|If the last one was his breakout season, this season has established beyond all doubt that the future is now for David Andersen of CSKA. Named the All-Euroleague first-team center before his 25th birthday last spring, Andersen has been even more consistent this season as CSKA's go-to man in the middle. Heading into a big road game this week against Real Madrid, Andersen ranks eighth among all Euroleague players in performance rating, 14th in scoring, sixth in rebounds and third in free throw accuracy. And if he plays like he's on a mission, that's because Andersen is, as he makes clear in this Euroleague.net interview. "Definitely, the Final Four is one of main goals of CSKA as a team every year," Andersen told Euroleague.net. "We don't try to avoid it or say bad it's a bad omen to talk about it. That's the goal everyone has and that's what we're working for. That's where we want to be in a couple of months."
David, first of all, how does an Australian guy with surfing in his genes deal with those record cold temperatures in Moscow these days?
"I've just basically stayed indoors. You go from practice to a restaurant to home. You can't really walk around outside. I try to follow what the Russian guys on the team do. They know. It's cold, but that's Moscow. You've got to expect it once you live here."
Last season was somewhat bittersweet for you: CSKA didn't get the title it wanted, but you were chosen All-Euroleague center. What kind of lasting impact did that remarkable season have for you?
"When you look back, it was a disappointing season for sure, not coming away with the Euroleague championship that we wanted in the end. But the other thing is that we won so many games, losing just three in the Euroleague and one in the Russian League, that it was really a pretty unbelievable season. If anyone had told me before last season that we would only lose four games out of 50-something, I would have said they were joking. But we lost some crucial games, and that's how it goes sometimes. Things don't work out how you supposed they would. It was unfortunate for us, but what can you say? I was glad to be a part of that team. We made history and we did it with a bunch of great guys. I always try to look at the positive side of things."
This season, it took a couple of weeks before CSKA started to reestablish itself as a favorite in the competition. Was there any nervousness after those first two losses in the regular season?
"For sure. We all knew it was a new team, but when you play for a big team like CSKA, there is always pressure to win. So to lose two like that, straight off the bat, was very tough. But it's a credit to us, both the coaches and the team, that we stayed smart, worked hard and are still working hard. We found our rhythm as a new team with a new system. It took time to get to know each other. Now, we're playing our basketball, and even though it's been a little rough lately, now we've just got to get back on track and storm towards Prague later on."
What brought more pressure, losing two games to start this season or winning almost 20 to start last season?
"A winning streak is always a good thing. Your back is not against the wall. Just with those couple losses to start the season, we could feel our backs against the wall and the pressure to perform. But like I always say, pressure is pressure. You've got to deal with it your own way and do what you do best. Personally, I try not to think about it, because if you do, you get caught up in thinking about the pressure and not about playing your best basketball. I try to put it away as a distraction and just play."
For guys like you and Matjaz Smodis who already knew what playing for Ettore Messina was about, was there any doubt about this season turning in the right direction?
"There was no question of us being a bad team or anything like that. It was more of a question getting to know the other players, and getting all the guys to get to know each other and the coach. I had played under Ettore before, so I was used to his style. He does a lot of screaming and all, and that's normal for him. Some guys get affected, but I don't. That's just his style and once everyone adjust to it, we just need to play the way we know how."
After having been to a Final Four with Smodis and Messina in Bologna, then with David Vanterpool and Montepaschi, what has it been like to have all of them come to Moscow and join forces with you again?
"It has been good, definitely. When you meet up again with someone you traveled with on good journeys before, it's great. Matjaz and me won the Euroleague together, the same with Coach. David and me went to the Final Four and won an Italian championship. It's good play to play with them again, and just good to know the guys you play with well, because it makes everything easier. And I've tried to help them settle into Moscow to make things easier on them, too."
Of course, you came to Europe as a teenager to play under Coach Messina. How has he helped you develop your game over the years?
"Obviously, when I was younger, he was killing me everyday day in practice. But that was good for me. It gave me mental stability, made me concentrate more and helped me develop my game in that sense. Of course, he also gave me the opportunity to play in Italy, where the competition was strong, so I am grateful for that. Now, he doesn't get on me as much, because I've matured as a player and a person. We deal more now with technical things between Ettore and me, so it has been a good learning curve for me with him."
Speaking of your game. You had what was called a breakout season last year and are doing even better in this one, more consistent. How did that consistency come about the last couple seasons?
"Like I said, I have learned to stay focused and concentrate Physically, I am feeling better this year after doing some good work over the summer. Trying to keep your body in good shape is a task in itself, but I did the offseason work and it's paying off. Last year, I grew up a lot, and got help from my coach with a new team and a new country, but in the end got everything on track. I am just trying to carry that over into this year, lead this team, go to the Final Four and get something special for us. I want to work as hard as I can to help the guys and get as many victories as possible."
It seems like your game has kind of worked its way from mostly mid-range shots to a lot more offense around the basket. What has been the process of developing better post skills?
"Obviously, I have developed more strength that I suppose has helped that process. As you get older, you get stronger if you keep working with weights. Also the style of play of this team is different. We have shooters on this team, so sometimes we need more scoring closer to the basket. Last year, I was stepping out and shooting jumpers. And I'm not shy about it. If I have an open one, I'll take it. But now, guys can find me open closer to the basket, or I can use my post moves to get there. I'm just trying to mix it up for versatility."
You are one of the leaders on this CSKA team. Are you guys comfortable looking ahead this year and saying the goal is the Final Four?
"Definitely, the Final Four is one of main goals of CSKA as a team every year. Obviously, they put together a good program and team here, and to make the Final Four is always a goal. We don't try to avoid it or say bad it's a bad omen to talk about it. That's the goal everyone has and that's what we're working for. That's where we want to be in a couple of months."
Would reaching the Final Four, which would be CSKA's fourth one in a row, be enough?
"If you make it there, you want to win it. That's the goal of every team, to win the title. If you make the Final Four, you are one of the best in Europe. And I think that this year there is not a real favorite like Maccabi or Barcelona before this. The Euroleague is more equal in terms of the number of teams that have a chance. That means we've got to concentrate more to get there, because I think that anything can happen. We have a good team, good guys and a good system in place. If we get there, anything is possible, but we'll certainly be going for it all."