We are halfway through the season right now; after facing Panathinaikos, we have played against all of our 15 opponents in the EuroLeague. Obviously, the first couple of months were better for us than this last one. We finished this month with three losses where we didn't necessarily play our best basketball. We made mistakes here and there that ended up costing us some games. I think this new year coming up and facing every team the second time around will be beneficial for some of us. For some of the guys, including myself, I hope that after seeing every team once that we will be better the second time around.
Our next game will be against Zalgiris in Kaunas. The first game that we played this season against Zalgiris was a battle that went to overtime. We ended up winning the game, but we don't expect anything less this time, especially playing at their place. I wasn't here, but if I am not mistaken, CSKA lost at Zalgiris. That is going to be extra motivation and we will be ready to go against a tough team. I heard the atmosphere there will be unbelievable.
"The crowds are unbelievable; in some places, it is really hard to hear your teammates and coaches... Playing in these environments is really fun, it is something that I cannot ever forget."
We lost against Panathinaikos in Athens last week. There is a lot for us to learn from a game like that. We came out the first quarter and had decent control of the game, but obviously, the second quarter is what killed us; they doubled us in the scoreboard, 36-18, in the second quarter. That's something we cannot let happen, especially on the road and especially in a gym that was that lively, that crazy, under the circumstances with a new coach. They played with some extra energy in terms of that and it was just one of those games in which we couldn't find the rhythm after them coming back on us. We made a second-half comeback that maybe gave us a little momentum but they withstood it and punched back and we couldn't handle it. We just made too many mistakes. We have to do better going forward.
This was the first time I played against Coach Pitino. I think having such famous coaches in Europe is a good thing. It is a combination of realizing there are really great players over here, in Europe. They have realized that the talent level here is very good as well as the level of basketball. In Pitino's case, he was looking for a place to back into coaching and Panathinaikos is obviously a great place to be. I hope he has as good of a success as he is looking for and obviously that every time we play against them we will do better than this last time.
My first EuroLeague season has been tougher than I expected. I don't think I could have started this season with certain expectations, because I had not played any type of European basketball before, and all these players that I am going up against, this is the first time I am facing them. I have to take it for what it is and hope that the second time around will be a lot better for me. The crowds are unbelievable; in some places, it is really hard to hear your teammates and coaches. They make it really fun. Playing in these environments is really fun, it is something that I cannot ever forget.
Next we go Kaunas, then to Istanbul to play against Darussafaka, and after that, we play nine of our last 13 EuroLeague games at home. We have been on the road a lot; we've been traveling, we've been on planes, in hotels... I am really looking forward to being at home. We have been playing really well at home, too. We're undefeated at home. That is going to help us do better in the second half of the season.
"I hope 2019 will be even better. We hope to turn the losses we had in 2018 into motivation for 2019."
One big difference for me between this season and last is the weather. There is not a lot of sunshine in Moscow and it's obviously a lot warmer in Phoenix, but we make it work. We will do our best to get outside and not be depressed. But it is something different.
The whole team lives within 5 or 10 minutes from our practice place and where we play. It is a very easy, smooth transition in terms of how to get around here. The area we live in has a giant mall with a lot of restaurants and pretty much everything you need. It is a pretty good set-up that we have here.
2018 was a great year for me and our team, but I hope 2019 will be even better. We hope to turn the losses we had in 2018 into motivation for 2019. It is going to be a battle down the stretch of the season and we need to be ready to go because we are looking to raise the trophy at the end of the season. This is CSKA and we must try to win every game, play well and win championships. There is pressure here to win every game. That is a huge part of why I wanted to come here is because I like that atmosphere because being here can make me a better player. I think everybody on our team feels that way. We don't mind that at all; we will go out, play, try to do our best and look at the results at the end of the day. If we play to our potential, there is nothing short of a EuroLeague championship waiting for us.