Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul had a fantastic run in December, beating some of the best teams in the competition to remain undefeated throughout that month. One player stood out in Fenerbahce's current run – it is on a club-record 11-game winning streak in the competition: Jan Vesely, who was the obvious choice as Euroleague Basketball's MVP for the month of December. Vesely averaged 16.6 points on 68.9% shooting plus 7.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals in December. He posted an average performance index rating of 23.6, which led all EuroLeague players for the month, which made the MVP discussion an easy one. Now in his fifth season with Fenerbahce, Vesely has taken his current club to four consecutive EuroLeague Final Four appearances and three straight championship games, including winning the trophy in 2017. A two-time All-EuroLeague First Team selection, this is the second monthly MVP of Vesely's EuroLeague career. He gives head coach Zeljko Obradovic credit for his development in his time in Istanbul, on and off the court, as he said in this interview. "He understands what I can and can't do, and is not forcing me to do something that I cannot do," Vesely told EuroLeague.net. "He has allowed me to play my game and we know what to expect from each other."
Congratulations on becoming the EuroLeague MVP for December. What does this award mean to you and Fenerbahce?
"Thank you! It is a good reward for the hard work that we did and the way I tried to help my team, but on the other hand, it is a long season. We just finished the first half of the regular season. It is going to be a long way and we have to be even more focused for the upcoming games. Still, it is nice to be rewarded for the hard work we've done lately."
Fenerbahce is 14-1 this season and was 9-6 at the same point in December 2017. Do you think that not having to replace big players and keeping the core of the team has been the difference?
"This is a good group of guys and like to spend time with each other. It is a very cool, friendly atmosphere in the locker room, and that also helps on the court."
"For sure, it is the reason we are playing good basketball right now. We have been together for a long time. We replaced a couple of players, but the changes were good. This is a good group of guys and we like to spend time with each other. It is a very cool, friendly atmosphere in the locker room, and that also helps on the court. I am really enjoying it."
You started December with a big road win against Panathinaikos in Athens. You had 7 assists in that game. Is it something you worked on, or does that come with the trust you just talked about?
"As for assists, one day I can have 7, but others I can have 1... or none. It depends on the team, on the defense and on situations that are happening on the court. As a big man, I don't think I have to work on my assists and stuff. Sometimes you pass the ball and your teammate scores, sometimes they don't and I don't get the assist. It depends on how the rotation is going; sometimes I am the last person to pass the ball before someone gets an open shot. It depends on the game. We have to go game by game, and every game is different."
You allowed 85 points against AX Milan and won. Then you scored 65 against Madrid and also won. Why is Fenerbahce so competitive at all game rhythms?
"Every game is different and if you play against high-scoring teams, you have to score more points than them. It is not easy to stop the opponents and keep them to lower and lower scores. We have been together for a long time and are a talented team with players who can score a lot of points. Like you said, it is good that we can play well in low-scoring and high-scoring games. The key is always defense. We have to stay in the game, and that is what we are doing until now. Sometimes we can score 95 points and sometimes we will get 65."
It is always big to play against CSKA. Fenerbahce had a great second half and you had the highest performance index rating of any player against CSKA this season – 33. Was it your best game of the season?
"I think we were down by a lot of points against CSKA and played a very, very bad first half. We talked to each other at halftime and agreed that we had to play different basketball and be more aggressive. That is what we did and we changed the rhythm. As a team, I think it is one of the best second halves that we've had. We have had problems before to start the second half the right way and this time we did it. As for me, I just tried to help my team in the best way I could and that allowed me to get that index."
Against Buducnost, the game was tied at 40-40, but you won by 24 in the end. What was the difference in the second half?
"It was the second game of a double week and it is not easy to play in Buducnost's court. The gym is small and the atmosphere they create is tough and great. I personally enjoyed it. They are a good team that fights, especially at home. Their fans pushed them a lot, but Buducnost lost energy in the second half. It was a double week and they had played an Adriatic League game that previous weekend. That got to them and I think they just got tired. We had a big rotation for this kind of game and I think that was the key."
You beat Madrid on a three-point play by Luigi Datome. How great is it to host the biggest teams in the competition? The atmosphere was extraordinary.
"Our fans really make a great atmosphere, yes. They are pushing us forward. Everybody enjoys playing at home."
"Our fans really make a great atmosphere, yes. They are pushing us forward. Everybody enjoys playing at home, especially in these kinds of games. Both games, CSKA and Madrid, were sold out and the atmosphere was amazing and winning the game in the last few seconds, with Gigi scoring like that, was great. This gives us more energy for work. We know that nothing is easy and you have to work for 40 minutes, until the end. That is what Gigi did and the Fenerbahce fans were happy about it and everybody enjoyed that game."
Much has been made about your impressive improvement in free throw shooting; have defenses changed the way they guard you now that you are near-automatic from the line?
"I am still getting fouled a lot, so I don't think defenses have changed, so I don't agree with that. Defenses are the same as before and are stopping me from getting easy baskets by sending me to the free throw line. I got fouled 10 times in a game this season [against CSKA]. I still get fouled a lot, but now I try to stay focused on the game for 40 minutes. I am focused on where to step and don't change the routine or the technique. It is working until now, so I cannot complain."
Fifth season with Fenerbahce, all of them with Coach Obradovic... What's the best thing about playing for Zeljko?
"He is passionate and understands basketball like no-one else. He really knows every position in a game. For instance, I cannot remember what I did or how I scored and he knows exactly every player's move and what he did in a game. That is the gift he has. I always had a special relationship with him and after the NBA, he gave me the chance, the opportunity to play here, to play my basketball. He understands what I can and can't do and is not forcing me to do something that I cannot do. He has allowed me to play my game and we know what to expect from each other."
In what ways are you a better player today than when you first arrived at Fenerbahce four and a half years ago?
"For sure, I am a better player than when I arrived. I had to get back to Europe and get used to it again. I also needed to get my confidence back and I got better not just as a player, but also as a person. I am a father now and a lot of things have changed – for the better!"