For many Euroleague fans - as for the victims of his blocked shots - Omer Asik of Fenerbahce Ulker came out of nowhere this season to be a defensive force on a team that, perhaps unexpectedly, can reach the Quarterfinal Playoffs with a victory this week. Asik was re-signed in December by Fenerbahce, the club he grew up with. Three months later, he is one blocked shot away from setting a Top 16 record and leads a precocious Fenerbahce frontcourt in which, for the last two months, all the healthy players are 21 or younger. Indeed, the oldest of them is Asik, who doesn't turn 22 until July. Youthful energy is no doubt one of Fenerbahce's best weapons, as anyone who has seen Asik block shots can readily attest. "I'm just enjoying myself with those blocks, nothing else," Asik told Euroleague.net. "It something that comes out naturally during the games. I'm trying to play good defense and blocks are a part of it. I cannot seperate blocking a shot and scoring a basket from each other. Both of them make me enjoy the game."
Hello, Omer. Despite a one-point home loss last week, Fenerbahce can reach the Quarterfinal Playoffs with a win this week. How does it feel to be so close to that accomplishment that not too many people expected from this team?
"This is just Fenerbahce's second year in the Euroleague, and our position this season is really respectable. We are a young team and we see our experience improving with every single game. At the same time, we are working hard as young players to keep the team's spirit fresh. What we are fighting to do is to improve our game and to help Fener as much as we can to reach the playoffs, just as we did to reach the Top 16. I hope and wish with all my heart that we beat Lietuvos Rytas this week and qualify to the last eight teams. It's really good to see our team at this level and I hope that we remain as one of the top Euroleague teams in the next years, too."
At 21 years old, with Mirsad Turkcan still out sick, you are the "old man" of the Fenerbahce frontcourt, older than Oguz Savas, Gasper Vidmar, Semih Erden and Emir Preldzic. Do you have to be the boss now?
"I cannot say that I have to be the boss of them in any way. I'm just trying to be a part of a good team. I'm just fighting for my team to win and it feels so good when I help the team get success. And besides, I'm sharing the 'old man' role in Fenerbahce's frontcourt with Semih Erden. I'm just enjoying myself with those blocks, nothing else. It something that comes out naturally during the games. I'm trying to play good defense and blocks are a part of it. I cannot seperate blocking a shot and scoring a basket from each other. Both of them make me enjoy the game."
Is Fenerbahce relaxed going on the road to play Lietuvos Rytas, or with an opportunity to qualify by winning in Vilnius, do you guys feel more pressure?
"Of course, we feel a little bit pressure, but we know that if we win this game, it's going to open the way to the quarterfinals for us. So we just need a little time to get over this stress. I think a few seconds from the start of the game will be enough for us to relax. We don't want our opportunity to wait until the last Top 16 game: we just want to win in Vilnius, that's all. Of course, it's going to be very hard to do. They will do everything to win the game at home, in front of their home fans. But if you want your team to earn extraordinary status, you should win these kinds of key matches. We have to come out and win."
Three months ago, you weren't even in the Euroleague. Now you have a lot of responsibility on a possible playoff team. How exciting is all this for you?
"It's a great honor for me to have this big responsibility on my shoulders. I had no experiance at the club level of European basketball, so to come and play suddenly for nearly 20 minutes of every match, and with my team dreaming to be among the top ones of the Euroleague, is really a kind of a dream for me. But of course, I owe my self-confidence to my coach, Mr.Bogdan Tanjevic. He is really an expert for young players. And when I feel his confidence in me, it affects my game positively."
Your next block break the Top 16 record. Are you surprising yourself at all?
"Of course, it's a great thing if I break this record. I had 10 blocks in seven games of the first round and now managed to get 17 blocks in just four Top 16 games. It's really unbelievable for me, too. It's really good that I was able to prove my talent at this. And it also helps me to overcome my stress and to relax and play much better day by day."
You played similar minutes after arriving in early December, but now have tripled your average blocks during the Top 16? What explains that increase, more confidence?
"I think I owe these statistics both to my self-confidence and my aggressiveness. Of course, my self-confidence comes first. But my aggressiveness in defense also adds more to my success. So I can't keep those things separated from each other."
It seems that when you block shots, the shooters aren't expecting anything, almost like they don't see you coming. How do you work on the timing factor in blocking shots?
"When they realize I'm coming for a block, they pass the ball immediately. That's why I keep calm and stay focused as they try for a shot or a layup. I wait until the last second, after they started their attempt. That's the most important thing for me, to react to their attempt as quickly as I can. If I make my move just a little too soon, they get worried and pass the ball to another guy. It's like a cat-and-bird reaction. And I think I'm swift enough."
How has head coach Bogdan Tanjevic, well known as a teacher of young players, helped you this season?
"The most important thing in our team is that our coach, Mr.Bogdan Tanjevic, loves young talent and gives us the self-confidence to have responsibility and enough minutes to play and show our talent. This is a great advantage for young players and that's why we are all enjoying this season. Personally, I try to use this advantage as much as I can. He helps us a lot in the practices and he keeps improving our self-confidence by letting us play important matches. This is a big step for young players and helps improve their games."
Asik means "lover" in Turkish. If, as they say, every man is either a lover or a fighter, where does that leave you?
"That's right, my surname means 'lover', but I think I am a kind of fighter right now. But I have great passion of basketball which I can also describe as love. Of course, one day I can fall in love in the real way and that's going to be another point of view. I'll only know then if that kind of love lasts a lifetime, but I can say easily now that my passion for basketball and Fenerbahce will never end."