After more than a decade of his perpetual motion on basketball courts around the world, rewards are rolling in for Tau Ceramic guard Igor Rakocevic. Chief among them, Rakocevic is going to his first Final Four as a key contributor in Tau's third consecutive run at a Euroleague Basketball title. His ability to generate points, especially when Tau needed them most, also earned Rakocevic the third Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy. Despite his success before as a world and European champion, Rakocevic says that maturity is teaching him new lessons. "When I was a kid, I remember being obsessed with getting 20 or more points a game," Rakocevic told Euroleague.net. "I'm more mature now: I think of the team, and not myself. It's incredible that I became the best scorer when I stopped caring about my points. When I was trying, I didn't achieve it, and now when I don't try, when I think about the team, this is the payoff. You do good things and they come back to you. It's honestly like that."
First of all, Igor, congratulations on reaching your first Final Four. What has this accomplishment meant to you?
"I am super happy about reaching the Final Four, for a lot of reasons, but mainly I really, really enjoy playing for a club like Tau Vitoria. For me, this is one of the wonder clubs in European sports, a city so small but whose basketball is so big. It's a phenomenon. I am enjoying my time here and I look forward to winning some titles with Tau in the coming years."
You've had quite a successful career by any standard already. How much of a personal goal for you was reaching the Final Four?
"I wanted very much to enter the Final Four, so that's why I was so excited when it happened. Last year with Madrid, we lost our chance by only six points in the last game against Barcelona. This year, our team and our club would have been really unhappy not to make it, but we made it pretty easily. So it was a personal goal and a club goal. And we're still working hard to do win something this year so we can stay happy."
Congratulations, too, for winning the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, based on the best scoring average all season. How do you feel about that achievement?
"To be honest, I didn't know that I was going to qualify as first scorer, because I didn't look at those statistics this season. When I was told, I was very surprised. It's funny, too, because if I had been chasing it, it probably would have been harder to get. Anyway, I am really happy for that, and especially happy that by scoring the points I helped the team to enter the Final Four. After our opening game, we had only one loss in the whole rest of the Euroleague season, which is impressive. I want to thank my teammates, who really supported and help me, as well as the whole club."
Not only are you the first European to win the scoring award, but also this season's first five scorers are European. What do you read into that?
"I think it means that European basketball has improved so much that I believe that if 50 percent or even 70 percent of NBA teams played in Europe now by European rules, they would not be successful. In fact, I am pretty sure about it. This is completely different basketball, with a lot of mind games, a lot of little tricks you have to know and a lot more tactics than in the NBA. European players are from childhood taught about things in so much more detail and better than American players. There's much more screening, shooting, running and role-playing here. In Europe, if you want to have a successful team, all five players on court have to be good. In the NBA, you can have two superstars and three weaklings and be a successful team. In Europe, no way: if one player on a European team is weak, you're in trouble. As for scoring, in Europe there has been a lot of improvement over the years, and there has been encouragement from the success of guys like Drazen Petrovic before and Dirk Nowitzki lately."
Was it difficult at all to fit so quickly into a successful team already loaded with scorers?
"I fit in pretty quickly, yeah. I do know that usually it takes a few games, but we playing together at a good level from the beginning. And there are a lot of great scorers on this team. Luis Scola is just one of them. The good thing is that nobody is jealous of other guys scoring. There have been a lot of games when both Luis and I have had few points and others guys have scored more. That shows the quality of our team. No one is obsessed with scoring. When I was a kid, I remember being obsessed with getting 20 or more points a game, but not in the last two or three years. I'm more mature now: I think of the team, and not myself. It's incredible that I became the best scorer when I stopped caring about my points. When I was trying, I didn't achieve it, and now when I don't try, when I think about the team, this is the payoff. You do good things and they come back to you. It's honestly like that."
What about the semifinal against Panathinaikos in a packed OAKA stadium. What factors can make a difference in that game?
"I think it's going to be a great game, with both teams having a 50 percent chance to win. We have demonstrated that we are one of the best teams in Europe. If we are healthy and in good basketball shape, we are nearly impossible to beat. The game will be at their arena, with probably a lot of their fans, but Tau won there last year in a game that had the same kind of do-or-die important. I believe we can repeat it."
You know something about coach Zeljko Obradovic from having played for him before. Can that knowledge help you in this situation? What can you expect from a team of his?
"He's an expert. I worked very little time with him, but I know his philosophy. He's very detailed. But we also have a great coach who has won lot of titles, too. It will be a nice duel between them."
This is your first Final Four, but the third in a row for some of your teammates. Does that mean they are less satisfied with making the Final Four and totally focused on winning it?
"Well, yes. They are used to the Final Four and want us to win it as fast as possible; if not this year, then in the next couple. That shows great ambition, because just to enter a Final Four is a huge success. But people here are used to that, so we have to understand that the goal is higher now, and of course we as players also want the same thing, to win the title."