Here comes another Final Four! This is why all of us signed for Fenerbahce – to have opportunities like this to win titles, especially the EuroLeague title. This is the big stage, and the time to hit the most important shots, to make the most important plays. We are all here because of that, to be in this situation. This is my fourth consecutive Final Four. We won one title and played three finals. One of out three is not bad, but also not so good. We are really hungry and eager to win this year and make it two out of four! We have some injury problems, losing Joffrey Lauvergne in February and Gigi Datome a few weeks ago. We have other players with injury problems, including me, but it is two games and we have to stay focused and stay together. What can we do, other than believe in ourselves? We are hoping for a good Final Four.
The good thing about our team is that we have a pretty deep roster. For instance, Tyler Ennis got injured at the beginning of the season and we kept winning. We have many talented players and showed it the whole year. Even though maybe we didn't have the best roster by the names, we managed to finish first at the end of the regular season and fought for every win. We were tough and physical the whole season, and we will try to keep doing the same in the last two games. Everybody is this club has a strong mentality and that allows us to fight the hardest. We will go there and give everything we have. If anybody is better than us, we will shake their hands and congratulate them, but we are never going to go down without fighting.
We played a very solid Game 4 in our playoffs series against Zalgiris in Kaunas, our last EuroLeague game before the Final Four. Zalgiris was a strong test for us, winning a game in Istanbul. Even when they were the eighth-seeded team and caught the last train to the playoffs, they showed that they were not there by accident. They really played great and showed they were maybe the team in the best shape in the final weeks of the regular season, winning their last six games in a row. But we are still a pretty experienced team, and whoever is on the court, we will try to make things tough for any opponent. We will fight and try to give our best every time.
"Turkish fans will be happy because one of their teams will play the championship game for sure"
We will play against Anadolu Efes in the semifinals. We know each other very well, which has its good and bad things. We played six times this year – not to mention all the times we have faced each other in all competitions since I joined Fenerbahce four years ago. It is probably the team we played the most, around 40 times or so. But it is going to be interesting! They are having an amazing season, probably the best in the club's recent history, and I have great respect for them. They have players who are having amazing seasons, even career-best seasons, like Vase Micic, who is showing he is going to be one of the best point guards in the EuroLeague in the next years. Also Adrien Moerman is playing amazing, not to mention players like Kruno Simon, Bryant Dunston, Tibor Pleiss and Shane Larkin, who started slow, but in the end, he found his rhythm. All of them are playing some of the best seasons in their lives, if not the best.
We are hoping to make things hard for them and make them struggle as much as they can, trying to use our experience from previous Final Fours. We are having some problems and not everyone is going to be ready, me included. If I finally play, it will be my first game in 20 or 25 days, since the playoffs against Zalgiris. Still, what can you do? Just keep fighting, keep playing. It is going to be interesting and probably Turkish fans will be happy because one of their teams will play the championship game for sure. It would be nice if the fans from the losing team would support whatever Turkish team is in the championship game, and I am expecting that. Efes and Fenerbahce are not exactly in love, but I think the patriotic Turkish feeling is stronger than a rivalry between teams. Hopefully, we will make it to the championship game and will get Efes fans supporting us.
CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid will play in the other semifinal. Of course, we will already know if we advanced or not before that game. It is totally unpredictable and I feel that whatever I say, usually the opposite thing happens! With all due respect to Real, who had an amazing season, I think CSKA is in better shape at this moment, more solid, with a more physical team. At the same time, over the last few seasons, Real showed you cannot count them out if they have a good night. If they hit 15 threes, they are going to beat anybody. Whoever controls the pace will have more chances to win. It sounds easy, but it is not that easy when you are on the court. Like I said, I give CSKA a slight advantage but this is the Final Four and everybody has a 25% chance to win.
"We want to show that we are a winning generation"
By the way, I would like to thank all of the EuroLeague coaches who voted for me as Best Defender. I read I was second overall, so thank you very much. It is a great honor to be in the mix for that kind of award. Walter Tavares showed he is a game-changer. He is changing a lot of shots and every opponent has to adjust their offense to play against his length and dominance in the paint. If I have to lose to somebody, it is fair to lose to Tavares. It is a great honor. Last season, I was up and down because of injuries, and I didn't feel so good. It is good to be back and healthy. Next season, I hope to win this award and be the EuroLeague's Best Defender.
We have many players who won together at the 2017 Final Four and are still here, and that is an advantage. We have to stay calm, because there will be crazy moments and this is when experience is important, to control a game and eventually win it. We won once and want to do it again. We want to show that we are a winning generation, the kind of team you always remember in a few years' time. Hopefully, we will have a lot of fun in Vitoria-Gasteiz and be the last team standing, celebrating on the court.