When Efes Pilsen faces Real Madrid on the road Wednesday possibly needing a victory to survive Group C, the visitors will have one ace up their sleeve, Veteran swingman Charles Smith, who leads Efes in scoring with 12.8 points over the first nine Euroleague regular season games, was a leader of Madrid's recent successes, too. He was MVP of the ULEB Cup Final in 2007, when Madrid also won the Spanish League crown. As he says in this Euroleague.net interview, however, Smith will have to block out the past as well as the future to make sure he is ready to help rescue Efes in the last game of a newly shortened regular season. " I know that every possession counts," Smith says. "At the same time, you can't treat every possession like it's the last one ever, or you'll tend to make mistakes. Just go out and play and let the cards fall where they may. It's basketball, there will be mistakes. It's a question of who makes fewer mistakes, one team or the other. I think if you're playing to have fun, you'll do your best."
What is it like for you to be returning to Real Madrid under these particular circumstances, with Efes Pilsen's season hanging in the balance?
"It's great no matter what. Us needing maybe to win this game is the business side of basketball. But I had fun in Madrid, so it'll be great to go back there and play for sure. The game is very meaningful, no doubt. If we win, we're in the Top 16. If we lose, even then we might advance. To me, it's just a great chance to go out and play and have fun."
After starting the season 2-0, are you guys surprised to be facing almost a must-win situation on the road to reach the Top 16?
"Yeah, we are surprised. I think when we let a couple home get out of our hands early, that was really the key. When Panionios beat us at home, we didn't expect that. But they came out, played a great game, played tough. We had to step it up after that, but had a couple more tough loses later, against Madrid and CSKA at home. We just didn't take care of our home court as much as we should have."
Does the case of Efes prove how the new 10-game regular season makes every single Euroleague game even more extremely important than before?
"That's definitely true. It's really competitive now. Every game always counted in the Euroleague, but not it's more than ever. That one game we were looking at as a win, at home against Panionios, we were pretty much in if we won that. It shows you have to play down to the wire, 100 percent, and there's no blowing off games. That's just how it goes here in Europe: every game always counted anyway, but not now you can't back down from any game. It's not like in the NBA, where you can give one away and say we'll bounce back and get 'em next time. You can't do that here."
What made it hard for Efes to play at home?
"I guess we've been going through a lot as far as chemistry and playing together a lot on a high European level. The Turkish League is OK, but it's top-heavy, with only five or six really good teams. And we haven't had a stead chance to play the quality teams. We also had some injuries. We haven't played much with one of our main big men, Mario Kasun. We started the Euroleague season without Preston Shumpert. I've been playing all along with plantar fasciaitis. In general, we haven't had the chance to get everyone together and going. That's how basketball is, though. Sometimes you have everyone health, and sometimes not, unfortunately. but it's no excuse not to win. If you go and play hard, like we did in Greece against Panionios in the rematch, it makes up for a lot."
Since you mention it, you guys are 2-2 on the road, and winning by wider margins than at home. Does that make you confident going to Madrid?
"Definitely. If you can win on the road, you can win anywhere. We're thriving on that now. Hopefully, we'll get this last win on the road and advance. Then, anything could happen in the next round. We'll be a much better ball club then after understanding each other more."
In its last three home games, Madrid lost once and won the other two by a point each. Do you see them as vulnerable at home?
"Right now, if you say they're vulnerable at home, it's risky. I hate when teams don't play well home before we go there. Then we come up against them and they have their best game of the year. We have to go there, block out their situation, and not think that. We have to play like they won every game by 20 at home. That way, you can't rely on them missing shots or something. That way, we won't win the game. Besides, if you look at their track records, teams have had their hottest nights against us."
In a situation like this, how much do your teammates and coaching staff ask your scouting expertise about Madrid?
"They mostly come and ask me about individual players and how they are. The game plan could change a little for this one, and they know I played for the same coach last year and that I know individual players and their tendencies. So guys will ask me and I kind of help them out. But at the same time, it comes down to how you get it done on court. I can say a player goes right a lot and the next day he might go left. Or they doesn't try or make certain shots, but against us they do, even without making them before. So they ask, and I tell them what I know, but you still have to play it strong."
The ULEB Cup two years ago, your MVP trophy there, the Spanish League title: you had more success at Real Madrid than anywhere else. Will that be on your mind this week?
"It won't be on my mind so much. I had the success there and I played there and was happy. Unfortunately, they didn't want me to return this year, and I am happy to be at Efes. My family is really enjoying Istanbul and having a great time, so I don't Madrid in that way. It's not home for me: it's Europe. I'll miss my teammates, who were fun and great guys. But anything else, no."
Another career highlights of yours was being the Euroleague's first Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner, back in 2005 with Scavolini Pesaro What do you remember about that special moment?
"I remember it being the first one and, for me, playing that season for the team he was going to play for, and not only being on it, but living the same apartment that was meant for him. was something unexplainable. I felt very honored to win that award, and when I did win it, I gave his wife the trophy. It was the first one with his name on it, and she deserved it. I thought it was the least I could do, as well as lead the team as he would have if he had played. I did so and was grateful to get an award in his name."
With all your experience behind you, what does a veteran like Charles Smith do to prepare for the pivotal game of the season this week?
"I think about it, but I try not to think about it too much. Sometimes you can get too focused. I try to be relaxed and just play. I know that every possession counts. At the same time, you can't treat every possession like it's the last one ever, or you'll tend to make mistakes. Just go out and play and let the cards fall where they may. It's basketball, there will be mistakes. It's a question of who makes fewer mistakes, one team or the other. I think if you're playing to have fun, you'll do your best."