I am back! I have been out for a really long time but here I am! I have not been out for such long time in the last seven years. For sure, when you are injured, you only want to play, so you have to work hard in order to come back. I missed some games and above all, playing basketball. I am usually over motivated to play basketball but right now, I am even more motivated. Still, to tell you the truth, an injury is painful but losing a very important game, like a championship final, hurts even more.
We played against EA7 Emporio Milan, which is on a losing streak right now but had a very good game against us. Like I said before the game, they are a tough opponent that plays fast and can surprise anyone, just like any team in the new EuroLeague. It is a tough game for us, just as I expected. It was my first game after the injury, too. Of course, I am not 100% yet and cannot play 30 minutes per game but Coach gave me the opportunity to start against Milan and that really worked for me. It was great to immediately feel how hard it was to push myself even more. I was missing the feel for the game.
A lot of people felt like I would be back and start scoring 20 points per game. This is not like Michael Jordan coming back! Everybody would love a story like that but the truth is, it takes some time to get back to your best playing level. We are a team and of course, I am an important player, just like everyone else. We need everybody to be fully competitive.
We are going back to Belgrade to play Crvena Zvezda mts. I am saying "going back" because some of us are Serbian or have lived there. It is a special day for us. Last year we played on January 8, which is around Serbian Christmas and this year we will play the day before the Serbian New Year, which is on Friday. It is a special day for us and a good moment to play against them. Also, Zvezda is is very good shape - the gym would be full anyway even if they were not, but now that Zvezda is fighting to make it to the playoffs, their fans will be ready to help them even more. Serbian fans are great, unbelievable. They follow their club even when they are terrible but even more when they are doing well.
So, a lot of us live in Belgrade, plus Jan Vesely has a Serbian girlfriend - he doesn't live in Belgrade now, but needs to come from time to time! - and Pero Antic played in there some years ago. Zeljko, Kalina (Nikola Kalinic) and me live there. It is a very special moment and we are really excited. Of course, we talk about Partizan and Zvezda all the time. It is not 50-50, I have to say: me, Jan, Zeljko and assistant coach Vladimir Androic are Partizan while Pero, Kalina and conditioning coach Predrag Zimonjic are Zvezda. Every time one of us wins, they tell the other group. It is normal, like in every country - OK, well, maybe we go a little bit further.
I am still playing the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge. It is a very interesting game but as a player, you don't have time to follow what schedule other players have, which is the most important thing, I think, or if players are in shape or not. Ilker Ucer, our communications and media guy, gave me some advice at the beginning of the game. First, you need to buy cheap players, wait for their price to go up, sell them and buy better players after that. That is the point of the game - I have a friend who got a weekly prize, Zemunac! His real name is Dejan Jevremovic. When I saw his team, it was unbelievable! you need to be lucky, to have 10 playes with great games in one round, all of them.
I have to say I made a mistake in two or three rounds, leaving my team open and getting zero points. I need to have all 10 players in order to get points, I cannot leave one position open. I missed up! It is a competitive game, anyway, I like it a lot. I still have Ekpe Udoh and Luka Doncic. I didn't change them from the beginning - they are the best! I traded Nicolo Melli after one bad game, imagine that! I had him from the beginning, traded him and that was the first time I forgot to buy a new player and I automatically got zero. And Melli was the MVP of that week!
Again, we are going back to Belgrade, yes, but to play a very tough game. Zvezda has beaten CSKA and Madrid at home recently and it is not going to be easy at all. I played against them many times and their basketball philosophy, what they have, is aggressive defense and smart offense. They respect each other and know exactly which roles they have in their team, who is responsible for every small detail in the game - rebounds, defense, shooting, creating off the pick and roll, everything. We know most of the team and what kind of plays they can make but they have a lot of talent and can surprise us. Marko Simonovic is having a great season and is playing with a lot of confidence. He is shooting better than ever, also in crucial moments, but we have good defensive players who can stop him. I think we are ready for the game, and it is also probably the first game of the season in which we are all healthy.
It is a long season, yes, but we are entering Round 17 out of 30. The regular season will soon be finished! We still have to play two back-to-back weeks, so it will be over in a couple of months. It is really a short period of time and we have to step up and play better. You could see in the game against Milan, we tried to move the ball and change some things, trying to imporve on defense, too. That is what we need for me, practice harder and become a better team because from now on, every game will be more important than the previous one and if we worked hard, it will pay off, I am sure.