It was a really hard season, at least for me. I missed many games and one of my goals was to play in all 30 regular season games and to be able to compete against everybody. Other than that, I can say it was an interesting regular season; it was really cool and more exciting for basketball fans. For sure, it is better than before. We had a lot of injuries during the season and even though we will not have the home-court advantage in the playoffs, everybody is back now and ready to play. Kostas Sloukas returned last week, as did Luigi Datome. It is not the first time we have a full roster this season, but we have it at the right time; everyone is healthy and I hope we will stay like that until the end of the season. This is all we want from now on. Kostas is a really important player for us, just like everyone else. Somebody asked me a few months back how would the team play without me and I said we are the kind of team that needs everybody. We are used to playing like that and we’re really good when everyone is available. We can play faster and change any game on both sides of the court. We play inside, outside and are really unpredictable when we have a full roster. That is our advantage.
I am playing better, too. I had a good game against FC Barcelona. It was great to finish the regular season with a win, even though we didn't play well that night. In the end, we got a very important victory. Everything starts again right now and if we succeed in the playoffs, everybody will forget about the kind of regular season we had, because the four teams that survive will be the best ones in the EuroLeague. There are three Istanbul teams in the playoffs, but none of them have the home-court advantage. Still, that doesn't mean anything. Having the home-court advantage is great, but you also have the pressure to win those two home games because if you don't, everything you did to get that advantage goes away with just one game. There is no time to think about what can happen if you win, either. You have to take one game at a time and show you are the better team in that series.
First of all, we want to make it to the Final Four for all the people who support us and for all the Fenerbahce fans around the world. We also want to win the series for Zeljko Obradovic, who motivates us even more and keep us focused. This is his fourth year here and so far every season Fenerbahce has gone to OAKA and lost. This is extra motivation for us also, because we know we have to win at least once in OAKA if we want to make it to the Final Four. We already won a playoff series together last season, but it is a different situation now. Last season, we beat Real Madrid 3-0 to go to the Final Four and made it to the final. The previous year, Fenerbahce made it to the semifinals. I just hope we can qualify to the Final Four, even if it is with a tougher playoffs series, and be more successful in the Final Four! It is in Istanbul, we have a lot of fans here and of course, it is an extra motivation to try to be there, but we really can't think about that now. We are really focused on the games we have to play at OAKA; that's all.
Panathinaikos is a tough team; that is not a secret. And the atmosphere in OAKA is difficult for every opponent. They deserve the success they have had until now; they have played really well, especially against big teams. We will have to do some extraordinary things to win a game there, because they have the same connection with their fans that we have here at home with Fenerbahce fans. Still, we have experience in gyms like that, playing against strong atmospheres, and we can use it for these games as well. The atmosphere is special in playoffs games; everybody wants to be there! You need to be strong in your gym and fans know that, so they create the best atmospheres. You just need to watch our playoffs games in Istanbul from last season to know what I am talking about. It was exciting! At the same time, it may be the last time they see their team at home in the EuroLeague this season, so people push even harder. It is the craziest atmosphere of the season, and the best home games, too.
As for Fantasy Challenge, I am playing badly lately but I am not really focused on it right now. If I were really focused, I think I could win! I have to focus on Fenerbahce Istanbul, my team. I can do better in Fantasy Challenge, but my real team comes first, that is the spirit!
Back to the playoffs: everybody wants to play these kinds of games. The playoffs are the only time you play many games against the same opponents in a short period of time. It is the moment to show you are better than the other team, at least in that moment. It is hard to beat a better team than yours three times, and it is a great way to see who deserves to go to the Final Four and who doesn't. It is a chance for the teams that played excellent during the season to see how good they are. So, right now, we want to keep it simple and try to be better than Panathinaikos in the playoffs!