Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade has been climbing up the standings in recent weeks and one of the main factors in its rise has been the play of James Feldeine, who has been averaging 16.1 points since the start of December. After two seasons with Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens, Feldeine has become the scorer and leader Zvezda has hoped for when he signed, a go-to guy and a player everyone feels confident giving the ball to as the games go down to the wire. “Coach sat me down one or two times and just said, you are not here to be a creator or facilitator or to be just a regular guy, you have to be the guy who scores the ball and be aggressive every single possession,” Feldeine told EuroLeague.net. “After I had a good game against Maccabi, I think my mindset changed. I realized this is what I have to do every single night so we can have a chance to win.”
Hi James. Halfway through the season, it looks like a completely new and a very young team helped by a few proven winners and veterans seems to be turning into a really good combination.
”In the first two or three games, even though we beat Barcelona at home, you could see we were young and inexperienced. A few of us have been playing for a while and are well-known in the EuroLeague, and we understand the difference between experience and inexperience is really big. And it showed at beginning of the season. But the young players are getting a lot confidence. They are listening a lot to us veterans, listening to the coach, and it is showing on the court. And it is helping us now. A few young guys are giving us good crucial minutes, points, rebounds, and the little things that make teams win.”
What has been the most important moment of the season so far? Was it the first win against Barcelona, the comeback against Maccabi, the road win over Real Madrid or maybe the big fourth-quarter rally and win in Valencia?
“It was a bunch of things. I am not going to lie. At the beginning of the season some reporters and some journalists said we were the 16th team in the EuroLeague, and that we are going to come last at the end of the season. And I think that kind of motivated us. Coach said that to us, and it motivated us. We lost a tough one the first game against Zalgiris by 2 points and then we came home and beat Barcelona, which has the roster and the budget of who knows what. And of course we went into that game with no shame, and a lot of fight. It was the first game at home, a packed house, and it was a great game. And then, versus Maccabi it was another big game. We were down by maybe 12 at halftime, and grinded it out for another big win. We had a lot of wins that brought us a lot of confidence, like the big win in Madrid. And then after back-to-back losses against Fenerbahce and Panathinaikos, we came back to now beat Zalgiris, which is the hottest team in the league. Another thing is playing games in the Pionir. It helps us a lot. In this gym fans are closer to the court, it is our home floor, we practice there every day, and it is just different there.”
You not only won five of your last seven EuroLeague games, but you also won three of the last four away from home. How confident are you and your teammates right now?
“Coached instilled a lot of toughness in us, and he has a system that we go by. Sometime it works, sometimes it does not, but we have a thing going. We are playing against some teams that have better rosters, but we have nothing to lose. We are just playing to compete. And then it gets to a point in a game when we get together and say ‘listen guys, we can win this game.’ We can be down by 10 and we showed we can come back when we are losing. We showed we can have a lead and keep it against good teams, too. But I think road wins are the biggest confidence-boosters for us.”
Your next game is on the road against Anadolu Efes, a team you dominated just a month ago. What will it take to beat them again on Friday?
“It is a new game. We can’t think about what we did first game against them. We can’t rely on them playing bad, and us playing amazing how we did. We know they have a good roster, good players that can really score the ball. We just have to come in with a fresh mind. We are coming off a loss in the Adriatic League, so we got to get ready and just forget about the past and play like we have been doing. Every game is a different game, every game has its ups and downs, but I would say against Efes is a game we can win.”
You, personally, are in your third EuroLeague season, and your role this season seems larger than in the previous two with Panathinaikos. Is that what you were hoping and looking for coming in last summer?
