| If, until now, he has fallen under the radar that locates the budding stars in the Euroleague, it is not for any lack of flying on his part. As much as any player anywhere, Lottomatica Roma point guard Ibby Jaaber is either flying through the air or sliding on the floor, hustling non-stop. Through four games of the Euroleague regular season, the results from all Jaaber's spent energy have been impressive. Roma is tied for first place at 3-1 in Group C, while Jaaber is leading the Euroleague in steals and his team in minutes, rebounds and assists, too, all in addition to scoring 15.8 points per game. Most importantly, in his third season in the Italian capital, the 25-year-old Jaaber has clearly stepped up as a leader for a club that has knocked at the door of big things a couple times before. Now, with Jaaber at the controls, Roma wants to knock down the door to the Euroleague elite. "Everyone has to be willing to sacrifice and fight," Jaaber told Euroleague.net. "Sometimes games or even practices don't go your way, or you get tired, or something is going wrong. That's when we have to sacrifice. And once we start sacrificing consistently, we'll start to grow as a team."
Ibby, congratulations on a great start for you and Roma. You've surprised a lot of people winning the first three. Was it any kind of surprise for you guys?
"Not really. I think we have a really talented team. A lot of teams, early in the year, aren't playing at their highest potential yet. We had a good preseason and that gave us a good chance to develop early chemistry, and that's what I think we have showed so far in these early games."
You are playing more minutes, scoring more, stealing more, rebounding more, assisting more than anyone on the team and more than most players in the Euroleague. Is it safe to say that Coach Gentile has given you his complete trust?
"For the most part, yeah. I'm still a young player, so to take over a role with such great responsibility as this one is still a little bit difficult for me. On the other hand, I have a lot of support, not just from my coach, but from my teammates, and that help's me become both a better leader and a more confident player."
Roma is one of the teams this season that seems to be thriving in the Euroleague but struggling some domestically. Why do you think that happens?
"I really think that the Euroleague and the Italian League are as different as apples and oranges, based on my experience over the last two seasons plus. The Euroleague games generate a completely different atmosphere and chemistry on the court. The Italian League is a lot different. So that has a lot to do with our mentality. We have to be better prepared mentally going into our weekend games, our second game of the week, against Italian teams that are sometimes fresher than us after not playing for a week, and maybe hungrier for that game."
What sort of confidence did it take for you guys at Roma to beat such powerhouses as Caja Laboral at home and CSKA on the road to start the Euroleague season?
"I think it's sometimes easer to play when you're the underdog. The pressure is on the other team and maybe no one is expecting anything from you. We have talent on our team and we really displayed it in those games. It was a matter of us playing free of pressure, playing together, and fighting for respect. And that just all worked out to take down two pretty good teams."
Even though an overtime home loss to Maccabi last week had to hurt, can you appreciate why people were praising that game afterwards?
"The game is a lot different when you're in it. Sometimes, you don't realize you're in a good game because you are so focused on the task. Afterwards, you go back and watch and say 'Wow, that was a real fight.' It was an important game for both teams, and for me as well, playing for Pini Gershon, my Bulgarian national team coach, whom I respect a lot. We were both playing for position in the group, too, so both teams came to fight."
The crowd in Rome certainly enjoyed that game. Is one by-product of winning in Rome getting more fans to help you win more?
"A little bit, yeah, but we can't concern ourselves with too much that's not the basketball we play on the court. All the other things - fans, media, what teams we are competing against are doing - will work themselves out. We have no control over that part. But, of course, it is good to have the atmosphere and the great support we had last week. The more fans the better, yeah, but we have to be prepared to win no matter what."
How would you compare this season so far to last year's for Roma?
"I think we face many of the same challenges as last year. We have a similar situation on our hands, playing well in the Euroleague and struggling in the Italian League. No one could figure out what was happening, and now we're faced with the same questions, basically about how we can overcome our lapses. I think it just comes down to focusing more, concentrating better and being consistent with the mentality we keep. Sometimes, after winning, we relax a bit, and because of that we end up falling down again. We have to look at the whole season and focus the entire time."
As his ex-teammate, are you following Brandon Jennings's exploits in the NBA? How much do you think his year in Rome helped him?
"Definitely, his year here in Europe with our team helped him to mature a lot, not just on the court, but off it. If someone matures off the court, it helps a lot on the court. In watching him play a little bit this year, he improved a lot over the summer, as well, in regards to his confidence and maybe some aspects of his game that he gave up here. I got a chance to work out with him this summer, and seeing him now surprises even me - and I probably had the most confidence in him of anybody. I know his talent well from last year, and I know he's capable of what he's doing, but he's even exceeding my expectations."
In your third season with Lottomatica, would you say you've found a home in Rome?
"Rome has certainly made it easy for me, and I am definitely comfortable here. Basically, it is home now. I don't know about the future, but as far as what I've done and what my experience has been here so far, it's still number one on my list."
Do you get a ton of friends from back home in the United States wanting to visit you in Rome?
"Yeah, but not too many outsiders. I like to kind of keep a tight circle of friends. But it's always nice to have company, since I am not married yet and live by myself."
When you see your team winning in the Euroleague, and yourself among the stats leaders, is this what you were aiming for when you came to Europe?
"I just wanted to have success as a player. When I first came, I felt that I had to make statement of what I was capable of as a player. But once I came to Rome, I knew that sacrifices had to be made, first my scoring, all in the effort to win. That is still my mentality; sacrifice to win and let everything else fall into place. So all the stats stuff is ok, but what has happened is really me just accepting my role."
What is the challenge moving forward for you and Roma in the Euroleague?
"It really is to gain a winning mentality within the team. Everyone has to be willing to sacrifice and fight. Sometimes games or even practices don't go your way, or you get tired, or something is going wrong. That's when we have to sacrifice. And once we start sacrificing consistently, we'll start to grow as a team."