|Now playing on his fifth Euroleague team in as many countries since 2000, Sandro Nicevic of Le Mans at the center of his team's debut Euroleague season in more ways than one. Not only is Nicevic the big man in the middle on the floor, but having played most of three seasons previously for Le Mans, he returns as the veteran to whom the club's core of young homegrown players look up to for advice. So far, so good. Nicevic shined as Le Mans won its Euroleague debut at home in front of fans who have waited a long time for just such a moment. Afterwards, honoring a Le Mans tradition, the players high-fived as many fans as possible while leaving the court. "This club is like that," Nicevic told Euroleague.net. "They want the fans to feel close to the players in that way, to let them feel like they know us. That's why we do what the call the 'lap of honor' at the end of the game. The fans like it and expect it, even when we lose. They don't feel disappointed. They support us."
Hi, Sandro, and first, congratulations on the big opening-game win against Climamio. With the Le Mans fans waiting a long time for a chance to play in the Euroleague, what was the reaction there to such a solid victory against a very serious opponent?
"They were very happy, of course, because they recognized exactly what a big game we had. They were congratulating us on this game, but the problem might be that they expect us to play all games like that, which would be good. We have the ability to do that. It wasn't anything extra for us. We just played good, and I hope we can show them some more games like that."
You returned to Le Mans after two Euroleague seasons with AEK and Unicaja. With that experience, do you have an extra leadership responsibility on the team?
"All the time, yes. Right now, I am the most experienced guy on our team. In fact, this is a big reason that they brought me back here, to give some of my experience to the other players, to try to show them the right way. Now, with the Euroleague here, something for which they have all waited a long time, there's more pressure, more intensity and more intense games. So the coach wants me to show them how to deal with pressure."
Those who saw the Climamio game were impressed by your team's amazing athletic display. Is that one of Le Mans strongest points this season, athleticism?
"I would say yes, this is one of the strongest points of our team, because we have young players who are very athletic and can play with a lot of versatility on the court. Also, our two American players showed their athletic ability against Climamio, even though we missed the biggest asset of all, Alain Koffi. When he comes back, it will be one more step up in that part of our game. Athleticism will have to be our main force. We don't have big names in our team. The only way to produce results is if we give everything physically on the court."
Having played three previous seasons before under Coach Vincent Collet, tell us about this special Le Mans basketball style he manages?
"He's an institution here because he has great human qualities. He’s a master psychologist. He likes to work a lot with the young guys, and this philosophy is what Le Mans is based on. They want to base their club on producing young players an putting them on the first team. He's very good in workouts with the young guys, but also very good at integrating the players who come from outside with the young local players. He gives an important role to each one of us."
Two of those homegrown Le Mans talents are Yannick Bokolo and Pape-Philippe Amagou How much did they develop in the two seasons you were gone?
"Here, a lot of people still call them young payers. I try to explain that it's not that way anymore. They are 21 and 22 and have to take responsibility in the games. I saw Yannick in the World Championships with the French national team, and he played some excellent games. But when he came back, like many national team players, he wasn't in the best shape. So I think slowly he'll get better throughout the season. With Phillippe, first he was trying to be a point guard. Then the coach realized that his possibilities are best shown at shooting guard, which is where he plays now. It's easier for him there to take more responsibility. What's obvious is that both of these guys made a lot of progress compared to two years ago."
Next you guys play Prokom in Sopot, Poland, where the guy you replaced, Huseyin Besok, now plays. Will playing him be a special motivation this week, and will it help that your team knows him so well?
"The thing is that Prokom is not depending on him only. They have an excellent roster this year. And we're not sure he'll play anyway. But knowing him for a long time, if he does play, will be very motivated to show something against us by having a good game. But we cannot concentrate only on him. They have lots of good players and have been playing well for years up there. There are a lot more things to think about besides Huseyin."
Group A has powerful teams everywhere. What will it take for Le Mans to reach its first goal, the Top 16?
"Now, at the beginning of the season, we can't qualify in the first three or four games, but we can lose the qualification. So we need to get some good results in these first three or four games in order to get self-confidence. We also definitely need to show that on our court no one is going to win easily. If we win our home games, that might be enough to qualify. But we can't dream. We have to play game by game, especially now, keep a consistent level of play and go 40 minutes at a high rhythm, like we did against Climamio."
Since 2000, you've been on five Euroleague teams in five countries - Olimpija, Cibona, AEK, Unicaja and now Le Mans. From a player's standpoint, how big has Euroleague Basketball become over the years?
"Over the years, what has developed most has been the media and broadcasting, which has brought more intensity and more competition to the games. Now, of course, this is the most followed basketball competition in Europe, and this has added big things to the quality of the competition. From year to year there are better and better teams who want to show themselves in a great light in the Euroleague. Every year they try to do better and leave a mark, which gives them a big step forward in terms of the quality of the game. Why do we play? For the show. We like to play, and we like to win, of course. So naturally, when it is mentioned around Europe tomorrow that we won the game today, it sounds nice. This is human nature. When people in Poland see us beat Bologna, they say 'Wow, Le Mans plays good' and maybe they think differently about us. That makes us grow as players. It's a chain reaction, let's say."