As he tries to accomplish something that no previous player has done - win a Euroleague title in his first season with one team, then repeat in his first season with another - small forward Ramunas Siskausas of CSKA Moscow is a study in calm. Siskauskas was chosen Euroleague Basketball's MVP of April after he lifted his team to a pair of do-or-die victories in the Quarterfinal Playoffs, thereby qualifying CSKA for its sixth consecutive Final Four. If Siskauskas seems on the court to be sure of every step he takes, it only shows how well matched he is with his new team. Neither got distracted despite being behind by one victory and 10 points after the first quarter of Game 2 in the playoffs on the home court of Olympiacos. The first five quarters did not decide that three-game series, but the next seven certainly did, with Siskauskas shining every step of the way. "Some guys who are not experienced maybe would get nervous and try to come back as soon as possible in those situations," Siskauksas told Euroleague.net. "They would rush and choose bad shots or something like that. With players like we have, experienced in playoffs like these, we didn't rush. We knew we had time, and that the game was not only the first 10 minutes."
Hello, Ramunas. Congratulations for being the April MVP, the same as being the playoffs MVP. Even though CSKA played well all season, how difficult has it been to reach the Final Four?
"It was very difficult. It is not easy any year, but of course, this time we lost the first game at home, which made it more difficult. But we believed in ourselves and believed that we could reach it. So the next two games became really important. We were able to win those, so only now we can think about the Final Four and trying to do the same in Madrid."
How much did the Game 1 home playoff loss against Olympiacos, and being on defeat away from elimination, affect you and your teammates?
"It's difficult to say. After we lost the first game, no one was happy at all. Still, everybody - players and coaches and staff - believed that we could beat them. Even though it's my first year here, in CSKA they know about being in such difficult situations. We knew the second game was the key game, and everyone was really focused to win that and come back to Moscow. So, we believed. We knew we had to play better than in the first gme, and we did it. No one was thinking of not going to Final Four. We lost the first game, but such things happen."
You were also behind by 12 points early in Game 2 in Athens. Were you worried then?
"Before the game, we talked to each other and said, 'If we are get down by five, 10, 15 points, just keep playing our game and everything will work out'. Because we knew that Olympiacos was a good team. No matter what happened, even if they got a lead, we wanted to just keep playing all 40 minutes, defense and offense. So when they got a 12-point lead, we weren't shocked. What happened is what we spoke about, the possibility of being down by some points. But we kept playing, made some shots, got some fastbreaks and defensive stops. And we came back."
Everybody talks about experience counting in such situations. How exactly did experience help you guys at that moment?
"Some guys who are not experienced maybe would get nervous and try to come back as soon as possible in those situations. They would rush and choose bad shots or something like that. With players like we have, experienced in playoffs like these, we didn't rush. We knew we had time, and that the game was not only the first 10 minutes, but 30 minutes more. We had most of the game left, actually. We had only lost one quarter."
What made you decide to leave the champions of Panathinaikos over the summer and try to win a title with CSKA, instead?
"That was my decision. I got a good offer. I knew that CSKA was a big club with ambitions. I knew the players here, the coach. I decided to change and try to win again the trophy with another team. It was my decision and I'm OK with it."
How much of a factor in your decision was the chance to play under head coach Ettore Messina again?
"Of course, when you choose a team, you always study what team you are going to: the other players, the coaches, the club. So that was one of the factors, for sure, my knowing coach Messina. He's a great coach. I knew that from being in Benetton with him. So I looked at all that, Ettore and the assistants, and of course it helped me decide."
Was it difficult in any way to join the same team you had helped beat in last season's final, CSKA?
"It was not hard. I joined in the summer, and everyone knows we are players and can move, one year to one team and one year to another. I knew some players from CSKA. I knew how to speak the Russian language some. Of course, I knew coach Messina from when we were in Benetton Treviso together. It was not hard at all. The atmosphere on team this team is good, really good."
An unpredictable Euroleague season saw your old team and the defending champs, Panathinaikos, knocked out in the Top 16. Were you surprised when it happened?
"Yeah, I was surprised. Personally, I thought they would make the playoffs. But like you said, this year the Euroleague is so full of good teams that not only Panathinaikos, but also Real Madrid, the team in the Final Four city, didn't even get into the playoffs. That means that all the teams are dangerous and every one has to play better to survive."
A last-second shot avoided a home loss to start the Top 16, but then CSKA's 27-game home win streak was stopped at the start of the playoffs. What have you guys learned from those experiences that can help in the Final Four?
"Of course, every close game teaches something to everybody. You get more experience that way than in winning by 30, 20 or even 10 points. In those kinds of games, when you can win or lose on the last shot, you remember something. You know for the future not to get nervous and you know how to play in that situation. Most of all, you know that you have to play until the last whistle, not 39 minutes, because you always have chances. All games like that give you some experiences you can use. In the future, let's say in the Final Four, we have something in us from those games that will help."
Your semifinal opponent in Madrid is Tau Ceramica, which CSKA beat twice in the regular season this year. What can you tell us about Tau?
"Like all the teams, especially now in the Final Four, it's a really dangerous team. It's only one game, so you can lose by a point and be out of the title. I know that we played them twice earlier in the season, but now is another story. That was the regular season and now is the Final Four. Last year, with Panathinaikos, we beat them in the semis, but three years ago, CSKA lost to Tau in the semis in Moscow. So these teams have a little bit of history between them. We have two more games for the title. We have to be very focused while we try to analyze this first opponent going into the Final Four."
You talked before last year's Final Four about controlling your emotions, and sure enough, your statistics and shooting percentages have been higher at the end of both these seasons. How important is staying under control to you in high-pressure games?
"I think it helps, yes. I try to be calm. I know that these are very important games, but I try to keep control, and not to be so emotional during the game itself, maybe. Before and after, maybe you can be emotional a little. But inside the game, I try to stay calm and focused on every job I have on the court and just not to give myself emotions that are bad. I want to keep focused and not be nervous."
As the only player who won the title last year going to this season's Final Four, do you feel like the trophy is yours to defend alone now?
"Of course, I am trying to get the title again, as all my team is trying. CSKA is now at the Final Four for its sixth year in row, and I got to the Final Four just once before. They think only about how to win. I am in this team now, and my thougths are the same."