| Perhaps the trickiest situation of all in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague regular season finales resides in Group D, where both first place and the fourth and final ticket for the Top 16 are up for grabs. Two teams, Power Electronics Valencia and Armani Jeans Milano, vie for fourth place with a myriad of results and a tricky tiebreaker leaving each team dependant on other results for the final standings. One of the men at the center of the storm is Valencia playmaker Omar Cook, a seasoned guard in his third Euroleague season who will try to harness the energy of head coach Svetislav Pesic and lead his relatively young team forward to victory on Wednesday over Union Olimpija. In this Euroleague.net interview, Cook spoke about the things that have brought his team to this point after a rough start, his feelings about the upcoming game and his role on the team both as a leader and a point guard. "We're going to focus on tomorrow and winning the game and hopefully everything falling into place," Cook told Euroleague.net "We can't control other games. We can't get into what if this, what if that. There are so many different situations, that if we worry about them all, we can't do what we have to do."
Hi Omar. How stressful was getting back into the Top 16 race over the last few weeks?
"The road to get back into position to make the Top 16 was very difficult, but fun at the same time. To turn it around the way we did and to give ourselves options to make it was hard. It took a lot from us, as a team, to really come together and figure out what we had to do to win."
Oddly enough, Valencia could lose and qualify or win and not qualify. How do you prepare mentally knowing that not everything is in your hands?
"It's a really tough situation, but we don't want to focus on anyone else besides our team. Yes, maybe we need help, but we can't focus on that. We'll just focus on our game, because that's the only thing we control ourselves. We can't control other games. We can't get into what if this, what if that. There are so many different situations, that if we worry about them all, we can't do what we have to do."
You lost a close game at Union Olimpija by 4 points. What did you learn then that can make a difference Wednesday?
"That's a tough team. They are playing great basketball this season. They have confidence, play very well at home and pretty good on the road, too. They sometimes put five shooters on the court together and spread the floor a lot. But we've been playing very well also, especially on defense. So you have two teams coming to play pretty much at a top level. They are fighting for a higher position in the group and we're fighting to get in the Top 16, so we both have something to play for. I think it'll be a great game."
The turnaround since Svetistlav Pesic became head coach has been dramatic. How did he make it happen?
"Since he's been on the bench, we've lost only one game, in Moscow. From day one he came in and just took control of the situation. He let us know what he was here for and what he wanted. He helped us as a team figure out how to play together, how to come to games prepared. Defensively, we know what we are doing now. Offensively, he didn't change much, but let us play and figure out what works. Basically, it was all defense, and we are doing great on that end. Of course, with good defense comes easy baskets and transition points. Basically, it was his tone and presence. He just came in and took over right away. The first practice we met him, in Ljubljana, even before he was on the bench, he was supposed to watch. But he started taking over that practice, too, stopping and telling us things. From that day on, everyone knew he meant business."
Going by your numbers, your role under Coach Pesic seems not to have changed. What does he have you doing differently that's contributing to the improved results?
"He told me to push the ball. Before, we were walking it up. I, personally, wasn't doing the job of pushing the ball upcourt and getting guys in the right position. Now, besides my shooting, I feel that I'm playing excellent: on defense, running the team, even rebounding the ball. I am shooting very badly, but other than that, it's going great, and improving defensively as a team has been everything."
You've gone from a big scorer to an assists king in Europe. What caused that change in your game?
"I have always been a person who can score, pass, play defense. When I first came to Europe, I played 30-some minutes all nights, and it's hard to play hard defensively and offensively for all that time on the court. Now I am playing 25 minutes and we've got three points guards who are all good players. That makes it different for me. I don't have to save energy. Ever since I have been in Spain, it has been similar. I play less, but I can give all I have, because there's no conserving energy on defense. I am still a scorer. My coach wants me to be aggressive and score. It's not like he doesn't want me to take shots. Unfortunately, I am just not scoring the ball well right now."
You have more Euroleague experience than some of your younger teammates. How do you help them adjust?
"Basically, they all see the beauty of Euroleague Basketball for themselves. In this first round, for instance, from top to bottom our group has been good. Teams that were expected to finish at the top are at the bottom, and the other way around, with a team like Olimpija at or near the top. It shows that on any given night any team can win, which is true all over the Euroleague. There's a game every week, with no breaks between good teams, good basketball. The travel is different and interesting. It's difficult, but as I tell them, it's still basketball. They are young talents and they see now this is what basketball at a higher level is like."
If Valencia survives this week and to reaches the Top 16, how far do you feel the team can go in the Euroleague this season?
"We're going to focus on tomorrow and winning the game and hopefully everything falling into place. I've been in situations where I've finished first and second in the regular season and never saw the playoffs. So if we can come in fourth, it means we are playing basketball right and ready to go into the next round. When I was with Unicaja last year, we lost to a fourth seed, Prokom, who made the playoffs. I think that in the Top 16, the idea of being seeded one, two, three, four doesn't mean much. It's a new season for everybody, and coming in as the fourth team is no different than coming in higher."
Finally, why do you use double-zero as your uniform number?
"It's funny, because I have number 10, which was always my number, as a tattoo. But when I came to Spain my first year with Unicaja, Carlos Cabezas had that number. Then, when he left, it went to Carlos Jimenez. And this year, when I got to Valencia, Jose Simeon had it. So I can't get 10, but that's okay, because I think of double-O as letters, for Omar and Omaya, which is my daughter's name, not as double-zero in numbers."