First and foremost, Happy New Year to all the EuroLeague fans out there, especially those who support FC Barcelona Lassa. I believe we finished the year really well with a couple of good wins and because of that, we are looking forward to 2018. We were on a losing streak, but played really well in the last couple of games, and are now looking forward to getting better and to continue winning games. The competition itself will tell us where we are right away; we play against CSKA Moscow at home this week. It is a very strong, very important test for us. We have to be able to challenge teams like CSKA and make things hard for them. We had five wins in the first half of the regular season and need to get as many as possible in the upcoming months, especially at home.
I have to say that 2017 was my best year in basketball. On January 1, 2017, I was still battling for playing time at Valencia Basket and already started the year very well, scoring 15 points in a EuroCup game against Cedevita in Zagreb. I had a more important role at some points during the season, then a less important role in other games, but was always in the team's rotation. Valencia was a very well-built team that played together and you can tell by the results we had. I was very happy with my role in the team, but back then, a year ago, I didn't expect what happened after that.
Not everything was great; Valencia made it to the Copa del Rey title game and the EuroCup Finals, and we lost both finals. I had a good Copa del Rey tournament and that changed things for me, those four great days of basketball. We made it to the final and couldn't win it because we played against arguably the best Real Madrid of that season. They played really well, but we also had a great Copa del Rey and kept our chances until the end. I saw more playing time, people started to keep an eye on me and by the time we made it to the EuroCup Finals, I was playing a more important role.
Losing the EuroCup Finals was really tough. We pretty much had the trophy in our hands, but ended up losing Game 3 at home. We had it close, it is still hard to believe we didn't win the title. I can tell you that in the last two or three days after losing Game 3, I still believed it was a nightmare which just didn't happen, that someone would come and hand us the trophy. We played very well for 30 minutes and had a horrible fourth quarter in which Unicaja rallied to win the EuroCup. It was hard to stand up after such a tough loss. Nobody expected it, especially after the great tournament we had. We were the favourites in the final and had a great lead in the decisive game at home. The most experienced players on our team helped us recover: Fernando San Emeterio, Romain Sato and Rafa Martinez. They have been in this business for a long time and pushed us to look forward, not backward.
Our hard work eventually paid off - we made it to the Spanish playoffs and eliminated Barcelona, Baskonia and Madrid to win the club's first league title. There were three turning points, one for each series. Alex Renfroe missed a series-winning three-point shot in the quarterfinals that went in and out. The luck of the champions, I guess. Then Fernando San Emeterio dressed up as Michael Jordan in a semifinals game in Vitoria and played unbelievable, including hitting many shots from way downtown. That allowed us to steal the home-court advantage and eventually win the series at home. I knew that would happen because we were really strong at home, with our fans supporting us, and only a few teams had beaten us at home last season. Once in the final, we needed to win one game in Madrid to do the same - get back home and finish the work. We did it on an impossible shot by Bojan Dubljevic. When 'Dubi' hit that shot, I knew we had a good chance to win the Spanish League - and we did it!
Everything happened so fast! Right after winning the Spanish League, I was called to the Spanish national team and soon after that, my agent told me I had an offer from Barcelona. I was really excited to be called to the Spanish senior national team for the first time. I was first called to the second team, the "B" team, and I was already honored to be a part of that. Right after that, Sergio Scariolo invited me to play for the first team. At first, I was just there to practice, but I earned my spot on the final roster, which was incredible, unbelievable. We won a bronze medal, which is at my parents' house right now. I am looking for a new house which will be my permanent home from now on, so all the valuable trophies I won in 2017 are in my parents' place right now - the bronze medal, the Spanish League trophy, the EuroCup finalist medal and a watch that Valencia made to honor the champions. I want to keep that watch in a beautiful box and only wear it on very special occasions. It is precious, much more than just a watch to me, and I don't want anything to happen to that watch. As soon as I have a new home, I will put together a room with the trophies I’ve won – which has not been that many until now, but I hope to win many more with Barcelona, as well as jerseys, not only from all the teams in my career, but from friends and rivals.
Of course, another highlight was making my EuroLeague debut with Barcelona, the team I grew up supporting. My goal was to play in the EuroLeague and I believe I had earned that right already. Doing that with Barcelona, the team I always followed in football and basketball, which I always liked since I was a child, made it even better. Being able to wear this jersey is hard to describe, really. It was a double satisfaction - playing my first EuroLeague game with Barcelona, being in the competition I always wanted to play, and with the club I always liked. So far, I have been particularly impressed by the atmosphere at our road game against Crvena Zvezda. It was incredible, spectacular, the game was sold out and every single fan was supporting their team from the first minute until the last. I am looking forward to going to many places: OAKA, for instance. I can't wait to face Panathinaikos there, and that will be soon. I was told that Fenerbahce's arena is great, so I can't wait to go. We still have to play on the road against Olympiacos, Maccabi and Zalgiris, just to name three more teams. It will be great to play against Zalgiris and to go back to a basketball country like Lithuania. They live for basketball!
The main thing I ask for in 2018 is to stay healthy - not just me, but my teammates, family and friends. Then I hope that 2018 is a successful year for our team. I hope we can find the right way and do great things together. I believe we have everything it takes to do that and I can guarantee we will work as hard as we need to get there. Things did not go the way we would have liked until now, but we have to keep going and win as many games as we can. I hope I can get back to you by the end of the year and tell you how great 2018 was for me and FC Barcelona! Som-hi Barça!