It is hard to recall a better first month of a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague career than the one that 19-year-old Buducnost VOLI Podgorica center Goga Bitadze has had since joining the club in late December. This young big man needed just 18 seconds of action to score his first basket in the competition – and one! Now, through his first four appearances, Bitadze has posted an impressive 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. If he had played enough games to qualify for the full-season rankings, those numbers would place Bitazde fifth in scoring and rebounding and make him the league leader in blocks. Bitadze has managed to carry over the success he had the Adriatic League, and in Adidas Next Generation Tournaments before that, to become a force to be reckoned with at the elite level, too. "I don't know if someone was expecting something or not, but I just did not have that much pressure, so I have just been playing my game, just like in any other game, trying to give 100 percent every time and take what the game gives me," Bitadze said in an interview with EuroLeague.net. "I just want to be able to look in the mirror after the game and be able to say that I did everything I could. But to be honest, I wasn't expecting this kind of start."
Last week, in your first EuroLeague home game, you got your first victory in a thriller? How did that feel?
"It is a great experience to play for our home crowd. I couldn't wait to play in front of them. Of course, they gave us energy. Darussafaka might be the last-place team in the EuroLeague, but they have great players, and it was a great experience for me to play in such an atmosphere. It was crazy to get this win, which was important for our confidence."
As a 19-year old rookie, what were your expectations and what are your first impressions of the EuroLeague?
"I knew it was a really tough league because I have watched it all my life, since I was a kid. But now, playing against these guys, they are athletic, and it is a more physical game when I compare it to the Adriatic League. There is more contact and I like it more because you can play more free and you can play faster. That's just my impression. I am proud to play in the EuroLeague. I also had a chance for the last two years to be at the EuroLeague Final Fours, watching games. The Final Four is a crazy thing, the craziest atmosphere I have ever seen, and just once I want to play in the Final Four. That is one of my dreams.
"Just once I want to play in the Final Four. That is one of my dreams."
You are having a special start to your EuroLeague career. Some fans are surprised; some expected nothing less from you. How do you feel about fitting in so quickly?
"I don't know if someone was expecting something or not, but I just did not have that much pressure, so I have just been playing my game, just like in any other game, trying to give 100 percent every time and take what the game gives me. I just want to be able to look in the mirror after the game and be able to say that I did everything I could. But to be honest, I wasn't expecting this kind of start. I don't want to say I played great, but I did not expect to play this well. But I am happy about it."
In four first game, in Munich, when you needed just 18 seconds to score, then finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. What allowed you to have such a performance?
"It was just reading the plays, and the big thing that pays off for me is being motivated and leaving 100 percent on the court. I think my hard work is paying off. I have worked really hard with my former club, Mega Bemax, and over the summer I gained muscle mass and got a little bit quicker. And it is also my teammates. I would not be able to do it without them."
Switching teams mid-season is never easy, even for veterans, let alone teenagers. What has helped you most to make such a smooth transition?
"I think my teammates are the reason. Buducnost is a good team, the reigning Adriatic League champions. But it was not an easy situation, especially the first couple of days. I mean, it is still hard now to get used to things. But my teammates and coaches helped me. And it is my mindset to just do my job, to play basketball. It is not easy to switch teams, but at the end of the day that's our job, and I just try to play basketball."
You arrived at the same as Norris Cole, who hit the game-winner last week. How important is his huge experience to you and the team?
"Norris is a two-time NBA champion; that's probably enough to say. He has great experience, and he is a great guy and a great teammate. For me, personally, it is good to play with such an experienced guy, and he has already taught me a lot of things. I already learned a lot from him. He is a great point guard and he is great for the team. He is talking a lot, trying to be loud and make everyone do their job, and he tries to help everybody. He already showed us what he can do, and I think he can do more. Norris is just a great professional and a great basketball player."
All-EuroLeague forward Tornike Shengelia is among several Georgian players -- like Vladimer Boisa, Manuchar Markoishvili and Giorgi Shermadini -- who have made their mark in the EuroLeague. What does it mean to you to follow in their footsteps?
"It is amazing. I grew up watching their games, trying to be like them and act like them. And it is great to follow in their footsteps, also because now we are friends and teammates on the Georgian national team. When I joined Buducnost, I know I got support from them on social media, too, and that is also great to feel that kind of trust from more experienced players. I love them, and they are helping me with whatever they can, on and off the court. They have done a great job for Georgian basketball. They have made the world aware of our country's basketball. They have also done a great job in the EuroLeague. Toko is killing it right now, and Shermadini has won the EuroLeague two times and has done an amazing job at many great clubs where he played. And they are also such nice guys. Manu [Markoishvili] is probably the nicest person I've ever known and the greatest teammate from the first moment I met them. And Boisa is in the federation, and he is someone I can call anytime. I feel like they are my family."
You left home at 16 years old to pursue your basketball dream in Serbia. In what ways did that shape who you are today?
"I know you have to sacrifice in order to achieve something big."
"It was hard for me for a couple of months. I was really frustrated, far away from my family and far away from my friends. It was hard, but then slowly I got used to it. I had a lot of time to think, and I know you have to sacrifice in order to achieve something big and get something even bigger. Also, Mega Bemax has done an amazing job. I came as a fat kid from Georgia who did not know how to play an inside game, who was just shooting threes. And now I feel they did a great job with me, and helped me with everything in my life. I grew up there, I arrived as a kid and I left, maybe not as a grown man, but as a man."
Next up, Buducnost is hosting Real Madrid. How exciting is that for you? How will the atmosphere in Podgorica be for the reigning champs?
"It will be a crazy game. As for any other game, we have to stay focused. We know Real Madrid is on a high level, one of the top teams in the EuroLeague, but the atmosphere in Podgorica is different and anything can happen in that crazy atmosphere. My teammates proved that to everybody by beating CSKA, Baskonia and Barcelona. Also, it will be a great feeling for me, personally. Last year I was at the Final Four in Belgrade as a spectator, and I could not imagine that I would have a chance to play against them this year. Now, I have a chance and I have to use this chance, be fully focused and put 100 percent on the court."
What can we expect from Buducnost for the rest of the season?
"We have shown everybody that we are a good team despite our position in the standings. We have a lot of new players and a new head coach, and still have to learn to play with each other. But we can play against anybody. We had a chance to take road wins against Bayern and Maccabi, but we needed a little bit more luck in those game. There are a lot of games left, and we've got to show that we are not going to give up, and try to beat as many teams as we can."