A fixture in the Euroleague for most of the last eight years, point guard Vlado Ilievski was brought to Tau Ceramica in midseason with games like the upcoming best-of-five Quarterfinal Playoffs in mind. Ilievski will try to bring all his experience to bear as Tau tries to break the homecourt advantage of his former team, Regal FC Barcelona. In a battle between such familiar rivals, he says, anything is possible. "Home court is not really a factor," Ilievski says. "The team that wants it most will be the winner, so chemistry and heart on the court will be most important."
Vlado, first of all, it's obvious that Tau has to recover from its tough loss against Olympiacos in the last Top 16 game. How is that process of recovery going?
"For sure, it was a big loss against Olympiacos in the last round. I think we are all aware that our goal is to be in Berlin at the Final Four and we'll do anything to be there. So we will put behind us the loss to Olympiacos and another to Bilbao in the Spanish League, and we'll be ready for the playoffs against Barça for sure. We have quality players with a lot of experience who have been through tough games their whole careers. For a big challenge like this, I know we'll be ready."
But you also lost homecourt advantage in the playoffs. What does it take to win on the road, as Tau will have to, at this time of year?
"I think mostly it takes a big heart, and the chemistry on a team has to be at the top level. We have to put our hearts on the court for 40 minutes, because the thing is that Barcelona is a team with a lot of quality players. The team that wants it most will be the winner, so chemistry and heart on the court will be most important."
Let's talk about your old team, Barcelona. Who are the key players and what are the strengths they brings into the series?
"Everybody knows that Navarro is their main player, that their offense goes around him, but I think that Navarro isn't the only one we have to stop. There are a lot more quality players on that Barcelona team. For sure he's the main guy, we know that. but I think every guy there gives something to that team. So we will prepare for the whole Barcelona team, and if I had to name names, I would say all of them. Navarro is the main guy, but everything is gold around him. He also believes in his teammates and they respond to his expectations of them. Navarro by himself cannot do what they have done so far, playing great in the Euroleague. The thing is that we have played great until now, too. These are two great teams and it should be a great series."
As point guards, you and Pablo Prigioni will have big roles in setting the pace for Tau. What will the pace have to be to win three games against Barcelona?
"For sure, we have to do our job as well as possible, meaning that we have to make our teammates better and better as the minutes go by. We have a lot of talent, the most of any team I've been on to this point, maybe. I am really happy when I get my teammates going, and Pablo is the same kind of player. He's know for leading like that and is one of the best point guards in Europe at the moment. I have tried do the same things for this team since coming in December - to make our teammates go. There's a lot of talent here, and when we get going, we're hard to stop."
Are five games better than three for either team in a series like this?
"The advantage is for sure with the team that has three games at home, but I don't think it's a big factor. At the same time, I think five games gives the series more excitement, more time that the fans really enjoy. I can remember back to 2001 when the final round was five games, so I can tell you it's going to be great. I am really looking forward to it. It will be physically and mentally challenging and we just have to be ready. Home court is not really a factor. It can be, but I don't think that in our series it's a big factor. If we were playing Partizan, maybe I would speak differently."