|If last season he returned from the U.S. looking tentative on-court as he re-learned the European game, one year later Ersan Ilyasova of Regal FC Barcelona seems exactly the opposite: a player who is sure of his every move, with or without the ball. With a highly efficient game that stands out for the sheer variety of things he does, the 21-year-old forward from Uzbekistan by way of Turkey made off with Euroleague Basketball's MVP of the month honor for October after leading Barcelona to a pair of blowout wins to start the season. Ilyasova needed no more than 23 minutes per game to put up averages of 16 points and 9 rebounds as Barcelona punctuated a busy month by handing mighty Panathinaikos one of its worst losses of the decade. After an October that saw Barça impress wherever it played on two sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Ilyasova knows that his award came from the efforts of many. "It was never mainly one player: my teammates helped me get this award, so I am happy," Ilyasova told Euroleague.net. "This is just the beginning and we are looking forward to doing more good things."
Ersan, congratulations on such a great start to the season. How does it feel to be chosen the Euroleague's MVP of the month of October?
"I am very excited, because the truth is I was not expecting some award like this. The most important thing is that the it's not just about me. If the whole team didn't do a good job, we wouldn't have won these games and that's what is most important. We did well in our first game against the French team in Nancy, but the effort against Panathinaikos was something special. It was never mainly one player. My teammates helped me get this award, so I am happy. This is just the beginning and we are looking forward to doing more good things."
It was a really busy month for your team, with long trips, two competitions starting, the visit to Los Angeles in the middle. How did you and your teammates stay so sharp?
"It could have been really tough, especially with the big time difference between the west coast of the United States and Europe right in the middle of the month. We adjusted well, though, because we tried to stay professional about it. When we were at home in Barcelona we worked hard to prepare, and I think we did well in the States. Our two games there were good for us, because we became more of a team just before we were to begin the Euroleague. It put us in a good position, and now everyone is playing well and looking forward to the challenge of trying to reach the Final Four."
What was your favorite part of everything that Barcelona accomplished in this month just finished?
"I think had to be last week’s game against Panathinaikos, being at home and playing so well against a good team with great players. To beat a team like that by almost 30 points doesn't happen every day. We made our open shots and stayed focused, the crowd was unbelievable. It made us feel good, everybody on the team, and this week we have to do the same against Siena, another great team."
The four-day trip to play two NBA teams a week before the Euroleague starts could have been be risky. How did your team come together, as you said?
"With the 12-hour flights and such a short time over there, it could have been a problem, but it was a question of attitude. The guys were pros about it, trying to help each other on the court, especially on the defensive end. Working that way helps a lot with chemistry when you are all on a long trip like that together."
The next stop was the Euroleague opener at Nancy, and you in particular had a huge game with a double-double in just 23 minutes. How pumped up were you to start the Euroleague?
"That night I felt as happens sometimes to a player when you make a couple shots at the beginning of the game and you feel so hot that you don't think you can miss. I was in that kind of position right away., my teammates played off me a couple times and I scored a lot in a short time. After that, I just tried to do my job on the defensive and offensive boards. But like I said, it was not just me. We did a good job, the whole team, and showed ourselves that we could play well."
Then Panathinaikos came to Barcelona. What was the key to taking apart such a strong team in a blowout like Panathinaikos has not suffered in a long time?
"In the beginning, when the referees called a few fouls on our team, we were a bit frustrated, actually. But we got together and, as our coach told us, we stayed positive. It was mainly that, because soon we made some shots, got some defensive stops. We kept Jasikevicius and Diamantidis from scoring, and soon the game became easy for us. The crowd was unbelievable all the way through the game and even after. But it's just the beginning of the season and it doesn't matter more if we don't stay focused in the same way."
You have another big game on the road this week with Montepaschi. What do you think about that team?
"They have lots of good players who have been together and have the experience of playing in the Final Four last year. It's the same team, basically, but they have lots of talent. It's certainly not going to be easy at their place, but if we play good defense like we have until now, I think we are going to win the game. The key is to get the defensive stops as we have been."
What brought you back to Europe after you had shown promise in the NBA?
"The first idea was to get playing time. I thought I could improve more playing basketball in Europe than in the NBA. There's more practice and I was expecting more minutes, and all I wanted to do was improve and go forward in my career."
A year after coming back, how do you feel about the decision to take your career to the Euroleague?
"Right now, I feel much better. At this time last year, our coach didn't give me the minutes I needed. Now I get them and I have more confidence because the coach has confidence in me to be on the floor a lot. I just try to show what I can do in those minutes. I try to bring my best all game and try to help the team win. It doesn't matter if that happens on offense or with defense and rebounds. As long as I can contribute like I know how to do."
Besides being on the floor more, what turned things around for you at the end of last season in Barcelona?
"At the beginning of the season, I was playing the three position. Later, when they put me at the four, it felt much easier for me to play against bigger guys. I felt quicker and tried to use that to my advantage in the games. That helped a lot. Now, I am trying to build on that. In the summer with my national team, I spent a lot of time trying to improve my ballhandling, and I am seeing the results of that now."
You mentioned the Final Four. Is that uppermost in your mind this season, reaching Berlin next spring?
"That's our main goal for this season, yes. Of course, we plan to challenge for all the trophies we can, but this team spent lots of money on our players and our fans are waiting for great things for us. We want the same, too."