Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament
EUROLEAGUE FANTASY CHALLENGE
Tel Aviv 2004
Sonny Weems, CSKA Moscow
May 07, 2014
In his second season in Moscow, CSKA swingman Sonny Weems took his game to new heights as the Russian champs’ go-to guy. Though his scoring may have dipped, Weems played a far more efficient brand of basketball while nearly doubling his assists. And when he was needed to score, Weems did just that, putting up 28 against one of the league’s best defenses, Real Madrid, in the Top 16 and then nearly singlehandedly lifting CSKA to overtime before beating Panathinaikos in Game 1 of the playoffs. For the season, Weems led the team in scoring (12.6 ppg), steals (0.9 spg) and an average performance index rating (13.3), while ranking third in assists (3.6 apg). Now everything comes down to two games in Milan, and Weems has clearly set his goal as winning the Euroleague title. After losing in the semifinals last season, Weems has much higher expectations for Milan. "This year, we have a lot of players who can take the pressure off, especially me taking a lot more on myself to carry the team. One thing we learned last year is you can't get too overwhelmed with the Final Four atmosphere," Weems told Euroleague.net. "At the end of the day, it's only basketball. It's not like we're going to war… We got ahead of ourselves last year and made a lot of mental mistakes. We have to go there this time focused and aware."
Sonny, congratulations on another great season. After three years in the Euroleague, how excited are you to be headed to your second Final Four?
"I'm very excited. This is my third season in Europe and second in the Final Four, and I came over to accomplish these kinds of things. So it's very exciting for me and especially for some of my teammates. There are guys who are going to the Final Four for the first time, which makes it a special moment for them. Hopefully, we can finish the job and come away with a championship."
CSKA seemed to be getting stronger as the season went along. Is that a good sign for the Final Four?
"It's a great sign. As you could see, before the Christmas break, we were playing so bad, but still winning games. That's the great thing about this team and the individuals on it. When the season first started, we played so bad that we thought we weren't going to make the Top 16. But as the season progressed, we got better and better. It's great to see a team like this grow and continue to be considered as one of the best in Europe. It's great to see and we want to finish getting stronger, too."
Since you arrived at CSKA, we've seen you save a lot of tough situations at the ends of games, including Game 1 of the playoffs this season. What is your mindset in those situations?
"It's just me taking on responsibility. Every team needs a guy like that, who in close situations like that can deliver for himself and his teammates. It takes pressure off other guys being nervous. Me being an American, we're used to that. I want to live up to those moments. I like that kind of pressure. It's not anything special: just me being a more focused, complete and mature basketball player."
One aspect of your game that jumped out this season was assists. What went into you making so many more assists, especially in the Top 16 and playoffs?
"It's just me getting more adjusted to the European game of basketball. I think now I am really adjusted to the game and how it's played here, with the spacing and the timing. A lot of times before, with those assists, I might have tried shooting. Now, it's me being more mature as a player, taking my time on the court, letting the game come to me instead of forcing it. That's the biggest change I have made in my basketball career since coming here."
Is there another part of your game that you would say has improved since you came to Europe?
"I have improved my three-point shooting a lot. That's gotten a lot better. It just came with me being willing to work, being in the gym a lot, and using my abilities to the best that I can. I'm glad that is one area I can focus on, because before I came over here, I really didn't shoot three-pointers that well. These three years in Europe have helped me in terms of maturity. Hopefully, I can continue to get better and not settle for less."
CSKA's semifinal opponent in Milan is Maccabi, who you guys have already beat twice. What did you take away from those two games about their team?
"Maccabi is a very energetic team. That's something we have to be prepared for. Their fans will be at the Final Four in full force, too, which is another thing we have to ready for, to use that to our advantage and for motivation. There might not be as many CSKA fans, but we are a tough team. Maccabi still has to show up and beat us, and we're considered one of the best teams in Europe. We have to beat them on the court, but they have to beat us, too. Two good teams going head to head. It should be a good semifinal."
Maccabi didn't have Devin Smith, the guy most likely to match up with you, in either game this year, but you played him in the past. What do you remember about going against him?
"He's been playing in Europe a long time and knows the game. It's going to be a great matchup. A guy like that plays real smart on the court. He's going to use his brain more than his talent against me. I'm a mature player and just have to get ready for him being a veteran. I don't need to force anything, but just pick and choose when to score and when to do other things."
Your first Final Four last year ended in disappointment. What did you learn from that disappointment that you want to apply this time in Milan?
"I think the big problem we had was some guys got a little anxious and nervous. This year, we have a lot of players who can take the pressure off, especially me taking a lot more on myself to carry the team. One thing we learned last year is you can't get too overwhelmed with the Final Four atmosphere. At the end of the day, it's only basketball. It's not like we're going to war. You can't get nervous. You have to go out and not make mistakes. We got ahead of ourselves last year and made a lot of mental mistakes. We have to go there this time focused and aware."
What is different about CSKA going into this Final Four as opposed to last season's?
"I think we have a lot more depth this year, especially coming off the bench. We have a lot more players coming out who can produce for the team. Aaron Jackson, Nenad Krstic, Sasha Kaun, Vitaly Fridzon and others. They can help when our starting five isn't going so well. That's a great thing about this team, we just need to use it to our advantage."
Knowing what you know now about how hard it is to win the Euroleague, what would this title mean to Sonny Weems?
"It would mean a great deal to me, especially looking toward the future and deciding where to play in the future. That would be a stamp on my legacy, what I am trying to do, moving forward with my career. For my teammates, it's a great opportunity as well, as it's the first time some of them will be at a Final Four. Hopefully, we can make it special for all of us."