The best time in European basketball has finally arrived, the EuroLeague. Fans from all over the world are excited to cheer on their favorite clubs, and teams are ready to come together and compete for a chance to punch a ticket to this season’s Final Four in Belgrade.
As for me, I am entering my fifth season in EuroLeague for my third club, Khimki Moscow Region. As many foreigners on other clubs can relate to, I am in the early stage of getting adjusted to a new team, new coach and living in a new city. Fortunately for me, it’s been an easy transition having the help of experienced Russian players to receive insights on the culture and how things should be done, as well as a fair share of foreigners who are going through the same adjustments as me.
Living in Moscow is a lot different than living in Belgrade. It’s really big and you really have to be strategic, you have to plan your whole day out as far as traffic if you are impatient like I am. So for example, if we have practice around 11, to be safe you have to leave your house like an hour and a half before, because you never know with the traffic in the morning and everybody going to work. In New York, you really only get that kind of morning traffic if you are going into the city, Manhattan, where everybody works, or if you are crossing one of the big bridges. From what I’ve seen here, I haven’t run into any big bridges or tolls yet, it’s just traffic backed up all day whether, from an accident, a checkpoint set up by the police or too many cars going in the same direction. It’s like that every morning and in the evening from like four to seven, so if you want to go out to eat, you should plan after seven or you’re going to be in traffic. It’s one or the other, you’re going to be in traffic going or coming back.
The weather hasn’t been a problem for me because it’s been like New York. It hasn’t gotten crazy yet. We’ve had flashes, but I’m sure next month and the months to come will reach what I’ve heard so much about. But generally I’m either in the gym or at home, it’s not like I’m outside walking around to really feel how bad the weather can get.
Before I came here, I played three of the past four seasons for Red Star in Belgrade and I started to learn Serbian there. My Serbian isn’t that good and I don’t really get to speak as much now, but every now and again if there is something that I can answer to one of my Serbian-speaking teammates – Stefan Markovic or Marko Todorovic – in English or Serbian, I will answer in Serbian, just to brush up on things I already know. If Stefan and Marko are talking between them and notice me listening, they always comment on me not saying anything and I tell them I am listening for words that I understand to get a gist of what they are talking about. I can still learn from listening to them talk, but everyone on the team speaks English, so there is really no point. Stefan is really competitive, as am I, so in practice, we might say some things to each other in Serbian, but other than that, I don’t think he's comfortable to ever say anything to me in a game because he doesn’t know if I really understand him.
Next week we go to Milan, where I played two seasons ago, for a road game. There are only two players on the team from when I played who are still there, so I don’t really have an emotional attachment to the team. It will be good to see the fans I built relationships with and the little bit of management that I kept in contact with. It’s a lot easier for me that the team is different. Sometimes when you play against your former team and there are guys that were there when you were there, you kind of get into this personal thing, this individual battle where you want to prove yourself. It’s just going to be a normal game for me and just us competing for a win. I am sure when we go to Belgrade it will be a totally different feeling for me because I have a more emotional attachment to those fans and the players on that team.
Gearing up for the 10th round of the Euroleague season we find ourselves trying to get back on track as we slipped in the standings after losing our last few games. This is just how it is in EuroLeague. With the new format, all the teams are improving and management is more strategic with the players they bring in because the new schedule is very tough. We have firsthand experience with that. We started off really well with some early wins, taking care of home court and getting a big win on the road against Madrid. And then we reached that rough patch that some teams go through in the EuroLeague when you're playing against teams that are equally as good or fighting as hard as you. And one team has to win. We played in some tough gyms going to Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, which are tough places to play and last we played at Fenerbahce. Those are three of the toughest places to get a win on the road and we just went through that. The schedule is just going to get tougher; that’s how it is.
Everyone knows the importance of every game and the more-focused team wins. We have to get through that rough patch. It's better to go through this rough patch early; we’re only coming now to the tenth round. We’re looking to turn things around and stay close in the standings to finish out these next 20 games. Playing in the EuroLeague, you never know what can happen. A team can get hot, get on a roll. I was a part of that last year with Red Star; we won seven games in a row. I think that experience keeps me level-headed as we look to get back on a winning run.
We are a little banged up now with injuries, but I think that helps the team grow. Of course we want to have everyone healthy every game. That would help us out a lot in terms of depth, guys wouldn’t have to play as many minutes as they’ve been playing. But it’s just a part of the game. Guys are going to get banged up. I think it’s important that it happened early rather than later in the season when you're fighting for position or it’s a difference between tiebreakers.
We are starting to get our guys back and healthy. Tyler Honeycutt should be back soon. Anthony Gill played last game. It's bad that it happened to important guys on our team, but at the same time, it gave us a chance to switch the lineups up and prepare for situations where those guys are not in the game later on. We just need to make sure everybody is healthy when things get really close.