A year ago, CSKA Moscow used the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs as a launch pad by getting its first three of five consecutive wins on the way to lifting the trophy. The challenge now is to do it again. If CSKA can accomplish a repeat, it will mark the first time that the Russian powerhouse successfully defends the top continental crown. CSKA won six EuroLeague titles before its current one – in 1961, 1963, 1969, 1971, 2006 and 2008 – but never twice in a row. If CSKA finally achieves that first, every EuroLeague fan can be sure Nando De Colo will be a main factor. De Colo, who will turn 30 in June, enters this year's playoffs with career-best numbers in scoring (20.1 ppg.), two-point shooting percentage (56.9%) and free throw accuracy (95.8%), while remaining deadly from long-range (45.3% 3FG), as well. He also led the EuroLeague regular season in performance index rating (22.7 per game). In the prime of his career, De Colo now hopes to lead CSKA past Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz in the playoffs, taking his team to the Final Four for the 14th time in 15 years. Playing together is the best way for CSKA to succeed, De Colo says. "We have to play together, both on offense and on defense. I believe this is most important, especially our defense," De Colo told EuroLeague.net. "We know they are a team that has a lot of athletic players, so we have to be ready for that. If not, we will not be able to play well against them. Playing as a team is the only way for us."
Hello, Nando. The all-new EuroLeague regular season is over. How great and how much fun was it for you?
"Truth be told, it has been a long regular season with a lot of games but I believe this is what every player wants, to play every week against the best. We all like that a lot. Of course, there is a lot of travel and you have to give your maximum to rest in the best way possible."
Before the season, was there any court you had not visited or opponent you had not faced and were looking forward to?
"Not especially, no. The only thing I wanted this season, after talking to my wife, was Valencia Basket to win the EuroCup Finals. They were one win away from being in the EuroLeague next season, and since my wife is from Valencia, we really wanted them in the EuroLeague, because that would also allow me to play in Valencia again. Other than that, like I said, every game was very interesting because you never know what can happen."
You will play against Baskonia in the playoffs. What do you like about them?
"They are a good team that plays good basketball. They have been challenging for big goals for many years and have had a lot of good players. They play with great aggressiveness and that can make the difference."
You only played once against them this season, in Vitoria, and lost. Does that motivate you even more to face them again?
"The truth is that the best games are finally here! Of course, I would like to play against them again and beat them, but it will be a tough series, a very interesting one. The home-court advantage is very important for us. Playing the first two games at home is more important than playing this team or another, because all EuroLeague playoff teams are really good ones. Like I said, it was a tough season and all teams fought for different goals until the end. The most important thing right now is being aware of what is in front of us."
How special is it for you to go back to Vitoria, where you won your first big continental title, the EuroCup, with Valencia in 2010?
"It is special, yes. I always remember that EuroCup title every time I play there. I like it a lot. What I remember the most about is that I had an ankle injury a week before the final four. It was not easy to be ready to play in such short time, but I made it in the end, and everything went well."
CSKA is 20-1 at home in the playoffs. History don't win games, but those are pretty impressive numbers. Does that make the home-court advantage even more important for you?
"It is important for every team to play at home. We always have to win at home, especially now in the playoffs. It is also important that people are aware that we play well at home, and that it is more difficult for our opponents to play there. I don't like to talk much about all that – the past, history, what happened – because you need to win on the court."
Baskonia is a physical team with very quick, athletic players. What will it take to stop a team like that from running?
"We have to play together, both on offense and on defense. I believe this is most important, especially our defense. We know they are a team that has a lot of athletic players, so we have to be ready for that. If not, we will not be able to play well against them. Playing as a team is the only way for us."
How special are playoffs games for a player and for fans? How different are they from regular season games?
"I don't really know how it is for fans, but what it is important for us is to keep practicing like we did all season and be ready for all the small details that will make the difference in the end. We don't have to put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We need to play every game like we always do. We know that the team that wants it most takes a bigger step forwards. This is what we have to do in this series."
This time last year you and CSKA did almost everything right to win the title. Does the team need to recapture that feeling now to try to repeat as champs?
"It is a new season, you know? We have new players and that was a year ago. Like I said, what is most important right now is knowing what we have to do on the court. Yes, we have experience and won the EuroLeague last season, but defending the title is even more difficult. We have Kyle Hines on our team and he did that with Olympiacos. He always tells us it is very tough because everybody wants to beat the champions. Everybody is ready to play against CSKA."
Last but not least, Euroleague Basketball and The Insider released a documentary about you, Tour de Force. How did you like the final result and how special is it for you?
"Yes, I loved it! Like I told my family, what I like about it is that it will be a good memory for me and my family, for our daughter, who will have a good memory of her time in Russia. I liked to see my parents in the documentary, as well as some friends like Rafa Martinez and Coach Erman Kunter. It was great and will be a good memory down the road, in a few years' time."