It took Anadolu Efes Istanbul just 10 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague games to collect more wins than last season. Efes had a 7-23 record in the 2017-18 season and is 8-2 so far. It went 5-1 in November despite losing playmaker Shane Larkin most of the month. Vasilije Micic stepped up big to become the competition's MVP for November, leading his team in scoring, assists or both in all six games during the month. Micic finished the month having averaged team highs of 18.0 PIR and 6.0 assists, as well as the second-most points (13.3) and third-most rebounds (3.7) for Efes. He finished the month with 35 assists, more than all but two other EuroLeague players, and a performance index rating of 107, which ranked him fifth in the competition over those six games. At age 24, Micic is one of the youngest players to receive the award. He sees it as an opportunity to get even better, as he says in this EuroLeague.net interview. "I am so glad and happy that this happened to me. I really know what I have been through so far in my career," Micic said. "It means a lot. This is the best motivation that I could get."
Congratulations on being chosen the EuroLeague MVP for November for the first time. How much of an honor is it for you?
"Thank you. Yes, it is definitely the first time and I am so glad and happy that this happened to me. I really know what I have been through so far in my career. It means a lot. This is the best motivation that I could get. Honestly, I didn't expect it because I am aware of how many good players there are in the EuroLeague, but we had a great run as a team, won five games in November and I was a part of that run. Like I said, I am very happy."
You have rarely been a starter in the past, but in November played more minutes than ever. Did you know you were ready?
"Honestly, I never look so much at what was in the past, but try to focus on what is going on right now. As a young guy, I know how hard it is to adjust to big teams and get minutes, but the experience I got last year with Coach 'Saras' was a big, important thing for me to be more mature and more confident on the court. I am aware of what is necessary to win. Last season meant a lot for me, to get this confidence and be comfortable on the court. I also get big confidence from our coach, Ergin Ataman, and it is going well. We are working well together, and I hope it is going to be like that until the end of the season."
"I am aware of what is necessary to win."
November started for you in Milan, but you missed a chance to win that game. What allowed you to recover so well?
"Yes, I was very sad after that game because, as a player, you live for the moment and want to make the decisive shots in a game. I know that it is normal to have ups and downs during the year. In that game, I think I played pretty solid against Milan, but missed those two free throws. In the end, I believed in myself and very quickly after that, I made two very important free throws against Gran Canaria, which was my way of showing that everything happens so fast in basketball and everything is possible. It is important to stay focused and believe in the things you are working on. If you work in the right way, everything comes back to you very fast."
You talked about the free throws against Gran Canaria. You screamed out loud after hitting them. How much of a relief was to hit those shots?
"I remember it, too! I was screaming like crazy! It was an atypical situation probably for many people in the gym because they didn't know what happened in the game against Milan. For me, it was important. I was so happy that I just showed my emotions that way. It was a completely honest emotion because there was some pressure on me, but with those two shots... I cannot say that everything was OK again, but it was good for me to see that I am capable of recovering from this kind of moment so fast. There are going to be probably more and more in my career, and I am just happy that I lived through these situations already. It was soon after the Milan game but this is basketball, and I am happy it went well this time."
Efes beat Panathinaikos by allowing just 62 points, the team's best defensive game yet. How important was it to stop Nick Calathes?
"Yes, this year, I believe that there are many teams with the same potential and talent, which is more interesting to watch. Some of the teams are already showing their big potential, as Panathinaikos showed in the last couple of years. But this game against Panathinaikos was special. They came off a win against Olympiacos in the Greek derby, and everybody knows how important that is for their confidence. We played our best defensive game until now. I was very motivated to play against Calathes, one of the best point guards out there. I gave my best to get that win, and the whole team played amazing. I remember that Bryant Dunston played amazing in this game, too. All the guys were really involved on defense and we forced them to their lowest shooting percentages so far this season. It is important to be capable of playing that way on defense."
Then, against Maccabi, you won all four quarters. You have a lot of new players but the team has clicked right away? What is the reason?
"Yes, many people think this, and it is normal that people think that way, with so many new players this season. I think that one of the most important things was that we started all together since the beginning of preseason. We didn't miss any player, and from the first day, we were talking to each other about details that can help us through the season. In the beginning of the season, we already showed that we have good quality. Of course, I am happy that we are showing that it is possible to play right away with so many new players. We also have great communication with our coach. That gives us the possibility to get good results. As for the game against Maccabi, it was a very important win for us. They were not playing so well, but came with a new coach who is famous for his teams' great defense. We expected Maccabi to react as a team and they played really well, but we were really focused and concentrated and played a really good game."
Next, Efes beat Darussafaka as Rodrigue Beaubois had 24 points in the second half. As a point guard, how important is it to keep finding a red-hot shooter like that?
"We have different weapons on this team and one of them definitely is Rodrigue Beaubois. I think he is one of the most talented players on offense that I have ever met so far in my career. He is capable of doing so many different things. He is fast, athletic and has an unbelievable shot release. Honestly, I would not be happy to be in the shoes of those defenders guarding him because, like you said, he was scoreless in the first half against Darussafaka but showed his great potential in the second half. It is so important for good teams to have that kind of player. We are trying to use all the weapons we have to get advantages on offense. Against Darussafaka, he had an amazing second half and I am happy he stayed focused. It is not easy to have a bad first half and then do what he did in the second half. He was ready for that and I was trying to find him, not on purpose but due to how the game went. Even when Darussafaka does not have a good record, they are playing very well and had the bad luck to lose some close games."
"I always have motivation, but this is a special award."
To end November, Efes beat Baskonia in Round 10 with six players in double digits. Does demonstrating many ways to score makes the team unpredictable for opponents?
"I don't know. I cannot say we are looking for that, but what I can say is that last year with 'Saras', I learned something that it is very important: to sacrifice a little bit, to fight with your ego in order to get good results. Individual performances are important and this award is great, but at the same time, as a point guard, I am trying to be aware of the situation on the floor, to find advantages. It's not necessary for me to score 20 points in every game. If I have some advantage in my position, then I go for it. This is what it is important to get good results – attacking where the advantage is. In the game against Baskonia, more guys were in that situation and I am happy that we showed we can win that way, with good offense. This is the reason why we play like that. Of course, coach has his strategy, but this is happening because we are all involved in the game."
You are one of the youngest MVP of the Month winners. Is that an extra motivation to do better in the future?
"Honestly, I always have motivation, but this is a special award. This is something that you don't get every day, and it is something that will be in my mind. I deserved this because of my work ethic and my dedication to basketball. It will help me put out a bigger effort in the next months and the next games, to try to win it again!"
Efes is playing really exciting basketball and already has more wins than last season. How far can your team go?
"It is not easy to talk about this team and its future, because many teams play well and many others will improve during the season, which is logical. The good thing is that we collected many wins so far. We will try to keep working hard and think only on the next game. If you focus on goals that are too far in the future, maybe you lose the focus on the next game, which, in my opinion, is more important than anything else. Logically, we are thinking that we can do many good things this season but for me, it is important to prepare the next game and be ready for it."