His electric ballhandling and extreme quickness have turned CSKA point guard J.R. Holden into a fan favorite wherever he plays, even more so in the build-up to the Final Four in Moscow. So it was no surprise that fans that Fan Mail poured in for Holden as he and CSKA make their third consecutive Final Four appearance. Following an unprecedented 21-1 run through the Euroleague this season, and a 53-1 overall record including domestic play, it can be said that maybe no professional team at this level has ever won so consistently as CSKA. But as he says in his Fan Mail answers, Holden and CSKA know their business still needs to be completed at the Final Four. "I don't think any team has an advantage coming in," Holden said in one Fan Mail answer. "Not the home team, not Tau, Maccabi has a tough road, so does Panathinaikos. All the teams are evenly matched, and any team can beat any other on a given day. And that's one thing people love about a Final Four."
Hi, J.R. This is your third Final Four with CSKA. Do you think the experience gained in the last two will make a difference for you and CSKA this time?
"That's a good question, but I would say that the answer is no, because each Final Four is different. Ours is a different team this season. We've not been together a long time, and in each of the Final Fours we've had different components on the team. For me, personally, I would say that, yes, the experience will help since this is my third year here. But as far as whole team, this is really our first Final Four together, so it will be a learning experience for each of us."
Greetings, J.R. I love your game. Do you think there is any particular playing style that CSKA needs to use in order to win the Final Four?
"First I'd like to say that I'm glad you like my game. I appreciate you saying so. I think we definitely need to dictate the tempo of the game in order to win, especially against Tau. They are a great team, one of best four in Europe, obviously. I think the tempo and our defense are the keys. Our defense can dictate our offense. We have atheltes, guys who can get out and run, scorers. If we can dictate the tempo and play good defense, that's a big advantage for us."
Hey, J.R. You are shooting better free throws than ever this season, which could be an important factor in the Final Four. How did you improve so much?
Roberto Gutierrez, Spain
"Actually, I think it's confidence. But of course it's also repetition. I've struggled from the foul line every year I have been over in Europe. But I think it's another part of the game you have to work on, like ballhandling or shooting threes. I had to work on free throws, and over the summer I did it with a personal trainer in the United States, so I have to give him some credit. His name is Darius Newsome, and if anyone needs a free throw coach in the States, call him. He really helped."
Hello, J.R. Do you also consider this Final Four to be the strongest yet, as many people are saying?
"I would say yes, and I would say that because I don't think any team has an advantage coming in: not the home team, not Tau, Maccabi has a tough road, so does Panathinaikos. All teams the teams are evenly matched, and any team can beat any other on a given day. And that's one thing people love about a Final Four as opposed to a playoff finals. Anything can happen, and this year, with all team being comparable, it's probably the best Final Four of them all."
Hey, J.R. CSKA's incredible record this season goes beyond just talent. As the point guard and a leader, can you say there is a specific mental attitude that makes your team so good?
"Actually, I would say that everybody came in with a team attitude. Everybody was willing to sacrifice, from scoring and rebounds to assists and playing time. Everyone was willing to sacrifice and that's what makes us a good team. For instance, Theodoros Papaloukas had a great year for us. He pushed me and I push him and we both become better this season. We have similar things at each position, Antonio Granger and Sergei Monya, Marcus Brown and Zakhar Pashutin. We have good matchups not only in games, but in every practice. We push each other, because the attitude this year has been to take one game at a time while we better playing together."
Do you think that three-pointers can make a big difference in this Final Four for any team?
"I think that they can definitely make a difference. If you look at some of the shooters in the Final Four, you're talking about great ones. Just think of Macijauskas from Tau, Jasikevicius from Maccabi, Lakovic and Kutluay with Panathinaikos, Marcus Brown and Antonio Granger for us. Having such great shooters in a tournament can definitely make a difference, because those kinds of guys can be 0 for 8 all game and still hit three in a row at the end to win it. Those are six guys who can shoot the lights out, and they can defitinely make a difference at the end of a close game."
Hello J.R. You have a great team: athletic, strong and good shooters. Does CSKA have any weaknesses? Best regards,
Ziv Kesselman, Israel
"As a player for CSKA, of course, I wouldn't say our team has weaknesses. But there are always things each team can get better at doing. We can play better defense. We can rebound the ball better. There are always little things to get better at. But I really don't think we have any glaring weakness, something that people could say we can't win because of this."
Hi J.R. Here in Israel, everyone believes that Maccabi and CSKA are the best teams in Europe. All of us are waiting for Maccabi and CSKA to meet in the final and to play head to head for the title. Do you think it will happen?
Amit, Tel Aviv
"I think everyone is hoping and wishing for that, but there are four great teams in the tournament. I'm not thinking at all about Maccabi, to be honest. My concerns are entirely with Tau right now. I think Tau is a team capable of winning it all, so my focus is on them. I understand that the fans in Israel are excited think playing us would be best, but we'll find out whose best this weekend. Because I really believe that the best team will win the Final Four."
Hi J.R., what do you think about Tau Ceramica and who are the best players on that team?
"I think Tau is a great team after playing against them many times now. As far as the best players, I think that of course if go by stats, points per game, you have to go with Macijauskas, Scola, Calderon and Kornel David. But I think one of the big strengths of their team is that a lot of players do a lot of little things. I've seen Calderon hit a couple big threes at the ends of games to get them over the hump, and Splitter come in and get 20 points, 10 rebounds. They have such a good team, it's hard to focus on their stars. I really think the Tau-CSKA matchup is a game everyone will focus on. With two great coaches, two deep teams, I think it'll be a war. But, of course, I'll be cheering for CSKA."