| With just three games left in the Euroleague regular season, the Top 16 dream is alive in Berlin. Back in summer, when Aleksandar Nadjfeji and his Alba Berlin teammates saw the tough Group C opponents they had to face, the situation they find themselves in now would have been welcome. Alba is now tied for fourth place, one victory behind third, with only two of those teams likely to advance to the next round. With back-to-back games against Spanish powerhouses Tau Ceramica and DKV Joventut at hand, Alba will need all the experience on its roster, starting with Nadjfeji. The veteran power forward is one of four 32-year-olds on Alba, which has no key contributor younger than 26. If his team is heavy on experience, Nadjfeji says, it also gets plenty youthful energy from the incredible crowds coming to every game at O2 World, the 2009 Final Four venue, where Alba is undefeated this season. "Honestly, we were surprised to see so many people there, but they have been coming since the beginning, especially for Euroleague games, over 10,000 every time," Nadjfeji told Euroleague.net. "It's great for us to play with that kind of support."
Tell us first what it's like to go to the 02 World and see 13,000 fans there cheering for you?
"For me, it's really nice to play in a big gym and especially a brand new one like O2 World that is always packed with fans like we have seen in these games. It looks perfect, inside and outside, and everything is just really, really nice when you come into a gym where that many fans are supporting you. Honestly, we were surprised to see so many people there, but they have been coming since the beginning, especially for Euroleague games, over 10,000 every time. So it's great for us to play with that kind of support."
Now, you and Alba have a chance to make all those fans happy by reaching the Top 16. Did you expect such a chance before the season when you saw the tough group you would have to face?
"When I saw the group, I knew they were really good teams and no one will count on us to win much. But that's our chance: we have to use those low expectations, use our great gym and use the atmosphere and support that have brought us to the situation we are in now. Those things are why we can think of the Top 16 now. and we are going to fight for this chance. Alba, years ago, was a regular Euroleague team. For all of us, it means a lot to play in the Euroleague and to play on such good team. Now we have a chance, and we just want to use it. It's a really hard group with three teams fighting with Alba to get into the next round. Everything will depend on these last few games."
What do you think it will take to reach that goal with three games left?
"Obviously we need to win as many of those games as we can. It's going to be really hard against Tau this week, considering our bad experience from our first game with them, losing by 40 points. Now, however, we'll be on our court, and we can use that experience as motivation. The first step though, is to step on the court and play a good game. The result will come later. It will be much the same when we go to Badalona to play Joventut a week later and when we finish at home with Olimpija. We just have to remember that no matter hard they are, these games will bring us to the Top 16. We cannot count on other results to help us. We have to play good."
In fact, your loss to Tau was the only game Alba was not competitive in this year. Does that make this week's game especially difficult?
"No, that first game against Tau came at the end of a very hard trip. We had played in Istanbul against Fenerbahce, going directly to a German League game in Ulm and then directly to Vitoria to play Tau. It was a seven-day trip, and in Vitoria, we just weren't concentrated. Against good teams - and Tau is one of the best in Europe - if you give them a chance, they can do what they did to us, win by 40 points. It was hard for us after that game, but now we'll try to correct what went wrong in the first game and play this one a lot better."
Alba seems to have built the current roster for experience, with you, Patrick Femerling, Ansu Sesay and Dragan Dojcin all 32 or older, and no key player under 26. How can your experience help you guys get from here to the Top 16?
"In these three games, when you are in the position we are in, you have to be able to count on your experience. It's always hard to think you need to win, but with experienced players, we can maybe concentrate more and focus on the things that the coach wants. Defense, of course, is the main point to playing these kinds of games. Focus and control throughout the whole are needed most. Against teams like Tau and Joventut, any small mistake could cost you the game."
Is it true that you turned down offers in bigger basketball countries to stay in Germany?
"We can say that's true, yes. When I first came to Germany, after being here four years, my kids started to going to school, and I thought it was hard to move them. I had some chances to leave, but in that moment, my wife and I decided it would be better for the kids to stay in Germany if the contract difference wasn't so big. Who knows? If I had a chance to go somewhere now, maybe I would think about it more because the kids are older, but there are a lot of factors in a family to think about. What's best for a family depends on a lot of things."
Let's not forget that while you are in Alba, your younger brother, Stevan, is playing this year in the Eurocup for Panellinios. Have you ever been on the same team or do you plan to try that in the future?
"One year at Radnicki, where we grew up, we played together, and Dusko Vujosevic, now with Partizan, was our coach. Since that time, though, we've been apart. I stay in Germany, but Stevan goes everywhere, I think. Could we play together again? It's hard to say. There's a lot of changing clubs in this business, but we play almost the same position, four-five, so it would be difficult for a coach to use us together on the court. So in that sense of playing together, we could meet somewhere before I finish playing, but it would be difficult, I think."
As an outsider who knows Germany well after seven years there, what is basketball's status in the country now?
"I think it's growing really good here. I look at games now compared to before - not just Euroleague and Eurocup games, but regular German League games - and they are getting big, big crowds. Every game we play, the gyms are full, the people come. Soccer might be the main sport, but I think the German people really like basketball more and more. You can say it just keeps growing, definitely.
This of course is a big year for German basketball with the Final Four coming to Berlin. Is it good timing the 02, Final Four in Berlin in 2009?
"I think this is great timing. Like I said, basketball is getting more and more popular, especially in Berlin. Elsewhere in Germany, so many other teams are trying to build gyms. too, like in Bonn, where I played a few years. They have a good new, basketball place and they use the old gym for practice. Other teams are doing the same kind of building. I think that basketball is just taking off here. The Final Four is a really nice event for everyone involved, and I think that is going to help this progress. It's really a perfect year for a Final Four in Germany."