By being chosen as the MVP for January, CSKA Moscow superstar Nando De Colo keeps writing brilliant pages in Turkish Airlines EuroLeague history. Already a former EuroLeague MVP, Final Four MVP and three-time All-EuroLeague selection, De Colo has now joined very select company with the third MVP of the Month award of his career, something that only Juan Carlos Navarro, Vassilis Spanoulis and Ante Tomic can match. De Colo averaged 18.4 points on 11-of-18 three-point shooting (61.1%) and was perfect on 25 free throw attempts in January, a month in which CSKA consolidated its lead atop the regular season standings, moving two victories ahead everyone else. Currently on a four-game winning streak, CSKA is on the right track to clinch a playoffs spot sooner than any team and to start challenging for its 15th Final Four appearance in 16 years, something unprecedented at this level. De Colo knows that putting the ball into the basket will not be enough to reach the ultimate goal, as he says in this EuroLeague.net interview. "It is great that the club has been to the Final Four so many times, but we all know how difficult it is to win it," De Colo said. "So the most important thing is to prepare ourselves throughout the season to try to go all the way."
Nando, congratulations on being January MVP. How important was it for CSKA to start the new year strong?
"Thanks a lot. As always, it is a very long season and I believe that every game and every practice are very important. We have to keep working to be the best team we can be this season. We know that the results you get during the regular season are important but the most important games come after that, the playoffs and the Final Four. So we have to get ready every day for those moments. Even when we had a tough start of the month, losing once in the EuroLeague and twice in the VTB League, we kept practicing and improving as a team. We are in a good way now and must keep working."
Only you and three other players have been monthly MVP three times now. Is that a sign of the consistency that you strive for in your game?
"Yes, it is always great but the most important thing about this award is that you are the MVP of Month because your team is doing very well and you are helping it in the best way possible. So, this is great."
Was losing the first game of 2018 to FC Barcelona Lassa a wake-up call?
"Yes, it may have been, but as our coach always says, every game is like a final. It is not easy to be at the same level in every EuroLeague game. All games are tough and we knew that Barcelona is a very talented team and, even when they have a lot of losses, this is a team that can play very good basketball. That loss made us think that every game is very important, of course."
CSKA bounced back by scoring 107 points in Milan and 110 against Efes, with a total of 47 assists in those games. How important is sharing the ball for this team?
"I believe this is our game, but it all starts with defense. Our coach always says that we have to improve our defense in every game and, for instance, did that against Panathinaikos. We have a lot of players on our team able to do a lot of things on the floor. The more the ball moves, the better for everyone on the court. That way, we can score more points."
Next, you became the first team beat Panathinaikos in Athens this season. How was it to play and win in that great atmosphere?
"Of course, it is an exceptional atmosphere, and then when their team is playing well, the fans are behind them like crazy. For a team playing at home, an atmosphere like that is the best. This and playing at a very high level is why they didn't lose at home until now. We had a difficult moment in this game; we were down by 10. We fought until the end and, truth to be told, we proved to ourselves that we could win these difficult games. It is one of the hottest arenas in Europe and we like to play these kinds of games, and to prove that we can win them, too."
Last week against Bamberg, CSKA's defense stood out again. Is that what it's all about, being able to win both ways, offensively and defensively?
"Yes, of course. If you cannot score in a game or you have problems, you have to play defense, anyway. You cannot just think that offense will come to you just like that. You can improve your offense by playing better defense and getting more confidence out of that. In this game, it was very important to stay together for 40 minutes. We knew we had to be fully focused on defense if we wanted to improve our offense."
As always, you have been deadly from the foul line, 25 for 25 this month. What allows you to be such a good free throw shooter?
"I don't know. I believe that free throws are just a routine. You have to think that it is an open shot, with no one around, and focus. That is the most important thing – nothing else! You practice it a bit in every practice and that way you can get better. I believe that it is not about not thinking of anything. It is all about being focused, that is what matters most."
Leo Westermann is back, which is great news. How do you try to help him now, coming off his injury, in his first season on a club that has such high expectations?
"First of all, it is great to have Leo back on the court. He will need a little time to reach his best level, which is normal after an injury. He is the kind of player who knows basketball and it is very important for us to have him on our team. The whole team knows that he needs a little time and we are all here to help him. He is a hard worker, very tough, and that is very important for us."
Which of you two is the best at making the French food from home that both of you surely miss?
"Well, the truth is that the only French dinner we have done together, along with Chacho [Sergio Rodriguez] was a raclette. It is a typical French dish I like, with potatoes, ham and cheese. It is the typical dinner you have in the French mountains. Since it is cold and snowy here in Moscow, we get together with our families so that our children can play together, too. You don't have to cook raclette – just prepare the table and wait for the machine to heat up, and everyone takes care of their own food. You don't have to prepare much in advance, but my wife prepared dessert."
CSKA is after its 15th Final Four appearance in 16 years, which is beyond amazing. For a competitor like you, how great is it to play for such an ambitious club like CSKA?
"This is the best thing that happened to me. Like I said many times, when I went to the NBA, coming back to Europe was not even on my mind. But sometimes you don't know what the future holds for you. Right now, everything is great. It is great that the club has been to the Final Four so many times, but we all know how difficult it is to win it. So the most important thing is to prepare ourselves throughout the season to try to go all the way."