With 40 points in an upset victory on the road at Ural Great last week, Partizan ICN sharpshooter Vlado Scepanovic caused several shifts in the Euroleague statistical rankings. First, those 40 points set this season's single-game scoring mark. Second, he climbed to third on the scoring list with 22 points per game. Third, he took first in three-point percentage (37-for-67, 55%). And fourth, he cracked the top 15 in the MVP race with his average index rating of 20.6 over 10 games. Last but not least, Scepanovic set a personal record in European games and confirmed that the Yugoslav school of great shooters has not been tarnished by time or emigration to the NBA. The three-pointer is alive and well in Belgrade, thank you. "It may sound stereotypical to say so, but I rarely bother to check my statistics," Scepanovic said in a Euroleague.net interview. "It makes no sense sometimes. In Oostende last month, I scored 30 points but Partizan lost, meaning we all lost. That defeat still upsets me as Oostende won its only game playing us."
You have been attempting three-point shots more often than shooting for two points, which is quite rare. In fact, you have had more success at three-point shots than at two-point ones. Why?
"I play from a deep shooting position and have been known as a three-point player. I know that it is not wise to rely on only one element of the game, but I believe that I have shown myself to be a good free throw shooter as well. In any case, shooting more three-pointers seems to be rather unusual. I feel that fast and very mobile centers have limited the shooting area for guards, and this surely is one of reasons for my shooting from behind the three-point line so often."
Fans and supporters of Partizan ICN expect of you to be a decisive player in every match. Do you feel pressure from the stands?
"There is not a single player who does not feel stage fright at the beginning of a game, who is anxious about starting the game and overall expectations, his own and the ones the spectators have. This tension disappears with the tipoff, however. From then on, I stop focussing on the stands, do not look towards there and do not engage in any communication with the spectators. I know that there are some who do not approve of such an attitude, but I need to be totally focussed. After the tipoff, I fully belong to the game, and I do not want anything to distract my attention and thus affect my game."
You've gone from Buducnost to Efes Pilsen to Partizan ICN. Are there any similarities or has each been a different experience?
"In Istanbul, it was difficult to adapt to their system of play. For me, it was something quite different from any of my earlier experiences, including ones with the Yugoslav national team. Between Buducnost and Partizan ICN there is a connection, as I am the player who is expected to carry both the game and the team."
There has been a long-standing belief that Partizan plays better abroad than in Belgrade. Is it true?
"We are a young team. I am the eldest at 26. The majority of players have no experience with big sports halls and might be a bit afraid of the reaction that may come from supporters at critical moments. This adds more pressure than they should be exposed to. Our games and results gained abroad have displayed our quality to everyone. And in Pionir Sports Hall things will fall into their proper place. We just have to exercise patience. Big, positive changes don't happen overnight."
Of 32 participants in the Euroleague, only Partizan is without foreign players. Some believe that there should be foreign players while others maintain that there is no need. What is your view?
"Frankly speaking, we surely would benefit from a big center, say 2.10 or 2.12 meters, a good and stable rebounder on defense to close up the game under the boards, and simply to add to the game under the basket. Another foreigner is not necessary. But if Partizan aspires to reach the top in the Euroleague, to get into the Final Four, then we also need a very good shooter from the outside."
Whom do you consider the main candidates for the Final Four?
"There is not an outstandingly superior team at the moment. Panathinaikos and Maccabi have displayed the best games. But neck-to-neck with them are several candidates of very equal chances: Kinder, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Benetton as the most agreeable surprise, then Olympiakos. However, we have a long time and lots of games ahead of us and I foresee many big unexpected turns of events. It is possible for Partizan ICN to join in, too. Why not? Should we get through to the Top 16, we will have fulfilled our aim. Then we would continue under less pressure than others and with more experience and knowledge gained in the 14 regular season matches. Bologna seems far away now but it does not necessarily have to remain so."