EA7 Emporio Armani Milan has finally lived to see brighter days again this season. After going through a very difficult stretch of 10 consecutive losses, Milan has now won three of its last four games, a span that has included beating Olympiacos Piraeus, taking Real Madrid down to the wire on the road, and arguably one of the most impressive wins this entire season – a 25-point second half comeback last week against Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul. One of the players at the center of Milan's recent rise is Krunoslav Simon, a versatile and a crafty lefty who can play point guard, shooting guard and small forward with equal success, whether as a starter or substitute. He is Milan's second-best scorer at 11.5 points per game this season, while he leads his team in three-pointers (30), assists (3.8) and steals (1.1), all at just below 28 minutes played per contest. Simon has averaged double-digits in scoring for four EuroLeague seasons, but in his last five games has really taking another step, posting 17 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. "I think we are playing our best basketball of the season right now," Simon told EuroLeague.net. "We play with a lot more team spirit, and of course, our confidence is up. You lose your confidence during losing streaks, and then maybe in some of the games where you have a chance to win, you miss little bit of that confidence and lose a game on few details. Now that we ended the streak, some of those details started going our way."
Kruno, your team's latest win was nothing short of amazing; down 25 points with 15 minute left against Darussafaka before rallying to win 89-87. How do you explain all that went in into coming back?
"Honestly, I really don't know what the key was. I must admit it that this is the first time I was a part of such game. I don't even know any recent examples of such comebacks, and those that happened I was not playing in. However, while we were down by 25, I thought it was too big of a margin. It wasn't realistic that they should be up by 25 points. It turned out, I was right. I don't even think we started doing things much differently. Darussafaka previously hit five or six very tough threes, and that is at least 15 points that teams will not score very often. And I felt that at some point it had to stop. Thankfully, it stopped in time for us to have a chance to turn it around. But to completely rally back from such a deficit you still need many things to come together for you, and that happened for us. And the game ended as it ended."
What have you guys been telling each other and what did Coach Jasmin Repesa say that had you keep believing you can still win?
"Realistically, I think in 99 out of 100 games you will not even get a chance to come back from 25 points behind in the third quarter. But this was that one game. There is nothing you can really say on the court. You know you have to play out the game, and everybody in the gym is aware at that point you are going to lose the game. This, what happened last week, is really rare. I think I had my belief restored once we cut it to 12 points at the end of the third quarter. There we got in a position, close enough that you can turn the game around. I think entering the fourth quarter we all started believing we can do it."
That win, which meant a season sweep of Darussafaka, also keeps Milan alive in the playoff race. How do you guys look at what's ahead in the final nine rounds of EuroLeague?
"When you look at the standings it is just one victory, but psychologically it is huge. There are nine games until the end of regular season. Nothing is impossible, but with each new victory we can hope to continue our climb in the standings and in our better form. And we will see how far it can take us. We are certainly playing much better in recent weeks. And if we continue playing this way, at the very least we will finish with a much better record that what it looked like we would when we were dead last just few weeks back."
It is surely not a pleasant memory, but you guys previously have lost 10 straight games, a streak that lasted for two months. How did such a long losing streak came about?
"It is difficult to detect a cause. I think there are several things that come together for a team to lose 10 in a row. For us, unfortunately, it did happen. We did have a few injuries, in addition to simply having players, myself included, out of form. And EuroLeague is the sort of competition where such streaks can happen, a league where details decide games, where each opponent is tough and strong. It was not pleasant, and that 10-game losing streak was certainly one of the worst moments in my career on the club level. But, every streak has to end at some point, and it was finally snapped a few weeks ago."
Having won three of the last four games, what has Milan learned from the losing streak and how did this turnaround happen?
"It is hard to talk about learning lessons, because I guess if we learned lessons as we were losing, we would have lost three in a row, not 10. But something had to change, and it did change. I think we are playing our best basketball of the season right now. We play with a lot more team spirit, and of course, our confidence is up. You lose your confidence during losing streaks, and then maybe in some of the games where you have a chance to win, you miss little bit of that confidence and lose a game on few details. Now that we ended the streak, some of those details started going our way. Now, it is important to continue that trend."
Next, you have Anadolu Efes Istanbul on the road. Milan has one road win this season, way back in Round 2, in Istanbul against Darussafaka. What will it take to snap this current road losing streak?
"We had a few close road games, but did not win them. This will be a tough game. Efes has really improved, they look excellent. I watched them last week against Crvena Zvezda, and the beat them surprisingly easily in Belgrade, I have to admit. I think both of our teams had their share of ups and downs this season, but now both teams are on their way up and I expect a good game. I believe anything is possible. I hope the time has finally come for our second road win of the season; it has been too long since our first away victory."
Over the last five games, you have been averaging 17 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists. What has been behind you raising your performances and getting into such form?
"I'm not really into the numbers; I think it is important to play well, but also to win. However, the injury that made me miss couple games ended up helping me. I guess I rested during that time. I think I got little worn out. That is one of our problems on the team, that we have a lot of key players who basically did not get rest last summer. For example, Milan Macvan, Miro Raduljica and I all went through both pre-Olympic qualifying and the Olympic Games this past summer, and I think that had an influence on our form. So, after missing couple weeks with injury, I actually feel much better, more rested and I think that is why my numbers are up. I mean, it could always be a coincidence, but I don't think it was, and I actually think I benefitted from being injured."
In your fifth EuroLeague season, what is your view on the positives that the new format has brought?
"I think it is exciting and I think the new format is great. This the best of European basketball, and EuroLeague got the format right. Each game is interesting, so many games are close, there are no outsiders. Literally, any team can beat the other team. Not one team can count on winning a game, any game, in advance. It makes it that much more attractive. Yes, it might get tough when you play two games a week, but it is well worth it."
You are Milan's leader in minutes played and over the past six seasons you rank just outside Top 10 in average minutes among active EuroLeague players. What does it mean for you that coaches – in particular Jasmin Repesa, who also coached you at Unicaja Malaga – love to have you on the floor?
"Yes, he obviously wanted me on his teams before, and I can only say the best about him. But I think our relationship best speaks for itself on the floor. Playing a lot of minutes also shows how much the coach has faith in me, and that makes it easier to play, too. And it does feel good to be playing big minutes for so long. I think it is my style of play that allows that. I believe that even when my shots are not falling I try to find other means to help my teammates."
It is your second season in Milan. You seem like you are one of the team's vocal leaders, and you have definitely connected with the crowd. How do you like the club and the city?
"It's a fact that I have been enjoying Milan since the day I arrived. I was accepted well, and I love being with this club and in this city. I think fans see and recognize that, too, and it is great to have a good relationship with the fans, who have really been with us, even during those the tough times in recent months. As for leading, I feel that I have enough years on my shoulders and enough experience in my career to feel comfortable helping someone with advice. I don't want it to remotely sound like I have it all figured out or that I am the guy to listen to, but there are few of us older players on the team who bear a larger share of responsibility, compared to few younger players who did not go through as much. So, it is only natural for us to help them and to accept more responsibility."