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Joffrey Lauvergne, Partizan NIS Belgrade
Dec 31, 2013
by Javier Gancedo, Euroleague.net
Partizan NIS Belgrade is back to the Top 16 for the first time since 2010-11 and a sea of black-and-white fans will have the chance to see their team fight against some of the best squads in Europe, starting this week with as-yet unbeaten Real Madrid. Despite a 1-6 start and the loss of starting point guard Leo Westermann to injury, Partizan won its next two games to advance to the Top 16. One of its biggest pillars has been 22-year-old big man Joffrey Lauvergne, who joined the club in mid-season a year ago. Lauvergne was the 2013-14 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Regular Season's best rebounder, averaging 9.3 boards in 10 games. He also stepped up when it mattered most, boosting his scoring average from 8.7 to 18 points in his team's critical wins against Budivelnik Kiev and Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul. Most of all, Lauvergne is happy in Belgrade and loves the learning environment and fan devotion he has found at Partizan. "We cannot expect anything better than this. You can play in a bigger team and earn bigger money," Lauvergne told Euroleague.net. "But if you want to improve and become a better basketball player, I think that there is not a better place than Partizan."
Hello, Joffrey, congratulations on reaching the Top 16. Partizan played its best basketball when it mattered most. How is the team feeling now, right before the start of the Top 16?
"Of course, we are very happy to go to the Top 16. We had some difficult games, like the one on the road against Fenerbahce Ulker, and won it. I think we just have to stay focused in the Adriatic League, and that will help us to play at our best level in the Euroleague. We don't have big goals: we just want to play hard and make our coaches and everyone following us feel proud of us."
Going into December, you guys were 1-6 and without Leo Westermann, a team leader. What did it take for the team to believe in itself and overcome that situation?
"Unfortunately, we don't have two players at every position. Like you said, we only had Leo Westermann as point guard and missed a second player, Davis Bertans, who has been injured all season. It has not been easy to do well with two of our best players out. We lost by 42 against CSKA and had one win in seven games. We worked hard and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Boris Dallo played well for us. It was difficult, but we kept believing in our chances, kept fighting and did it."
You obviously take pride in rebounding. How does it feel for you to have led the whole Euroleague in rebounding during the regular season at age 22?
"Well, I am very proud, of course! Where there is a rebound, the ball is in the air for everybody and the guy who wants it the most takes it. It is much more than having rebounding skills: you need to really want it. You need to have a fighting spirit."
You had 71 rebounds in your first six Euroleague games this season. Did the confidence to do that come from winning EuroBasket a few weeks earlier with France?
"Not really, no! This confidence comes since I joined Partizan. It is unbelievable what they did for me and the way Coach (Dusko) Vujosevic believed in me. It has been very positive for me. I arrived to Partizan last season and as soon as I got here, our coach made me play and work a lot. It was something great for me, of course."
Your team starts the Top 16 on Thursday at Belgrade Arena against still-undefeated Real Madrid. How much are you looking forward to that particular game at this particular moment?
"Well, when you play against Real Madrid - or any of the biggest teams in the Euroleague - you always have a special feeling. You know you are going to face one of the biggest teams in Europe. Partizan is a very young team and it is great to face Real Madrid at this particular moment. The arena will be full, with more than 20,000 fans supporting us. I can't wait for it!"
You will matchup against two very good rebounders like Ioannis Bourousis and Felipe Reyes. Does that make this game even bigger for you, personally?
"Yes, of course. I really liked these players. They have had great careers. You play basketball and get to the Euroleague to face this kind of players. I really will give my best against them!"
A sellout crowd of up to 22,000 is expected for that game at Kombank Arena. How would you describe the atmosphere at Partizan's Euroleague games to somebody who never experienced it before, a French fan, for instance?
"Well, it is impossible to explain it: you have to feel it. I can give an example, though. I was really sick before our last regular season home game against CSKA. You just arrive to the gym and everybody starts singing and yelling for you - and then you feel like a new man. You don't feel tired or sick anymore, you're just excited to play in front of that crowd. It is different than playing in any other gym. They are the best basketball fans in Europe. You have to come and see it: it is completely crazy! I love signing with all of them at the end of games. I asked my Serbian teammates about the meaning of that song. It is a love song about the club, 'I love you more than my family' and stuff like that. It is unbelievable!"
Coach Dusko Vujosevic made you an important part of his team since you arrived. He has a reputation for developing young big men. How has he helped you to become a better player in the last couple of seasons?
"You practice a lot at Partizan. You do a lot of team exercises, five-on-five, four-on-four, three-on-three. You work on your physical condition in the mornings, after that you work individually and some players stay after the morning practice for shooting drills. Of course, I have to improve my shot to become a better player, so he asks me to stay after every morning practice, asking me to score 10 shots in a row after pick-and-pops, or 10 in row from set spots. Like he always says, abilities have no limits and if you want something, you can get it."
There are three French players in Partizan: Westermann, Boris Dallo and you. What attracted all of you to play for Partizan?
"Most of the time, young French players don't have the chance to play and cannot work the way we do in Partizan. We are practicing five or six hours every day and playing 35 minutes per game in high-level competitions. We cannot expect anything better than this. You can play in a bigger team and earn bigger money, but if you want to improve and become a better basketball player, I think that there is not a better place than Partizan. We had a chance to come here and they saw that there are a lot of young French players with great potential. When I received their offer, I signed it as soon as I got it!"
Partizan has already met its goal of reaching the Top 16. How much more dangerous is your team now, with less pressure and more time together?
"For us, the Euroleague is always special; for the club, our fans... for everybody. We know that we have one of the smallest budgets in the Euroleague and nobody expects anything from us but fighting. Of course, we are a dangerous team because we can play at this level and will do it without pressure. When we play at home, it is going to be completely crazy. We will see what happens, but of course, I am sure we can win some games."