Blagota Sekulic, Alba Berlin
October 8, 2009
| The Euroleague's first-ever qualifying rounds come down to two games in three days starting Friday - Orleans vs. Benetton and Alba vs. Maroussi - for the last two places in the 2009-10 regular season. Both Orleans and Maroussi have taken nine-point leads in their respective two-way series against Benetton and Alba. Benetton has to play on the road at Orleans on Friday, but two days later, Alba has the advantage of hosting Maroussi at O2 World, the arena where Berlin fans came 12,000-strong and more last season to cheer the team in the Euroleague. Now, the challenge for Alba is making it to the Euroleague. Perhaps nobody in Alba knows the Euroleague better than center Blagota Sekulic, who led his team in points (14) and rebounds (9) in Game 1 in Greece. Sekulic has played Europe's signature club competition with five teams - Buducnost, Partizan, AEK, Real Madrid and Alba. He also played two seasons this decade with Maroussi, the team he wants to eliminate on Sunday. At age 27, Sekulic is entering the prime of his career and knows that Alba fans will play a major role if the team finally reaches the Euroleague regular season. "Alba fans know how to support. They are always there for us in the difficult moments of every game," Sekulic told Euroleague.net. "We are going to try to make them happy, because our biggest crowds early in the season were always in Euroleague games. I ask them to come to the O2 World on Sunday and we will try to reward them with another Euroleague season.”
First of all, let's talk about Game 1. You were leading at halftime but ended up losing by nine points. What happened in the second half that Alba needs to correct in Game 2?
"Like you said, we had a pretty good first half and got an eight-point lead, but then came out without enough energy in the third quarter. We were not as aggressive as we were in the first half. On the other hand, Maroussi came out strong and played much better. They also scored some difficult shots and the game changed. We have to play strong 40 minutes to beat Maroussi in Game 2. If we play the way we did in the first half, we will go to the Euroleague. We have to play well not only 20 minutes, but at least 35 in Berlin."
How important is for Alba to host Game 2 of a two-game series at O2 World?
"It is a great advantage and it means a lot, for sure. Maroussi and Greek teams, however, know how to play this kind of game. They will probably try to play with a slow tempo, taking shots late in every possession, after 20-21 seconds. It will definitely be a difficult game because Maroussi is a very deep team and they know how to play under these circumstances."
You played for Maroussi for two years midway through this decade. How special is to play against them with the chance to make it to the Euroleague?
"It is a little bit strange, because we all tried our best to take Maroussi into the Euroleague in those two years I played for them. We battled for the third spot against Aris and some other teams. We never managed to do it despite being so close. So playing against my ex-team with Alba with the chance to make it to the Euroleague is kind of weird. Right now I am in Alba and 100-percent focused to get my team into the Euroleague, so I think only about all that."
This is the first year of the Qualifying Rounds, with very important games right at the beginning of the season? Has it been difficult to adjust to that?
"Yeah, definitely, it has been difficult to play such important games so early in the season. Nobody is really ready to play such important games this early. We had to get used to it and I think we did a pretty good job preparing ourselves as much as we could. Despite being a little bit strange for everybody, we got ready for it."
Unlike Maroussi, Alba has a good number of players that were together last season, almost the entire team. How much of an advantage is that?
"It is a big advantage. Having all those players who played together last season is important. I can't imagine how difficult these games can be for teams that changed five or six players. Any team that has most of the players from last season has an advantage. This is critical for the games that are coming early in the season, especially the qualifying rounds."
Alba landed Kenan Bajramovic and you two are set to play a lot of minutes together. What are his main strengths as a player?
"He is a great player who came here to be the starting power forward. He came a little bit late because he played for his national team this summer. He didn’t adjust to the team completely and that is why he has not fully found his role in this team. He is feeling better and better every day and is aware of the important of these early games. Even when he didn’t have too much time to adapt, he will definitely be a very important player for Alba this season. He is a great shooter and scorer, who has a great reputation in some very good teams in Europe. I am very happy to have him in our team.”
The O2 World could play a major role in this series, as 15,000 fans are expected in Game 2. How important is the role of Alba now?
“It is very important for us. We expect them to come to fill our gym and it is great to play in the O2 World. Alba fans know how to support. They are always there for us in difficult moments of every game. I really enjoy to play in front of them. We are going to try to make them happy, because our biggest crowds early in the season were always in Euroleague games. I ask them to come to the O2 World on Sunday and we will try to reward them with another Euroleague season.”
You about to enter the best years in your career after so many seasons in the Euroleague and the Eurocup. How do feel that this could be your best season so far?
"I believe that this can be one of my best seasons, if not the best so far. Alba is the kind of team I want to play for, I feel that I fit perfectly. I don’t know if this can be the best season in my life so far. I honestly think that my best season is yet to come and I am expecting it is coming this year. I will play the best basketball I can. I try hard to improve my game every year so I expect my best season to come soon."
If you make it to the Euroleague with Maroussi, it would be your fifth team in the competition at age 27. What would it mean for you and your club to reach the regular season?
"We feel that we belong to the Euroleague and have the chance to play against the best teams in Europe. I think that the city of Berlin and all Alba fans deserve to have a Euroleague team. We will do all the best because every player in this team wants to compete at the highest level, that is the kind of people we are. We really want to be in the Euroleague and it will be great if it happens."