had to beat Maccabi at home. We were really looking forward to facing Maccabi again after losing against them in Tel Aviv this season and especially at the Final Four in Barcelona. We showed we were able to beat them and played a very good game. We played great defense for all 40 minutes and that allowed us to finally beat Maccabi and have a good chance to be first."
Your first 15 minutes were simply amazing, something all Madrid fans at Caja Magica will remember for years. Were those the best minutes you can remember in your career?
"I think so. I played some of the best minutes in my career - it was one of these days that everything I shot went in. The team was at a very good level, too, and we led by 15 to 20 points against a great team like Maccabi. So yes, I would have to say that those 15 minutes were something really special in my career."
Partizan mt:s was your next opponent in Madrid and you managed to keep playing really solid against a dangerous opponent. What do you remember about it?
"Well, it was an important game. We knew we would most probably be first if we won it. We wanted to finish the regular season undefeated at home and wanted to keep playing well after the big win against Maccabi. It was a fun game to play, our last Euroleague game at the Caja Magica. We did a great job and everyone played well, including Jorge Sanz, who had his chance in the final minutes. I tried to help the team as much as I could, just as always, and we managed to do it; Win the game and be our group champion."
Real Madrid has reached the 100-point mark three times in this regular season - including that game against Partizan. How comfortable do you feel in coach Pablo Laso's run-and-gun system?
"I am very comfortable with coach Laso's playing style, but it is not only me, everyone feels comfortable, even in important games. I believe we have played very good basketball so far and by playing this way, we are getting a lot of positive energy. We are playing really well as a team. We are together and also hungry. Things are going well for us, but we must keep fighting and take one game at the time."
Your last regular season was against Anadolu Efes in Istanbul. Madrid rallied from 17 down to win the game. What happened in the beginning of that game?
"Well, we had a really cold start of the game and they played strong from the very beginning, with very good shooting in the first half. Everything changed after a certain timeout that our coach called. The team bounced back and did a great job from that moment until the end of the game. We played really well in the third quarter and managed to stay focused in the final minutes. It is the kind of win that helps you to keep working hard and get ready for your next opponent."
You won the Euroleague Rising Star award last season. Has that award given you more confidence to compete against the best Euroleague players this season?
"It was a step forwards in my career, a very important award for me. It has given me some confidence, but in the end you have to work really hard every day if you want to be a good player. So an award like this helps a little bit, but not as much as hard work, trying to get better every day and always trying to help your team, of course."
You had never grabbed more than 7 rebounds in a Euroleague game, but you had 8 or more three times in December. Is it that you are focusing more on rebounding, a specific tactic or the fact that you take more shots per game?
"It is something I have tried to improve - and I am doing better in the Spanish League and the Euroleague. I am doing specific workouts to be stronger. At the same time, I have felt more comfortable in certain games and have played closer to the rims, too. I am not obsessed with it - I know I will get 10 rebounds some nights or just 1 some others. But it is true that I am rebounding better in recent games and I have a good teacher in Felipe Reyes, who always gets the best position to get rebounds."
Madrid signed Kyle Singler recently. Now that you have been with him for several weeks, how can he help Madrid this season?
"First of all, he is a great player and a very good person, too. He can bring us a lot of energy and is a very all-around player, too. He can play at the '2' and '3' positions, shoot from three-point range, drive to the basket from either side or play in the low post. He has good legs in defense, too. He is big and will help us rebound at both ends. I believe Kyle will help us in every aspect of the game."
Madrid went to the Final Four last season. Does your team have any limits this season?
"I think it is still too early to speak about limits. Of course, our main goal in the Euroleague is to go back to the Final Four, but again, it is too soon to think about it. We have to take one game at a time and see where we deserve to be in the end."