One of the great assist men in EuroLeague history, Thomas Heurtel of FC Barcelona Lassa has played a key role in his team’s recent resurgence – three wins in the last five games – to get back in the playoff hunt. Though this is his first season with Barcelona, it his Heurtel’s seventh in the EuroLeague and he has reached the playoffs three times already, so he is well-versed in team play and winning. The French playmaker leads the all-time EuroLeague standings in assists per 40 minutes (9.43) and recently climbed into the fifth spot in the competition’s all-time assist charts list with 936. This season, Heurtel has averaged 10.6 points and 6.5 assists in 19 EuroLeague games. "It is always important to keep everyone involved in your team's offense. That makes the team more dangerous," Heurtel told EuroLeague.net in explaining his basketball philosophy. "I love dishing assists… because my teammate will also be happy because he just scored. And I am happy making them happy!"
After five consecutive losses, Barcelona won three of the last five to remain alive in the playoff race. In what ways has your team improved lately?
"Well, I believe that we have lifted our heads, so to say. We have been able to win some difficult games. For instance, we won on the road against Khimki, which was important. We have been playing better but I believe we can do more. We also beat CSKA at home by playing great defense. That's the right way."
How important was it to beat Brose Bamberg in a close game? You were up by one with three minutes left, but pulled away with a 14-0 run.
"We managed to learn from our previous mistakes in close games. Against Bamberg, we were able to make good decisions and keep our heads cool - and that allowed us to win. Rakim Sanders played really well, both on defense and offense. He had points and steals in key moments, helping us a lot."
You are the best per-minute assists man in EuroLeague history. You could reach 1,000 in the competition this season. How great is it for a point guard to get everyone involved?
"It is one of my abilities, getting players involved. I like it a lot, being able to do that. It is always important to keep everyone involved in your team's offense. That makes the team more dangerous."
Toni Kukoc once said that a basket makes one player happy and an assist makes two happy. Is that how you feel playing basketball?
"Yes, in a way, yes. I love dishing assists because like you said, my teammate will also be happy because he just scored. And I am happy making them happy! It takes two to give an assist, of course. An assist is always a nice gesture in basketball."
Growing up, you played against some of the best point guards in EuroLeague history. Which ones did you like the most?
"I really like the way El Chacho [Sergio Rodriguez] plays, as well as Milos Teodosic. Nick Calathes is also playing very well this season. I like that kind of player, like Sarunas Jasikevicius, too. I played against Dimitris Diamantidis at the end of his career, when he was not in his prime. There are also very good defensive guards in the competition."
How much has to do with natural talent and how much is training to get such great numbers in assists?
"It is not all about repetitions, you need a connection with players. This season, I have a very good basketball connection with Pierre Oriola. Last season, it was with Bryant Dunston. It is always important for a point guard to have a special connection with a big guy, for the opponents' defense to move. You can practice that, too, until you have a connection with someone. It takes two to give an assist; if the other player does not score, you don't get it."
You are back in Spain after two years in Turkey and with a club that is known worldwide. What are your hopes with Barcelona?
"First of all, I am really happy to be back in Spain and especially to join Barcelona, a club I always wanted to play for. It has been a difficult season, but we are fighting back. I expect great things from us, the club and our fans. We will keep getting better. The team's veterans helped me adjust very quickly. I already knew Pau Ribas because we played together in Vitoria. I am getting to know Juan Carlos Navarro and he is a great guy. I am happy to be their teammate."
You will play against Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul, one of the few teams that won in Barcelona this year. What will it take to beat them? What are their strong points as a team?
"It is an important game against them. We will play in a tough atmosphere, and they also need to win. First and foremost, we have to limit mistakes - less turnovers, less free throws missed. We must try to control the boards, too, as they have Jan Vesely and other very athletic players. We will need a very good game to beat them."
Barcelona has won six home games by an averaging margin of almost 20 points, but has struggled on the road. What does the team need to take that home success on the road?
"Yes, we managed to beat some of the toughest teams in Europe and lost against smaller teams, especially on the road. Like I said, we have to limit mistakes, especially when we play on the road. We managed to do that in Khimki and won the game. If we do that, we will keep improving and win games."
There are 11 games left in the regular season. In what ways does Barcelona need to improve to challenge for a playoff spot?
"You can always improve everything, but we must keep adding wins, especially on the road. It will be very important if we want to make it to the playoffs. We have to be more focused and try to win."