The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four is coming and all eyes will be on Real Madrid guard and freshly crowned EuroLeague Rising Star Trophy winner Luka Doncic, who already has a major role in his team at the tender age of 18. Doncic stood out all season for Los Blancos and recently stepped up after his team lost Game 2 in its playoff series against Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul – and thus lost the home-court advantage. Madrid went on to beat Darussafaka twice in Istanbul with Doncic playing at an outstanding level to claim MVP honors for Games 3 and 4. Despite playing less than 20 minutes per night, Doncic has averaged 8.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 33 games this season. He ranks fourth in performance index ranking per 40 minutes (28.0) despite being the youngest player in the league this season. Doncic already attended the Final Four two years ago when he won the EUROLAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT with Madrid and watched the Spanish powerhouse win its ninth EuroLeague crown in the Spanish capital. Doncic, of course, wants to go all the way and lift the EuroLeague trophy for the first time. "It is my first Final Four and I hope it is not my last. I think it is a great honor to be there," Doncic told Javier Gancedo of EuroLeague.net. "It is something that only a few players can achieve and I am very, very excited to be there and go for the trophy."
Hello, Luka. Congratulations on making it to the Final Four! It will be your first as a fulltime member of the team. How much of an honor is it for you?
"Well, truth be told, it is my first Final Four and I hope it is not my last. I think it is a great honor to be there and help Madrid be one of the four best teams in Europe. We are very excited about this opportunity, about being there."
You got a taste of what the Final Four is about when you won the ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT in 2015 and saw Madrid win the EuroLeague title. What do you remember about that experience?
"It was a very beautiful experience. Our junior team, with Paco Redondo as head coach, made it to the Final Four tournament and it was great to win that title. Now I hope to win the EuroLeague with our senior team. We were all in the stands in 2015 and were nervous, but they broke the game open in the third quarter and that is when we calmed down a bit and enjoyed the game."
Madrid lost the home-court advantage in the playoffs, but bounced back and beat Darussafaka twice in Istanbul. What allowed you to regroup and bring out your best basketball?
"More than anything else, it was a matter of mentality and physical effort. We prepared both games in Istanbul really well. We played well, especially on defense, which is the most important thing. That allowed us to get those two wins."
How important is it for you to be surrounded by experienced players like Felipe Reyes, Andres Nocioni and Rudy Fernandez, who have fought many battles on a basketball court?
"Of course, it is something very important for me because in the end, they have a lot of experience and know what to do in the most important moments. They don't get nervous in crunch time and in that sense, it is an honor to have them helping me so much. Listening to them is most important for me. They always give very good advice, stuff you wouldn't even think about, and that makes you a better player."
You always speak wonders about Sergio Llull, who is probably your role model as a player. What is it like to play with him and what do you think about the great season he is having?
"Being honest, it is incredible. Only a few players have the privilege to play with him. He is incredible; it is truly the only word I can use to describe him. He is the kind of player who helps everyone and he is having a huge season, like he already has for several years. He is playing at an unbelievable level. He always says that his long shots are no-pressure shots, but he definitely hits more of those than anyone else."
How much fun was it for you, as a young talent, to play in the new EuroLeague, with so many games against such great teams all over Europe?
"It was much better for me, yes. I always want to play as many games as possible and being able to face the best teams in Europe is unbelievable. I really enjoy playing against all these teams."
Your next game is the semifinal against Fenerbahce Istanbul, a team that you know very well. What do you like about them?
"Fenerbahce is a great team with great players at the highest level. The first name that comes to mind is Bogdan Bogdanovic, because he is playing really well, especially in the playoffs. It will be a tough game, I am sure. Their point guards are tough players; Bobby Dixon is a great three-point shooter and is hitting a lot of them lately, while Kostas Sloukas is very experienced. They are well-covered at point guard."
What is your take on the other semifinals, CSKA against Olympiacos?
"I am sure it will be a very close game, like every Final Four semifinal. CSKA has two clear leaders in Milos Teodosic and Nando De Colo, but Olympiacos can always count on Vassilis Spanoulis, who is able to do anything on the court. It will be a great game, I am sure!"
You are 18, but playing like a veteran for coach Pablo Laso. How important has he been for your development as a player? What's the best thing about him as a coach?
"I always said that he has been very important for me, especially because he gave me the opportunity to become a better player and keep working hard. He has been very important in my career until now. I believe he has a lot of good things as a coach, but what I like about him the most is that he gives opportunities to young players. But there are a lot of great things about him!"
This is the biggest challenge of your promising career, to help Madrid win its 10th EuroLeague title. How exciting is it to have this opportunity?
"I am very excited; it is the EuroLeague Final Four! It is something that only a few players can achieve and I am very, very excited to be there and go for the trophy. It is a giant step for me, too, but I haven't done anything yet. I have just started to play professional basketball and hope to keep working hard."