|One player among the largely new roster in whom Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv fans have put their faith this season is Alan Anderson, who was named Sportingbet February MVP after his first two games last month set a record for best combined back-to-back performances in Top 16 history. Anderson has played for three different Euroleague teams since arriving on to Europe in 2007, making his way up the Euroleague ladder. In his first season, at Virtus Bologna, Anderson established himself as a double-digit scorer, but couldn't reach the Top 16. Last season, he was Cibona's best scorer in the Top 16, but they fell a victory or two short of advancing. Now, on the shoulders of February home wins against Real Madrid and Efes Pilsen in which his performances were key, Maccabi and Anderson are fighting the good fight in attempt to reach the Quarterfinal Playoffs. One of the toughest groups in Top 16 history - in which all teams are tied 2-2 - makes Maccabi's destiny unpredictable, but one thing is certain: Anderson's eyes will be on the prize all the way. "It doesn't matter what team, whose on it, athleticism, being together a lot of years or anything; it's just who is going to work harder," Anderson told Euroleague.net "On any night, anything can happen. So you've got to take it night by night, not worry about being ahead or behind, just focus on the task at hand - against Montepaschi at home this week - and finish the job."
Hello, Alan. Congratulations on becoming our February MVP. How do you feel about the honor?
"Obviously, it's a personal accomplishment that comes to me because as a team, we're all playing good together and jelling right now. We had a lot of injuries throughout the season that plagued our performance and held down our potential a little bit. We're all healthy now - I, especially, feel healthier now - and that lets us play good and hard for 40 minutes, which we weren't doing at the beginning of the season."
The Top 16 so far has been so competitive, your group, the champs falling, no qualifiers yet. How do you read it so far?
"It can go either way. Anybody can get beaten any night, no matter where you are. The team that plays hardest for 40 minutes, that limits mistakes, will have more chances to win, no matter how big the names. We've seen that already with Maroussi and Partizan beating Panathinaikos, who are now eliminated. It doesn't matter what team, whose on it, athleticism, being together a lot of years or anything; it's just who is going to work harder. On any night, anything can happen. So you've got to take it night by night, not worry about being ahead or behind, just focus on the task at hand - against Montepaschi at home this week - and finish the job."
You and Maccabi opened February with a big home win against Real Madrid. How did you get that part of the job done?
"We just knew that we wanted to attack and be aggressive. We started off pretty good shooting and going to the basket. We feel that as a one-on-one team, we're tough to stop, with myself, Chuck Eidson, Andrew Wisniewski and Doron Perkins. Then we go to our big men, who are good shooters, David Bluthenthal, D'or Fischer, Stephane Lasme. So it's tough to guard us if we can attack and kick out. If we get both things going at once, it's tough to guard that inside-out game. We pushed the ball and played up-tempo against Madrid, and when it came down to getting stops, we got more and won."
The game against Efes Pilsen was totally different, balanced for 35 minutes until your team took off. You and David Bluthenthal stepped up in the fourth quarter to win it for Maccabi. What made the difference in such a balanced game?
"Once again, we got stops when we had to. We were kind of trading baskets back and forth the whole game, but in those last five minutes, we started contesting shots, making it harder on them and rebounding to limit them to one shot. Then it just came down to scoring and executing our offense. But the key was that we didn't get our heads down when Efes was leading, or get our heads up when we were ahead. And when we had to run it out at the end, we were ready."
The rematch against Efes Pilsen ended up in a road loss - same as everyone in this group so far - but you preserved the point difference against them, which could be crucial. What's it like playing with those point differences in mind?
"That was our first game all year when everybody couldn't make a shot. I should have gone to the basket more to get to the foul line. I missed four wide-open shots. Other guys missed, too, shots we usually make. If we make a coupe of those shots, it's a whole different game. We couldn't buy a basket. But at least we got the point differential. It's difficult to play with points on your mind like that. Every move could make a difference. Still, right now, we've got to take care of home first and go from there."
Speaking of home, all eight games in the group so far have been won by home teams. Did you expect the homecourt advantage to be so important?
"I don't really think about the homecourt advantage thing. It could be good or bad. You can say you have to win at home and it'll be too much pressure. Some people think winning at home is harder, because it's expected that you'll win. I think of it in terms of playing hard 40 minutes and anything can happen. A team like Maroussi, which was barely in the Top 16, proves that you've got to be ready every night, home or not. Even if homecourt matters some, anything can happen."
Last month, you were the first player to get a 40 index in a Top 16 game since a Maccabi legend, Anthony Parker. How do you feel being compared to someone like that, whom the Maccabi fans there love so much?
"I'll be honest, I don't pay much attention to comparisons, but he won championships here, and hopefully I'll get one myself. But he's a great player, and if they compare me to him, I appreciate it."
You seem to fit exactly into Maccabi coach Pini Gershon's up-tempo style. How do you like his brand of basketball?
"He has almost like an NBA style of coaching: lots of up-tempo, pick-and-roll, more offensive-minded than defensive-minded. He likes big men who can shoot it. I like it, sure. It's different than a lot of coaches I have had."
After half a season in Tel Aviv, you are already fully aware of the kind of support Maccabi fans give to the team. How special is that?
"The fan support here is great, man. And not only here. Everywhere we go on the road, all the way to Russia, we have fans there, and that's big. It's one thing to find them in your own country, but to go to Spain, Italy, Russia and see them, you see how they appreciate their team. And we appreciate them traveling with us. Their support for Maccabi is a great part of the team's success."
Maccabi is practically a Final Four regular. After three seasons in the competition, what would it mean for you to reach the Euroleague's signature event?
"That would be huge. Each year I have been in the Euroleague, my teams have gotten a step higher. The first year, in Bologna, we didn't make it to the Top 16. In Cibona last year, we made it this far, but were a game or two out of the playoffs. Now, if destiny holds, Maccabi will make the extra step, but I don't want to think beyond the next game with Montepaschi because we have to take care of that first."