|Despite a 0-4 start in Top 16 Group F, Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul has managed to keep its playoff hopes alive with two important home wins against BC Khimki Moscow Region and cross-town rivals Besiktas JK Istanbul. Its main pillar in those victories has been shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic, who has been simply unstoppable lately. Bogdanovic leads the Top 16 in scoring with 21.7 points per game, the fourth-highest average in this competition phase all century. He performance index rating, 23.4 per game, is the Top 16's third-best of the last seven seasons. He has also hit 36 of his last 37 free throw attempts, with the second-best average, 6.7 per game, in Top 16 history. Bogdanovic averaged 10.8 points in the regular season but has once again exploded in the Top 16, like he did with Cibona in 2009-10 and with Fenerbahce last season. With might FC Barcelona Regal coming to Istanbul this week to face Fenerbahce, Bogdanovic says he and his teammates are ready for all challengers in their quest to reach the playoffs. "We still have 7 games to play in the Top 16 and I believe we can win all seven; why not?" Bogdanovic told Euroleague.net. "There are a lot of games left to play and our playoffs chances are open."
Hello, Bojan. Congratulations on your great game against Besiktas. Do two consecutive home wins prove that Fenerbahce Ulker is going in the right direction?
"Yes, definitely. We have been playing very well for the last three or four weeks. We won the Turkish Cup, winning difficult games against Besiktas and Galatasaray, which are Istanbul derbies. We have been playing better defense, too. We had a lot of games in which we were scored at least 90 points. Like I said, we are playing better and I hope we can continue that way."
Besiktas led most of that game, but your team rallied in the second half. What made the difference?
"We knew that it was going to be a very difficult game. We had beaten Besiktas twice before this and knew that they wouldn't let us get an easy third win. They are a good team with good players. We didn't play well in the beginning, probably because we already beat them twice and we think we are the better team. That didn't help us at all. Our fans gave us great support, we started to play better and managed to win the game."
You are playing better than ever, yourself, scoring like few other players in Top 16 history. Do you feel like the leader of this Fenerbahce Ulker team right now?
"I wouldn't say so. We have a lot of good players. McCalebb and Andersen are also in good form. Andersen was the Turkish Cup MVP and McCalebb was the Euroleague's top scorer and, in my opinion, the best player in Europe last season. I don't think I am the leader, but little by little, I am playing better and better."
You are still 23 years old, but this is your third Top 16 and you're seeing a lot of playing time. Do you see yourself as a veteran in the competition yet?
"No, I am still not a veteran! (laughs) This is my fourth Euroleague season. Like I said, I am playing to do a little bit better every season. My team believes in me and our coach gives me a lot of playing time and puts the ball in my hands a lot. That is helping me to improve this season."
Each year that you've played the Top 16, your scoring average jumped a lot from the regular season. What's the reason?
"Truth to be told, I noticed that, too, but I really don't know how to explain it! It must be that I am in better shape these days than I was in the beginning of the season. I really don't know why; it just happens. Indeed, it is more important for my team to be in great shape now than in the beginning of the season. I play with my national team in the summer and it is hard to me to start all over again. But it's true, I have always played better in the Top 16."
This week, Fenerbahce faces FC Barcelona Regal, which has only lost one Euroleague road game this season. Which will be the keys to this game?
"It is really difficult to beat Barcelona because they are on great form right now. They won the Copa del Rey and, in my opinion, they are the best team in Europe right now, with Ante Tomic and Juan Carlos Navarro as their main references on offense. We have to play good defense. We cannot allow them to score 90 points on us. If we play a five-on-five offense and are patient, I believe we have a chance to beat them."
You hit 36 consecutive free throws before missing one in the final seconds of last week's game. What's the secret to being a good free throw shooter?
"Above all, it is concentration. All good scorers are good free throw shooters. Every player can hit free throws with a high percentage if he manages to find the right focus. Of course, I shoot a lot of free throws after practice and try to make as many consecutively as possible."
How do you like the new Top 16, with more games between the best teams in the competition?
"I like it a lot. It is better for fans because, like you said, there are more good games. Just in Istanbul, we had Efes-Madrid last week and Fenerbahce-Barcelona this week. It is better for basketball lovers. It gives teams a chance to overcome a slow start. If we beat Barcelona, we have a lot of chances to make it to the playoffs even when we had a 0-4 start. We have a lot of decisive games ahead of us."
Looking around the competition, which teams do you consider top candidates to make the Final Four and eventually win the competition?
"I think that Barcelona and Madrid are playing really well this season. Anadolu Efes is in a good moment and of course, CSKA is always strong. There are five or six teams that can make it to the Final Four. We believe we still have time to be one of them."
Despite your great Top 16 efforts, you have never made it to the playoffs. What would it mean for you to take Fenerbahce to the playoffs?
"It would mean a lot, of course. Every player wants to be in the Euroleague playoffs and after that, in the Final Four. It is my dream right now. We still have seven games to play in the Top 16 and I believe we can win all seven; why not? There are a lot of games left to play and our playoff chances are open."