| Fenerbahce Ulker forward Emir Preldzic is a once-in-a-generation talent who has been at his best for the past few months for the Turkish champs. A natural small forward, Preldzic boasts the size (2.06 meters) of a power forward and the ball-handling skills and court vision of a point guard. And he has put those skills to work winning games for Fenerbahce Ulker this season. He has already guided the team to victory with an 11-assist performance and won another game with a pair of blocked shots in the final seconds. Things have been rough for Fenerbahce Ulker lately, with the team losing star big man Mirsad Turkcan to injury and dropping its last two Euroleague games. Now the pressure mounts as this week Preldzic and his team must bring all their strengths together in a must-win clash at Power Electronics Valencia with a Quarterfinal Playoffs berth at stake. The buildup to the big game has been pleasant for Preldzic so far as he signed a new three-year contract extension with the club on Monday. In his first interview after signing his new deal, Preldzic talks about this season, his comfort level at the team, losing Turkcan and his relationships with head coach Neven Spahija. But more than anything else, Preldzic was clear about one thing: how important it is to beat Valencia and to challenge for a spot in the Final Four. "The team is ready and everybody is ready to play. We are going to do our best to make it to the playoffs," Preldzic told Euroleague.net. "We saw what Partizan did last season and want to do the same, have that same experience - and we will give our best to do it."
Hello, Emir. Fenerbahce Ulker faces a do-or-die game against Power Electronics Valencia on Thursday. How is your team feeling just before such an important game?
"We feel good. Even though we won our first three games in the Top 16, we are not in the best situation to go the playoffs. Like you said, we play on the road against a tough opponent like Valencia, so it won't be easy. But the team is ready and everybody is ready to play. We are going to do our best to make it to the playoffs."
You have been playing much better in the Top 16 and improved your numbers in nearly every statistical category. Do you feel more comfortable with the improved status in your team's rotation?
"Of course, I am feeling better and more comfortable, yes. I didn't play that much at the beginning of the season, but seeing more playing time has given me more confidence. At the same time, coach Spahija has extra confidence in me, too. It is all a matter of confidence. I think that is the main reason why my numbers are better."
Fener has lost back-to-back Euroleague games without power forward Mirsad Turkcan. How much have you missed Turkcan and what adjustments have you had to make?
"We miss Mirsad a lot. He is our best rebounder, the best ever in the Euroleague, but also a great motivator. He knows how to motivate everyone before and during the games. He knows how to step up on the court and be a leader. The best way to replace him is that everybody tries to give his best to rebound. He had at least 6 or 7 rebounds in every game, so everybody must help at both ends now."
Both Efes Pilsen and Fener have been stronger in your new home, Sinan Erdem Arena, which is always full and an exciting place to play basketball. How do you describe the atmosphere at Sinan Erdem in Euroleague games?
"It didn't happen the previous seasons, but this year is amazing. Every game is full, with 15,000 people supporting us. The World Championships brought basketball to a lot of people, but this is a new team and a new atmosphere. Moreover, we are playing better this season, too. That also helps everyone to attend the games."
Your biggest moment in this Euroleague season came against Valencia, when you had 2 blocks on Rafa Martinez in the closing seconds to win the game. What do you remember about that moment?
"Well, I was just trying to win the game for us and play good defense on him. I didn't realize that I had done anything big until I saw everyone's reaction. It was really nice because it had been a really tough game for us. The feeling after winning the game with a defensive stop was great, of course."
You are one of the most versatile players in the league, as you can play anywhere from point guard to power forward. Where do you feel most comfortable and how did you manage to become so versatile?
"I feel more comfortable in my position, small forward, but I really try to help my team as much as I can - assists, bringing the ball forward, driving to the basket. Small forward is my favorite position, but it is not like I am uncomfortable playing anywhere else. The most important thing is helping my team as much as I can to win games."
It took you some time to adjust to coach Neven Spahija's system, but you are playing very well now. How has coach Spahija helped you to become a better player this season?
"He has given me a lot of confidence. I know what I have to do well if I want to play a lot of minutes. I must fight in each and every practice and work on my game to get better. Some other coaches have fixed rotations in which a player always steps on court 10 minutes, but that doesn't happen with coach Spahija. If you play badly, you will see little playing time - or none at all. If you play well, you will be on court. That is the biggest change for me and I know that I have to work really hard and give my best in every practice."
You have extended your contract until 2014 and this is your fourth season with the club. How comfortable do you feel in Istanbul with for Fenerbahce Ulker?
"I really love to be here. The club improves every year, gets better every single season. We will move to the new Fenerbahce Arena next year, in the Asian side of the city, and things will be even better. Istanbul is great. I am in love with the city. You can do anything you want in your spare time, there are always things to do. It is impossible to get bored in this city!"
Last but not least, Fener must win to reach the playoffs and then would face Real Madrid in the quarterfinal for a spot in the Final Four. How important is it to you to have the chance to play in the Final Four?
"Well, we have to beat Valencia and then down Madrid, so let's not rush things. Being 23, it would be very big to play in the Final Four. I never made it to the Final Four and it would be the club's biggest success until now. We all want to do that, especially the young guys. We saw what Partizan did last season and want to do the same, have that same experience - and we will give our best to do it."