“Panathinaikos is a team with great guys and great players. I personally knew going in there that my role was not going to be like in the past teams where I was playing. I knew I could score the ball and have some big games, but Panathinaikos is a deep team. I was ready for it, but it was different for me. But those two years helped me to be who I am now. Signing here with Zvezda, I knew I was going to be one of the main guys, one of the guys people look up to, look to for advice. And I try to play my game, and my game is to try to score the ball. It may be the reason why I signed because I wanted that role. I did not want to be one of 12 men on the roster, like in Panathinaikos. I wanted be one of the main guys and to show people what I can do in EuroLeague. It was an easy decision for me. Crvena Zvezda wanted me two years ago. I loved playing here, it was amazing every time I came playing here, so it was an easy decision to come here. And I am showing on the court what I can do, just feeling more comfortable. Coach has given me a lot of confidence. He trusts me a lot, and when it’s time for a big shot, big basket or key play, he always tells me it is my time, my time to shine. To have all that confidence in your coach, and him in his player, it’s amazing.”
Did it take a little time for you to get used to getting back to that mindset after couple years in a different role?
“It showed my first three or four games. It was a struggle. I wasn’t really shooting the ball so much. I wasn’t being aggressive. I was passing a lot. Coach sat me down one or two times and just said you are not here to be a creator or facilitator or to be just a regular guy, you have to be the guy who scores the ball and be aggressive every single possession. It took time. Before I signed I thought this is my time to get back to normal, to be that guy. But when I got here I kind of fell back on the last two years, of being the glue guy. After I had a good game against Maccabi, I think my mindset changed. I realized this is what I have to do every single night so we can have a chance to win. So after few games, that mindset came back to me.”
It also seems that you and all of your teammates have developed a great rapport with Coach Dusan Alimpijevic. He is almost your generation, just a couple of years older. What can you say about your relationship with him?
“He is a passionate guy and I am a passionate player. Sometimes we see eye to eye and sometimes we don’t. It’s a relationship that, if you get two people who want to win so bad, it happens. But when it comes down to the game and game time, we see eye to eye. We know what each other wants. I think he learns from us, and I learn from him. It’s a good relationship. It has ups and downs, but that’s going to happen. I think we are both competitive, and both felt it when people said before the season we are going to come last. And we talked about that beginning of the season. I know he has something to prove, and I got something to prove. But he does not act my age. He does not act like a younger coach. He acts like he has been here before. He is a guy who studies the game of basketball a lot, he always talks about the game of basketball. He does not act like a guy from my generation, he acts like an older experienced guy, which is pretty cool to see. He loves basketball so much and is so passionate. He is a guy you can joke with, but as any coach, he can get on to you and he pushes us a lot. But he pushes us to be great, to bring it every day to practice and games. And if you are doing something wrong he is the first person to point you out, it does not matter if it is me or Pero or Milko or Taylor. He is a guy who does not hold back, and I feel he is helping us.”
Zvezda is a blend of a young coach, a few veterans who are even older than him, several young up-and-coming talents and you are right in the middle. How easy or difficult was it to blend in considering the situation?
“It took time. We were the first team in Europe to start training camp. And I think that was a good start. It gave us two weeks extra to get to know each other. Practice together, learn coach’s system. There were four or five players new to EuroLeague, so they had to get accustomed to how different the game is. How difficult, how physical, how many great players we play against. The organization did a great job of bringing older guys, and some young talent together. At first it was hard, we were teaching them many things over and over every single day, but that’s a part of the process. We want to be a good team, we want to be a surprise, but we know it is going to take time.”
How have your expectations and impressions changed during the season? How satisfied are you with the decision you made to join Zvezda?
“I don’t think our expectations changed. We still have some big games, some games we want to win. We don’t talk about it. We just want to compete in every single game. We still talk about journalists picking us last; we still talk about how we lost some games that we should have won. So, we continue to get better every game and we are just going to see how it goes. We sure want to do some special things, for this fan base, for this organization. But we can’t get our expectations too high because this is EuroLeague. We just have to keep fighting and keep getting better.”
This being a special basketball season in Belgrade, with the city hosting the EuroLeague Final Four for the first time next May, can you tell the fans what can we expect from Zvezda the rest of the season, as the team seems to be getting better week after week?
“The fight will always be there, until the last game of the regular season. This is a basketball city and we just got to keep competing. We are a hard-nosed team that has something to prove and nothing to lose. We have to keep coming in, just play our game, and be happy with the results.”