Miha Zupan, Union Olimpija

Dec 02, 2008 by Print
Miha Zupan - Union OlimpijaEuroleague fans last week had a unique chance to talk with a very special player as Miha Zupan of Union Olimpija, one of the most accomplished deaf athletes in professional sports history, answered their Fan Mail. Perhaps most telling about how completely Miha fits among the Europe's basketball elite was how few questions and answers dealt with his hearing disablity. It's true that Zupan, through hearing aid devices, can understand what is going on around him during games, as he showed while leading Olimpija in scoring to the team's first Euroleague victory of the season last week. But while he is an inspiration to the deaf community in which he grew up, Zupan is ready also to take more responsibility with Olimpija. "[Marko Milic's] injury has left a big hole in the team and that's where I come in," Zupan explained in one answer. "I am conscious of the responsibility that I have in his absence and I must say I like having that responsibility. Our coach has me playing more and that means I can play more relaxed."

Hi Miha. After a one-point home loss to Tau and a double-overtime defeat at Fenerbahce, two of the top three teams in the group, do you and your teammates feel that Olimpija is a lot better team than its record?

Luis Cabrales – Spain

"We play every game to our maximum, but during this bad-luck streak of results, we played well during only 35 minutes, and in the last five played like we were in crisis. For that reason, we kept losing by one or two points. In this losing streak of seven games between the Euroleague and Adriatic League, no team killed us. The losing margins were always very small. I am sure that our 0-4 start in the Euroleague was not the real face of this team. If we had had won just two of those - a few points of difference - everyone would be talking of how Union Olimpija has a good team that can make it far in this competition."

Miha, it seems that as soon as Marko Milic was hurt, you started becoming this team's leader. Do you feel that responsibility now? Good luck,

Elias - Athens, Greece

"My opinion is that Marko Milic is one of the best players on Union Olimpija and the only leader of the team. His injury has left a big hole in the team and that's where I come in. I am conscious of the responsibility that I have in his absence and I must say I like having that responsibility. Our coach has me playing more and that means I can play more relaxed. More minutes on court give me the opportunity to show my qualities, and I think that in the last two games, against Fenerbahce and Alba, I have shown that I can help this team."

Hello. Every player says playing in full, loud gyms is exciting. What is the difference for you between a big, full arena and a normal game considering that you hear the crowd less?

Paolo Uberti – Italy

"I suppose that most people don't understand that I play with hearing aids that allow me to hear almost everything. It's true, I am deaf almost since birth, but with the help of these devices, I can hear and I have learned to speak. During the game, I can hear everything going on around me. I hear my teammates, I hear the coach and, of course, I hear the crowd. During the games, I always use a headband so that the sweat doesn't reach the hearing devices in my ears."

Miha Zupan - Union OlimpijaDear Mr. Zupan, congratulations for the first victory against Alba. What can Olimpija do to be more focused and determined in the last minutes of the game after losing several by a narrow margin?

Mitja Križan - Ljubljana, Slovenia

"The players who are on the court during those final, decisive minutes have to understand that every possession can determine the winner. On the other hand, they also have to know that they are not alone on the court. They have four teammates to whom they can pass the ball and who can help them. If we play with that mentality in the future, I am sure we can win more games in the closing minutes."

Hi Miha. Do you read forums or comments on fan sites, and if people have negative opinions about you or your teammates, what do you do? Forget it? We are proud of you and of Union Olimpija. Congratulations,

Kaja – Slovenia

"I never read these fan site forums, but I do read and watch all the other types of media. I know well what they write and say. Some things they say give me even more motivation, while any criticisms of my play do not affect me much."

Mr. Zupan, you used to get in a lot of foul trouble, but this year no. What are you doing to avoid fouls? Best of luck,

Alex - Moscow, Russia

"You have to realize that last year and this year, my duties on the court were very different. Last year I played more for other players: I had to commit fouls to benefit the others. This year, things have changed a lot for me. Marko Milic, until his injury, was playing even better than before. Mirza Begic is the first player under the rim. And for me, that means I am left more space to play according to my instincts. It's also true that with each year that passes by, I have more experience and now I don't commit so many silly fouls."

Miha, what do you do in your free time, especially when the team travels, and what Euroleague cities are your favorites?

Gil - Tel Aviv

"The free time that I have at home I want to spend with my family, my wife and my daughter Luna. Of course, I also spend time with my friends, the majority of whom are also deaf. We go have a coffee together and have fun just like everyone else. During team trips, I talk with my teammates, read books and magazines of all types, and I always travel with a laptop computer to connect to the Internet. As far as what city in Europe I like most, I'd have to say Ljubljana. But if I have to choose another, it would be in the south. I don't like the cold and prefer the heat, so some place like Tel Aviv, your city, would be great. It's a very pretty city, which was shown to me by a deaf friend who called me when the team visited there but for bureaucratic reasons I could not play. That's a city that I like a lot."

How did you get involved in basketball? When you were young did you always want to play for Union Olimpija?

Petar - Maribor, Slovenia

Miha Zupan - Union Olimpija"When I was young, I played all types of sports, most of all skiing and football. When I was 13, I stared to play basketball in the Slovenian national team for deaf people, which during many years was among the best in the world. Due to my height, everyone said I could make it far, and it was then that I started to consider a future in basketball. After a few years, I signed my first contract with Slovan of Ljubljana, and began my professional career there. My first objective was to reach the national team, and I reached it last summer when I was part of the team that played the Olympic qualification tournament in Athens. I would like to keep playing with the national team and have the opportunity to participate in EuroBasket, for example next season in Poland, where Slovenia can do something big. Also, I always wanted to play in the biggest club in our country, Union Olimpija, and be part of Europe's biggest competition, the Euroleague. I have completed those two objectives, too, so the only goal I have left is to keep playing at Olimpija some more years. My contract ends this season and I wish to keep playing here at home."

Hi Miha. I would like your opinion on how you are playing this season. Do you tend to foul a lot because you are deaf and do you think you will get even better this year?

Nejc Tiran, Slovenia

"It's true that at the beginning of this season, I didn't play well. I had too many ups and downs. That shouldn't happen, but with time I improved in that respect, and now I am happier with my play. You can say that I learn from my mistakes. Every game I give my all, my maximum effort, but there's something very important that's needed to play well: minutes on the court. In 10 minutes, it's impossible to show all your potential, but when you play more it's a lot easier. I want to keep playing at a high level and to be one of the leaders on the team, because only in that way can I show what I am made of. As for the fouls, as I said before, my deafness doesn't affect how I play. Other players commit silly fouls, too. It's part of the game, and every player commits some fouls."