|In his only three seasons in the Euroleague, there has been nothing but success so far for Maccabi forward Maceo Baston, the MVP for March. That he likes that winning feeling was made clear by Baston's steady, all-around performance over five Maccabi victories last month. Now, if he and Maccabi can do the same in April, they will take their rightful place in the history books as one of Europe's best teams ever. Not only is chance is there, but as Baston says in this Euroleague.net interview, he and Maccabi still have the desire to reach for the golden ring once again. "We have good momentum going in, we're confident and healthy for the most part," Baston told Euroleague.net. "I know that I'm hungry make history again. It would be our third championship in a row, which few teams ever have done, and just add to the credentials of everyone on the team."
Maceo, first, congratulations on being the MVP for March. It was a rare month with five games, Maccabi need to sweep them to get the best playoff position, and Maccabi won all five. Is there a message there for other teams that want to challenge you guys?
"I think everyone saw us losing key players like Sarunas Jasikevicius and Deon Thomas between seasons and, knowing the chemistry we had, wondered about us. But we got new, high-quality guys in like Will Solomon and Sharon Shason, and I just think we needed to put it together with the new guys, which was going to take some time. I always thought we would be able to get it right in the end and show that we could keep winning at this level, and we are continuing to do that now."
Not only was winning all five impressive, but you guys did so convincingly. Does Maccabi feel the same confidence now as in the last two title-winning seasons?
"To be honest, I really do. I feel that same confidence. In the first round, as veteran players who had gone to the finals, we were maybe feeling less involved, like 'Okay, let's get through this to the big games'. Not taking anything away from other teams who didn't make it, but when you have veteran players who are battle-tested, you want to get to the big stage right away. Of course, you've got to do the work from the beginning in order to get there. We kind of lacked a little of our explosiveness from the last two years, but now I feel the confidence is back. Seeing who's left and the potential opponents we have makes me hungry. It makes me more hungry than ever."
Since you came to the Euroleague, your consistency is one of your strengths. But you had a tough first Top 16 game when Maccabi lost in Madrid and was left facing a serious challenge. Did you feel any extra obligation at that point?
"The Madrid game was definitely a weird game for me, as well as for the team. We had some internal breakdowns that prevented us from taking that game, but we turned it around. After that, everyone had to step it up, and for me personally that meant defense first. We're an offensive team, so if we can play defense well, then everything goes okay. Madrid was a bad game for me personally, but I knew I had five more to go and turn things around."
You guys even had a tough start in the second game, at home against Ulker, behind them at halftime. But that second half and every one since then has been all Maccabi. What's been happening at halftime with you guys?
"I think the Ulker game was kind of carry over from the Real Madrid game. We had some internal problems that we had to fix and we did it through those games. I just wanted to see everyone rededicate themselves to the goals, and in the second half of the Ulker game, it all came together again. We saw things going in the wrong direction, and then we got them turned around, and it's a credit to everyone on the team."
Your regular season group had six top 16 teams and now half of the quarterfinal teams. Do you believe that winning less in a tough regular season group is sometimes better than cruising easily in a different one?
"Definitely. It prepares you better when you have good competition and good games in the very first round. Early on this season, I was thinking 'Wow, the competition has really improved'. I didn't know if our group was that strong or the level throughout league had changed. When we had six advance to the next round and they all played well in the Top 16, it proved we were in a tough group in the regular season. That's always better than coasting through an easier group and thinking you're better than you really are. When you are thinking like that is when you get to the big games and get thumped."
Speaking of that group, your quarterfinals opponent, Olympiacos, came out of there. It's been a team that has gotten better as the season has progressed. What strikes you about that team going into this playoffs series with them?
“This is a team we split with in the first round. We are very aware of their danger and potential, because even when we beat then in Nokia Arena, it was not the most convincing victory. And I am sure they are aware of that and are ready to come here with confidence to give us a tough game. We have to keep our momentum from the last round, keep getting experience for our new guys and keep the same approach as we always have this time of year. Definitely, Tyus Edney is their engine. He runs the show. Then they've got Quincy Lewis, an ex-Maccabi player who always wants to come in here, beat us up a bit and prove they were wrong to let him go: I know I would want to do the same if it were me. They also have a great group of players with well defined roles like Hatzis and Zizic, and last but not least, Baby Shaq, who comes in aggressive and throws his body around in the paint. We have to play up to their aggressiveness. There's no turning back now. We have to learn from those last games against them, exploit some problems we find in their recent games, look forward and just go for it."
April has been a good month for Maccabi the last couple years. This year the Final Four ends on the night of April 30. Is Maccabi ready again for a big April?
"I think we are. We have good momentum going in, we're confident and healthy for the most part. And think some of the new guys are ready to get their first taste of a potential championship. I know that I'm hungry make history again. It would be our third championship in a row, which few teams ever have done, and just add to the credentials of everyone on the team."
You have to be one of very few players to have walked into the Euroleague and not lose a title chance in two seasons. Among all the other streaks that get talked about, are you conscious of your own personal ones, too?
"I'm not, really. There are so many different little stats you can figure out and factor in, but really I'm a team player. I don't look at individual goals at all. When I get them and am acknowledged, great. But everyday I just try to work hard, be consistent and be the best teammate I can be for the season. I just thank David Blatt for seeing those traits in me before and bringing me to Maccabi."
You guys own a trophy and the experience of the last two seasons used to get it. Do you feel that Maccabi is the team to beat as much as ever right now?
"You are always the champ until someone dethrones you. And that hasn't been the case for two years. We didn't start this season like people were used to seeing us start. But hopefully after last season, when all is said and done, people won't underestimate the heart of a champion. My teammates and I are champions at heart, and we want to prove it all the way to the end again this season. I am just happy to be a part of it."