|Every season, it seems, an unexpected young star comes out of nowhere to blaze across the Euroleague sky. At this time a year ago, few people knew about Jan Vesely, a tall teenage talent from the Czech Republic just arrived in Belgrade to play with Partizan Belgrade. By season's end, every expert in the world knew Vesely and Partizan fans made him one of their own. Indeed, Vesely played the most minutes for Partizan in the game that broke the European record for attendance, 22,567 fans. Although his numbers were modest, no one could miss Vesely's promise as he ran the floor like a guard, cut to the baskets like a natural and crashed the boards with abandon. Now, at 19, Vesely will be on everyone's radar as Partizan starts the Euroleague season. They are getting ready this week with Partizan's first-ever trip to the United States as part of the 2009 Euroleague American Tour. Partizan plays the NBA's Nuggets in Denver on Saturday night and the Suns in Phoenix on Tuesday. "Some experience is what we are after," Vesely told Euroleague.net before leaving for his first trip to the U.S., too. "We are still learning basketball. The NBA is different basketball than the Euroleague, more physical maybe. We'll try to respect and make sure we can play against such big teams."
Jan, last year as an 18-year-old arriving in Belgrade, did you ever envision contributing so much, so soon for Partizan?
"I never expected to play as much as I played. I thought maybe I would get five minutes in some games, but nothing like what I ended up playing. When I began being part of the starting five, it really was a surprise for me, but I just did my best with the chance."
You became a fan favorite in Belgrade with a double-double in a crucial regular season game. What was that incredible Partizan crowd reaction like for you?
"The crowd of Partizan is the best in the world. They are friendly, they try to help you in every game and they motivate you more and more as the season goes along. They are the reason we played better and better. They are truly the sixth player when we are at home."
Soon after, in the game with the biggest crowd in European history, you played the most minutes for the winning team. Did you call home to the Czech Republic to tell friends about that?
"My father was there that night, so he told everyone! It was amazing, though, to be there with 22,000 people cheering. An amazing night to begin with, and to be there on the floor most of the time, I will never forget it."
What do you remember most from last season?
"What I remember most from last year is our first game against CSKA. I had not played much until then, but that night I was on the floor for 25 minutes. I was really surprised to get that chance. And of course, the fans and the crowd of Partizan were unforgettable last year. Those are my biggest memories."
Did you ever expect growing up in the Czech Republic that any of this would happen to you?
"When I went to Slovenia to play for Slovan two years ago, I thought that I could eventually play in the Adriatic League, but nothing like this, and not so soon."
What did your family and friends think about you becoming a full-time Euroleague starter at 18 years old?
"I talked to friends and family at home in the Czech Republic almost every day. But also my family came for every Euroleague home game in Belgrade, so they didn't need me to tell them. They saw what was going on. My friends were surprised, like me, to hear about how much I was playing and everything about the atmosphere at a Partizan game."
How do you feel heading off on the 2009 Euroleague American Tour to play in Denver and Phoenix against their NBA teams?
"Well, it will be my first time in the U.S., so I want to enjoy myself. Of course, they will be tough, tough games, but they will give us a lot of experience that we need. We are a young team, so we need these kind of learning situations. We will see how we do, but no matter what it will be good preparation for the Euroleague this season."
What do you and your teammates wish to accomplish on the 2009 Euroleague American Tour?
"Some experience is what we are after. We are still learning basketball. The NBA is different basketball than the Euroleague, more physical maybe. We'll try to respect and make sure we can play against such big teams."
Do you expect your coach, Dusko Vujosevic, to give you a lot of responsibility this season, despite your age?
"There will be more opportunity for sure to learn and to lead. I don't think I have so much experience yet, but some players left our team this year, so I need to be ready. We will see first what happens on tour in the USA. This is still preparation time for us. I only know that I will try to do the best I can every time."
What role has Coach Vujosevic had in your sudden success?
"Of course, he's a special coach for me. He saw me a couple years ago playing for Slovan against Partizan in the Adriatic League, and after that wanted me to come to Belgrade. He works on the details of the game with me. For instance, this summer, before I played with the Czech Republic national team, I spent time doing shooting drills with Dusko and then continued them myself. He has helped me a lot. He gave me a chance to play, and I used it."