It took Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul 10 games to finally get a road win, but then did so in style, downing FC Barcelona Lassa 62-69 at Palau Blaugrana in Round 22. Even when Galatasaray is four wins behind playoffs territory with eight games left to play, this road win could be a turning point for last season's 7DAYS EuroCup champion. One of Galatasaray's main players the last two seasons has been versatile swingman Blake Schilb, who shined again in his first-ever trip to Barcelona, leading the winners with a solid all-around game: 16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and a performance index rating of 25. Over the last four games, Schilb has been doing everything, averaging 15.2 points, 5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a PIR of 22.5. In his 10th season as a professional basketball player in Europe, he is set to travel back this week to Serbia to face one of his former teams, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. In the long run, Schilb is also excited about who will reach the 2017 Final Four, coming soon to Istanbul, where he has worked for the last two years. "Istanbul is the center of European basketball right now, with the EuroLeague Final Four coming and with four teams in the competition this season. I think it is going to be a great event, not only for the EuroLeague but for European basketball," Schilb told EuroLeague.net. "There is something in the air in Istanbul, especially around this time of the year, when it comes to basketball."
Hello, Blake. Congratulations on the win in Barcelona, your team's first on the road this season. Will that take pressure off going forward?
"I think so. You know, it is difficult being at the bottom of the standings. Of course, we did not win some of the games we would like to have won and we are not in the position we would like to be. We have a great group of guys who have tried to stay positive and are trying to climb the EuroLeague ladder as much as we can the rest of the season. As far as Barcelona goes, it was my first time playing there so I was a bit excited to be in that city and be able to play against Barcelona on their home court. It was a great team win, and at this point of the season we are trying to get as many wins as we can. Getting a road win in a tough place like Barcelona is a big plus for us."
It was a close game but you kept control in crunch time. What allowed you to play so well in the decisive minutes?
"This year's team has a lot of new faces and right now we are starting to know each other, how we are playing and have a feel for each other's game, even more in each game we play. As the season continues, I think we are exploiting each other's talents better and are understanding how to play together. In the beginning of the season, we were lacking those little pieces of chemistry which are now working for us, like at the end of that game. Alex Tyus had a great game in Barcelona, also Jon Diebler hit some big threes down the end."
You had a great all-around game. Coach Ataman praised the way you played pick-and-roll offense. Was it one of your best games so far this season?
"I think so. Being able to play the pick-and-roll and read the defense, being able to create mismatches and get baskets from that. Also, I hit the glass pretty hard in that game: I think I had 9 boards. Actually. I think I had like 12 but they didn't want to give me the double-double! Just kidding! That really helped me to push the ball, especially going on the fastbreak."
You are averaging more than 34 minutes in the last three games. Last season, in the EuroCup finals, you averaged more than 37. How great is it to get so much confidence from Coach Ataman?
"It is huge. That was a part of my decision to come back to Galatasaray, the way that he trusted me so much last year. Ataman also told me I would have an important role in the team this year and I am happy that he has so much trust on me on the court. Myself, Sinan Guler and Vlado Micov are the players who get most of the minutes and you can tell he has a lot of trust in us, especially returning from last season."
Speaking of that EuroCup title, the first for any Turkish team, has it helped the team do better, in terms of self-confidence?
"I think that every time a EuroCup team wins the competition and joins the EuroLeague, they have very good expectations the next season, of course. But we haven't done as well as they would like to. I don't think that takes away from the competition, from the EuroCup. I think that the competition level in the EuroLeague, especially with the new format, is outstanding. Winning the EuroCup last season was a huge accomplishment, not only for myself but also for Galatasaray and Turkish basketball. There are no Turkish teams in the EuroCup this season but I think in the future, it is possible that Turkish teams could go back to the EuroCup and compete at that level as well."
Since you just mentioned it, how do you like the new EuroLeague format? You get to play against every team and every player in the competition?
"I like it. There are places that I had not been, like Barcelona, and I am looking forward to play against Olympiacos in Greece for the first time. It is great to play against every team and every player at the highest level in Europe. Every time you step on the court, you have to be ready no matter what. Like I said, we have not had the results that we would have hoped for, but I am optimistic for the rest of the season. It would be a long shot to make it to the playoffs and maybe not even possible. I think the pressure is off for the most part, but it is time to play some good basketball instead of figuring out how to play together."
Galatasaray now travels to Belgrade to face one of your former teams, Crvena Zvezda. How much are you looking forward to go back to Belgrade and play against Zvezda?
"I am really looking forward to it! When I was there, I loved the support I got from Zvezda and its fans. I am looking forward to going back, especially to Pionir, and it is going to be exciting. I remember playing EuroLeague games there and the atmosphere was amazing. It is really tough to go there and play against them. From my standpoint, I am excited to go back, see some of my old teammates and, of course, Deon Thompson!"
Not many teams have been able to beat Zvezda in Belgrade. What do you need to do well in other to collect another one on the road?
"You know, they are going to play their style of basketball for 40 minutes. They play very good defense and don't make too many mistakes on offense. We are going to have to play poised on both ends of the court. Especially, we have more veteran players than them, so we have to make that work to our advantage late in the game. We have to play 40 minutes in which everyone contributes. We are usually hard to beat when everyone is playing well, with good rhythm."
After that, Galatasaray hosts league leader Real Madrid. What can you expect from the atmosphere Galatasaray fans create against a big team like Madrid?
"First of all, we play against the top team in the EuroLeague right now, an outstanding team, but hopefully we can get a home win. We have had more success at home in the EuroLeague than on the road this season. If we can keep that up, I think it will be another big moment in our EuroLeague season so far. As for the atmosphere, you need to be there and experience it yourself, it is hard to describe it with words. and I am expecting a big atmosphere against Madrid in our next home game."
Istanbul will host the Final Four in May. It is a great basketball city with amazing fans. How exciting will that be and how much are you looking forward to it?
"Istanbul is the center of European basketball right now, with the EuroLeague Final Four coming and with four teams in the competition this season. I think it is going to be a great event, not only for the EuroLeague but for European basketball. It is a great location, a great arena and it is going to be interesting to see which teams finally make the Final Four and how exciting the atmosphere will be. There is something in the air in Istanbul, especially around this time of the year, when it comes to basketball. Last season, Galatasaray won the EuroCup and Fenerbahce made it to the EuroLeague Final Four. It is going to be tough for everyone to reach the Final Four, even when the top three teams – CSKA, Madrid and Olympiacos – have been consistent all season. I am excited to be here and I hope we can finish the EuroLeague regular season on a positive note."