We are Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champions! What a great feeling! I am going to be honest with you all: every morning, when I wake up, I open my eyes, think about it and it is a dream-come-true! It has really happened! I worked really hard for many years to get where I am right now. When I was with Partizan, I didn't have such good chances of winning it, but as soon as I came to Fenerbahce, and even before, while I was still playing for Partizan, I started to think about how great it would be to win the EuroLeague title. I saw a change in my abilities and thought I could do that. It is unbelievable. Like I said before, I would trade all individual awards I got for the EuroLeague title.
You probably don't know this, but I played at the EuroLeague's junior tournament with FMP in 2010. I made it to the final against INSEP and was scoreless in that game. That was my first direct contact with the Final Four and I thought how great it would be to play it. I spoke about it to Jan Vesely two weeks ago; he was there, in that Final Four, with Partizan! I told him, "Hey man, can you imagine I watched you in this Final Four from the stands?" I was watching a lot of players – Partizan lost in overtime both in the semifinals and the third-place game, but especially Jan! Now I am playing with him and we won the EuroLeague together! I played terrible in that final, but it was a great lesson for me. I remember my agent told me that a lot of people were coming to watch me in Bercy, because it was my first big game. I played a couple of tournaments with FMP and this was the one all the scouts were coming to see. I felt the pressure immediately and I was sick before that game. It is all in the past now, because I won the big final with Fenerbahce.
It was not easy, of course; we had to beat two good teams in Real Madrid and Olympiacos Piraeus. The key against Madrid was to stop them from playing fast. And they had more turnovers than assists, so we did a good job. We prepared the game like that: against a team like Madrid, you need great balance on defense and to arrive before them so that they don't play in transition. So, transition defense was the key, and one of the biggest problems we had all season. We did well this time, and everything started with great defense. Once in the final, we knew that we had to slow their two key players, Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis. Still, they played without Spanoulis in our arena and were close to beating us, plus anything can happen in one game. We knew we could play better than them in this situation, right there, and did exactly that. I don't think anyone doubts we were the best team on the floor that weekend.
Last season's experience helped a lot; remember, we beat Baskonia in overtime in the semifinals and lost against CSKA, also in overtime, in the championship game. Unlike in last year's final, we started to play really, really well from the first play. Once we started to be so focused and aggressive on both sides of the court, there was no doubt that we ready. Again, it is really hard to play against such great teams as Olympiacos and Real Madrid. During the season, we sometimes struggled in third quarters, but not this time; we were really aggressive, very motivated and did really well, especially against Olympiacos. We play together and won! By the way, when I say "we started to play well from the first play," I mean it. Did you see that alley-oop dunk by Jan? Wow!
We celebrated in front of our fans, who were amazing, all season long. Everyone went crazy when Melih Mahmutoglu lifted the trophy. What great confidence! One of the highlights was when Pero Antic cut Gigi Datome's hair, which is not something you usually see on a basketball court! Last year, I think, Pero and Gigi made a bet; Pero said that if we won the trophy, he would cut Gigi's hair. Gigi agreed and delivered on his promise. I don't know where Gigi's hair is; someone told me he put it in a bag, I don't know if he kept it or not! Celebrating with the Fenerbahce fans was truly special, unbelievable. You could see it at Sinan Erdem, there was an unbelievable atmosphere and the parade just was great. It is something that, as a basketball player, motivates you even more. I can say that Istanbul is a basketball city already, especially this season. The new EuroLeague system, with more exciting games, has made people in Istanbul follow basketball even more.
Much respect to all Fenerbahce fans out there. Our gym was pretty much full for the entire EuroLeague season and I knew they would not disappoint us in the Final Four. Their support was amazing, especially in those games when we needed them more, when we were losing or not playing at our best level. They cheered for us the whole game and gave us the energy we need. Above all, this EuroLeague title is for all Fenerbahce fans, especially those who were there with us all season.
Don't forget that the 2018 Final Four will be in Belgrade, my hometown! I think that the EuroLeague made a great decision by bringing the Final Four to Belgrade. It is a great city to visit and many people don't know how great it is. So, if you go to the Final Four, make sure you have time for sightseeing and know about its history. There are also a lot of young people with a lot of energy. It is really alive! And the food… Oh, the food! So many good places to eat! People there love basketball and will welcome everyone. Try to be there, you will love the whole experience!