|Three weeks into the 2008-09 season, among the new names at the top of the Euroleague performance charts is a complete newcomer to Europe and the first major pro player ever from the African country of Gabon. Although he's small for a shot-blocker, Stephane Lasme of Partizan Belgrade is certainly a pleasant surprise to the die-hard fans at Pionir Arena. Despite standing just 2.03 meters, Lasme so far ranks second among all Euroleague players in rebounds and blocked shots, not to mention fifth in overall performance index rating. Most importantly, Partizan is nestled in second place in tough Group D after winning two consecutive home games, against Real Madrid and Armani Jeans Milano, in spectacular fashion. If Lasme's high-flying blocks and rebounds were part of that show, however, so were the Partizan fans, who have surprised him with their high-volume show of devotion. "I've never seen anything like that before on a basketball court," Lasme told Euroleague.net. "I think both games were as loud as they can be. I can't imagine it any louder. They were both exciting as each other, both equally fun."
What were your impressions of Pionir Arena during the first Euroleague home game you won against Real Madrid?
"It was crazy, really crazy. I've never seen anything like that before on a basketball court. It was fun to be a part of it."
Did anyone prepare you beforehand for the Partizan crowd?
"Since I came here a few weeks ago, everybody had been asking me if I knew about the atmosphere at Pionir Arena. The truth is that I didn't know anything. I hadn't heard about the team or the fans before I signed here. So it was a very, very good surprise."
Were you tempted just to turn around watch the crowd sometimes?
"When I was on the bench, I took a look around, yeah. And honestly, I never saw that many people being so loud ever before. It was so noisy, something I had never heard on a basketball court. But I didn't let it affect me so much. I've been playing basketball for awhile now, so I know how to keep my mind clear and block out the fans a lot."
Did you call anyone afterwards and tell them about the atmosphere you witnessed?
"Yeah, I called and told all my friends from college about it, how amazing it was in the first game of the Euroleague season. Now they all want to come here and see it. None of them had ever heard about Partizan, either, so I'm the first one to experience something like this."
Was last week's 18-point comeback against Milano just as exciting or more?
"Honestly, I think both games were as loud as they can be. I can't imagine it any louder. They were both exciting as each other, both equally fun. And the last one against Milano was crazy on the court, too, because I had never played in a game where my team was down so much and came back like that. We just knew that we had made stupid mistakes first half. We have a good defensive team, so we told ourselves to start playing that defense in the second half, cut out the mistakes and go from there."
Are you learning anything different already in your first month or so in Europe?
"I'd say I am just learning a lot. With the type of coaching we have at Partizan, it's all about learning. There are a lot of young players like me, and that learning environment is a good thing for everybody. Coach Vujosevic is really big on teaching, so I am trying to learn as much as I can."
Going back to your early career. How did you get from Gabon to the University of Massachusetts?
"When I graduated from high school in Gabon, I went to Boston first to learn English at a language school. While I was there, I went to a basketball camp at the same time. From that camp, there was an all-star team that went to a game in New Jersey, and that's where they discovered me and started talking to me about going to UMass."
Before that, in Gabon, did you plan on a basketball career?
"I played for my high school and we traveled around Gabon. I remember I had talked about going to college with my high school coach and my parents, but I just wanted to get a degree and the education. I planned on trying to play basketball in the university, but I had no idea how big the sport was at that level until I was already on the team."
Does your specialty, shot-blocking, come naturally or did you learn it?
"It kind of came naturally to me. I never really thought about how to do it before I started doing it, so it was natural. I don't even think about it that much now. I just see the ball and try to block the shot. I don't think about it as something to work at."
Did you imagine as a young player in Africa that you might be where you are today, playing professionally in the Euroleague?
"When I was back home in Gabon, a couple of people told me that I might have a chance to play professionally, but I never took it seriously. I thought it was just talk. It was hard to imagine from there that there was a chance of being a pro like this. Now, I think I have a great opportunity to learn more, to experience another type of basketball. Belgrade is great so far, a nice city. I like it a lot and everybody is friendly. They say hi to me in the street, even before we started winning. It's nice and comfortable for me. Like I said, it's a great opportunity for me to build a future for my family, and like I said, to do what I love most, which is to play basketball."