| It's no wonder that his was the biggest smile of Week 1 of the Euroleague regular season. Rickey Paulding had spent six years as a pro in Europe, on four teams in three countries, before both he and EWE Baskets Oldenburg, the current German champions, debuted in the Euroleague last week. Both made the most of the new opportunity, even without the presence of the team's MVP last season, point guard Jason Gardner, who is out with injury. In his absence, Paulding stepped up with 23 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks to lead Oldenburg to an 81-87 road win at Asecco Prokom Gdynia in Group D. This week, the scene shifts to Oldenburg, in northwestern Germany, where local fans will see their first Euroleague game in person. As Paulding can attest, after just one week, it's time for them to enjoy the Euroleague, too. "It makes me feel good, because I am just glad to haf this opportunity to play at the top level in Europe," Paulding told Euroleague.net. "I want to enjoy it most of all, and just have fun. Win or lose, it's basketball at the top level, so you've got to enjoy it."
Rickey, your road to the Euroleague was long: four teams, three countries, six years. Was your debut everything you hoped it would be?
"Yes it was. The stage is big. You can see from the rosters how talented players are in the Euroleague. For us to compete and play the way we did on the road was very exciting, and it showed we were as ready as we could be."
You came out sharp against Asseco Prokom, on the road, scoring Oldenburg's first 5 points, 10 total in the first quarter. Was that the game plan?
"We just wanted to go out and be aggressive, be the aggressors both on offense and defense. We knew they were a talented team. We wanted to make things hard on them with our defense. Of course, they made their baskets, but our guys got rolling, made some shots and we continued playing well to the finish."
Most of your shots and nearly half of the team's were three-pointers. How important will the three-pointer be for Oldenburg this season?
"We're a team that shoots a lot of threes. Our guys are capable of hitting them, but we also understand you can't win every night shooting threes. We were excited for that opening night and our shots were falling, but we know we have to get the ball inside and use other aspects of the game, also, and not just rely on the three."
Going into that game, no Oldenburg player had ever played in the Euroleague before. What was it like in the locker room before tipoff?
"Guys were really excited. We got a chance to practice the day before in the Gdynia Arena, and it was a nice place to play. Plus we were just excited at this new challenge for us. We are comfortable with each other, since we are pretty much the same team as last year. We know each other, so we were just ready to play."
This week, Oldenburg will host its first Euroleague home game against Armani Jeans Milano. What is the feeling around the team and the city?
"I know I keep saying it's exciting, but people really are excited, both the city and our team. It's a big thing for this city to be in the Euroleague and of course, for the club itself. The fans are not only happy to watch us, but they are good basketball fans looking forward to watching the top teams in Europe, too."
After two years in Oldenburg, what kind of atmosphere can the crowd there be expected to generate for Euroleague home games?
"The crowd is really supportive of the team. There's a great fan base and they just love basketball. Oldenburg is a small city without a big soccer club, so they rally around the basketball team. It's great playing here, there's a great atmosphere and you can see here how popular basketball is in Germany. People in Oldenburg are really excited about basketball."
What role did getting to play in the Euroleague have in you decision to stay at Oldenburg?
"I still had a one-year option left on my contract, but it was a pretty easy decision to stay because most of my teammates were coming back and we were going to play the Euroleague. I enjoy playing for Coach Krunic, too, I like the city and my family loves it here, so it was a no-brainer, really."
How much did having almost the whole roster back helped Oldenburg get ready for this Euroleague challenge?
"I think it helped a lot. We know how coach wants us to play. We know each other, our tendencies on court, what we do as a team offensively and defensively. All of that makes it easy to go through a new thing like the Euroleague together, and in fact it brings us closer to experience it together."
Did you do anything different over the summer to prepare yourself for the challenge of playing in the Euroleague?
"Basically, we had a very long season to win the German League and make the Euroleague, so in the summer I just tried to rest my body as much as possible. When I got back to Oldenburg, we all kicked it up a notch as far as preseason workouts, playing a lot of scrimmages. Our guys were worried not only about defending the German League title, but this new challenge of facing the best teams in Europe."
You've always been considered a great athlete and a terrific defensive player. Do you expect to have to guard the opposition's best perimeter player in every game?
"If the situation presents itself, I am up for the challenge, but we have other good perimeter defenders like Je'Kel Foster and Josh Carter. So there's a combination of us who will contribute to the best perimeter defense we can have. It's up to the coach in the end which of us guards the other team's best scorer."
What are your goals for this season?
"We're just taking it one game at a time. We know there's no night off in the Euroleague. We just prepare the next game seriously, and when that one is done, the next one, too. We plan to take each opponent seriously."