The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is more competitive than ever as it reaches Round 10, the one-third mark of the regular season, this week. Leading the standings with 7-2 records are CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus, a team that has been battling injuries until now, but keeps winning anyway. The most notable absence has been that of superstar combo guard Vassilis Spanoulis, due to return on Thursday against Valencia Basket. Among the newcomers who have stepped up to make sure Olympiacos didn't miss a beat is Brian Roberts, who is back in the EuroLeague after six seasons in the NBA. Roberts is averaging 8.5 points on 43.5% three-point shooting over 21 minutes per game and most recently played a critical role in Olympiacos's last two road wins. He scored a team-high 21 points against defending champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and added 18 against AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. He has also made 9 of his last 13 three-point shots over three games, all victories. After he played two EuroLeague seasons for Brose Bamberg earlier this decade, Roberts loves being back in a much-improved competition system that retains the same virtues as before, he told EuroLeague.net. "The competition is more stable and games mean a lot more because you are playing everybody and you get to see what you can do against every team, not just a small group," Roberts said in this week's interview. "It is not like we are playing 80-plus games, like in the NBA. We are playing less games, so each game means much more."
Hello, Brian. Nine games into this EuroLeague season, Olympiacos is tied for first place at 7-2, despite several injuries. What makes the team so strong no matter the circumstances?
"I think that the depth of our team has allowed us to be successful with all the injuries and guys in and out so far. That is the great thing about our team, we have a really deep roster. Guys from one to 14, or however many we have, can play and step up in big moments. That is what has been good for us so far."
Olympiacos often uses two point guards at the same time, too. How comfortable do you feel on this team?
"The beauty of playing with this team is that we have a lot of guys that can make plays off the dribble and in the pick-and-roll. That is what we use as our strength – multiple guys in pick-and-rolls. We have a pretty good understanding of the game and how the game is supposed to be played, so that is what has helped our team. Hopefully, that is what continues to be a big part of our strengths, having guys that can make plays."
Vassilis Spanoulis is expected back soon. What are your expectations of playing with him?
"Yes, I am looking forward to it. Obviously, he is a huge part of Olympiacos and what this team has meant over the last several seasons. To be able to play with him, alongside him, just kind of continues what we started without him. Bringing him back is a great thing and I am looking forward to having him on the court. We definitely look at him as somebody who is a leader and his presence is always felt."
This is your first EuroLeague season in six years. What do you like most about the competition?
"Just the level of competition it is, and also how big every game is. It is not like we are playing 80-plus games, like in the NBA. We are playing less games, so each game means much more. Just playing in hostile environments in which crowds are really roaring, loud and things like that. Those are the things I kind of missed and I have been re-introduced, I guess you can say. It has been a good start of the season, it is a long season and we are looking forward to continuing in the right direction."
It is also a different competition, with a round-robin system. How do you like it so far, facing all the best players and teams in Europe?
"Yes, you are able to play against all the teams, which is something that is really good. It is a more difficult schedule with the traveling and everything, but I am kind of used to it. Being able to play against all the EuroLeague teams is definitely big. The competition is more stable and games mean a lot more because you are playing everybody and you get to see what you can do against every team, not just a small group and then if you advance, you get to play against other teams. It is good."
The Bamberg fans and the Olympiacos fans are both passionate in their own ways. How would you describe the difference?
"Like you said, they are both really, really passionate. I had three great years in Freak City and am looking forward to going back there and seeing some familiar faces, but here, Olympiacos is a huge deal. Obviously, these fans are true passion and excitement, every single way, whatever is going on. I wear this jersey with a lot of pride and understanding that these fans are a big part of our success here."
Bamberg was a small city but now you are in one of the biggest metro areas in Europe. How are you liking the big-city life and the Greek culture?
"It is great! Athens is a great city to be in, to live in, with great weather... It is a huge city with a lot to do. My family and I have transitioned pretty easily here because of how good of a city Athens really is."
You drive a FIAT 500, compared to Georgios Printezis, who has a big car collection. Has he joked about it?
"No, but it is kind of noticeable when we pull up. Georgios has these cars he is coming up with, while [Nikola] Milutinov and I have the same car. It is kind of funny watching some of the big guys in the same cars that I'm using. It is a great sponsor that we have and this is what we drive around with pride. At least, I do! In Europe, you don't see that many big cars like you do in the States. There are smaller places you have to get to and a smaller car helps. You have to be able to drive and park in tiny, little spaces."
After a tough game last week in Milan, are you expecting huge battles in every EuroLeague away game, like this week's in Valencia?
"For sure, just because teams want to play well against a team like us, especially with the success the team had over the past few years. Hopefully, we will continue to be successful but like I said, every game is going to be big, no matter who it's against or where is it at or what their record is. We cannot look at games based on another team's record, because you can be beaten in every game. We face every game really seriously, willing to fight for 40 minutes."
Knowing what you know after 10 games, what does Olympiacos need most to make another run at the Final Four?
"It is a long, long season. I think we have done some good things in the first nine games but we have to continue to build our chemistry, play well together. I think defense is number one: we have to play defense to make a deep run in the EuroLeague. That is number one. With time, I think we will continue to get better as a team with chemistry, as guys are coming back from injuries and stuff like that. We just need to take it one game at a time."