Euroleague.net interview: Jiri Welsch
October 20, 2006
When last seen on the courts of Europe, Jiri Welsch was something of a trailblazer. He was not only the sole Czech player in the Euroleague, but was also part of a wave of young talents at Union Olimpija who routinely put a scare into the biggest clubs in Europe. Four years later, after playing with three NBA clubs, Welsch rejoins the Euroleague with defending Spanish champions Unicaja. Coincidentally, Welsch will meet his old team in the regular season, as well as the only other Czech player now in the competition. "I spent the last four years in the U.S., but obviously I've been watching the Euroleague closely and I think that with each season the competition gets better and better," Welsch told Euroleague.net. "So it's very exciting for me to be back and be a part of it again."
Jiri, you know the Euroleague well, having been one of its top scorers back in 2001-02. How excited are you to be returning to the competition?
"I am really excited. I spent the last four years in the U.S., but obviously I've been watching the Euroleague closely and I think that with each season the competition gets better and better. So it's very exciting for me to be back and be a part of it again. We have a tough start, on the road against Maccabi, but that should be a great game for my first one back."
What motivated you to sign with Unicaja and come back to Europe?
"After my contract was up in the NBA, I had the summer to look at my options, and basically I just wanted to play. Last season wasn't good for me. I only played a little the first half of the season and the second half I sat on the bench. My main motivation was to get back on the court and get back to playing for a top team, and I believe that Unicaja is one of the top teams in Europe."
After four seasons in the NBA, are there many adjustments needed when coming back to European basketball?
"There is a transition to make, for sure. The basketball in the NBA, the length of the season, the way of practicing: everything is just different. But this is where I grew up playing, in Europe, so I am used to it. The last four years I spent in the NBA mean there is a little transition, but nothing major."
Your old team, Union Olimpija, is in Group B with Unicaja. What kind of memories will going back to Ljubljana bring for you?
"Great memoreis. I spent two years in Ljubljana, my first two in the Euroleague, and it was a great time in my life. I had the chance to go back to Ljubljana for the first time last year, when they had a retirement game for Jure Zdovc. Now it will be exciting to go back again and play against Olimpija. The fans there are great and they always have a competitive team, so it won't be easy to win. But I'll be excited to go back where my Euroleague career started."
Also in Group B is Lubos Barton, the only other Czech player in the competition, with DKV Joventut. Will it be strange for you to see him as an opponents now?
"Well, Lubos is a special case. We grew up playing together on the Czech national team, and we were together again this summer with the men's national team, qualifying for the European Championships. Now we are opponents in both the Euroleague and the ACB of Spain, so it will be strange. But I guess that's life in pro sports. One day you're teammates, and the next day you're opponents. I've done it many times, so I am used to it."
Czech basketball lived a big moment with the Final Four in Prague last year. Do you think that even helped basketball in your country?
"I am sure it did help. It was a great idea to bring the top European basketball teams to our country, where basketball is behind some other sports. I know for sure some people who really enjoyed the opportunity to see those Final Four games. I am sure it was helpful in making our sport more popular in the Czech Republic. Now that our team has qualified for the European Championships, I hope it will be another little step in making basketball more popular there."