In just his third Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season, Will Clyburn of CSKA Moscow has become one of the fastest-rising stars on the continent. As a rookie, he helped Darussafaka Istanbul make its playoffs debut. Last season, he reached his first Final Four with CSKA. This season, he is averaging career highs in points (13.9), rebounds (7.1) and steals (1.2), while shooting two-pointers (55.5%) and free throws (75.8%) with much better accuracy. It all adds up to Clyburn possessing the EuroLeague's fifth-highest performance index rating average (18.5). A late bloomer throughout his career, the 28-year-old forward is driven to continue getting better. His first Final Four experience ended unsuccessfully last season, but he plans to keep coming back until he becomes a EuroLeague champion. "Even until today, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth as to how we finished, and I'm sure I'm not the only one," Clyburn told EuroLeague.net. "That bad taste was there all summer and never left, and I'm sure my whole team feels the same way. I'm also sure that's what is driving everyone to get back there and redeem ourselves and really try to bring the EuroLeague trophy back to CSKA."
Will, after a solid first season last year with CSKA, you've stepped it up considerably in this one. What has contributed to that improvement?
"Just the work in the summertime, but basically being more comfortable in the system, knowing my role even more. I played with these guys for a year already and this second year is just more natural and more comfortable. I wasn't learning the system anymore, I was able to just fit right in with what I was supposed to do. Having these players beside me and everybody knowing what others like to do, I just play my part."
In 2010, you went to a junior college after not being heavily recruited. Now you are among the top-rated players in the EuroLeague. Were you a late bloomer or did people overlook you?
"You can't beat winning and playing well. It's a no-brainer."
"I was definitely a late bloomer. I was always hard working, but I just blossomed late. After my first year in junior college, I spent the summer with one of my college coaches, and everything continued to go up from there. I never looked back after that."
Did you ever imagine then where you would be now, just nine years later?
"Coming from high school, I was just happy to go to school for free. And I always told my father that whatever happens after junior college, I'm happy, because I wasn't supposed to be there in first place. To be here now, I'm still grateful and, like I said, still seeing where things could possibly go from here."
You've been called one of the toughest mismatches in the EuroLeague. How do you take advantage of your combination of speed and strength in mismatch situations?
"I guess it comes with being versatile. I wouldn't say I'm the best or toughest mismatch threat, but my coach and the team do a great job of putting me in situations where I am able to create mismatches on the floor. I try my best to take advantage of them when the possibility comes in the game. Obviously, there are not a lot of big 'three men' in the league, maybe a handful. At the 'three', then, I'm able to really crash the boards and play mismatches in the low post. So it basically becomes speed and picking my spots within the offense."
What is the key to rebounding so well, especially for you who is not always near the basket at the end of plays?
"Just going for it. If you go, you're not going to get every rebound; but if you go and apply yourself, usually some of them will fall your way. Sometimes it's about getting lucky, and sometimes it's about going after the ball. Of course, I'm going to go after it on every possession. Sometimes I'll get it and sometimes I won't. But like I said, if you don't go, then you're never going to get it. But I'm able to really use my athleticism at the 'three' position to grab rebounds."
What did it mean to you to be brought into the EuroLeague by David Blatt two seasons ago and get the chance to show your game on this stage?
"It was big, man. Blatt gave me my first opportunity, and he told me right away that I was going to be a key piece. Obviously, he had brought in big names who had been there before, playing in the EuroLeague or the NBA. So, I didn't know what to expect coming in, but he told me to keep believing and to be ready, because he knew that I'd be a versatile part of the team. He gave me the opportunity, and I want to say that I did the best I could to capitalize on it."
With CSKA, it just keeps getting better for you. Do you feel like you've found a home for your game and your skills?
"Of course. Like I said, being surrounded by these players makes the game so much easier. We have so many threats on the court that other teams can't just key in on me or any other player. I'm comfortable here. It gives me an opportunity to really showcase my talents and win at the same time. You can't beat winning and playing well. It's a no-brainer."
How much does it help having veteran teammates like Nando, Kyle, Sergio and others who have so much experience at this level to offer?
"Them being veterans and so experienced, you know exactly what you're going to get from them. That comes with them being such professionals. You knew exactly what you're going to get from each of those individuals, every day and every game. That means you can go out there and really stick to what you do and, at the same time, help out others. With this team of veterans, everybody knows what their job is and does their job correctly. It always helps to be in a situation like that."
Of course last year, you got a taste of playing at the Final Four for the first time. They say that's even more of a motivator after you've been there once to get back. Is that true for you after playing last year in Belgrade?
"The competitiveness and what you get to see traveling around the EuroLeague are both unreal."
"For sure. Even until today, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth as to how we finished, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. That bad taste was there all summer and never left, and I'm sure my whole team feels the same way. I'm also sure that's what is driving everyone to get back there and redeem ourselves and really try to bring the EuroLeague trophy back to CSKA."
CSKA and several of your teammates have won the EuroLeague title in the past. What are you focusing on most to get your hands on the trophy?
"I want to say learning from my mistakes from last year, for sure, especially in the Final Four. In the semifinal that we lost to Madrid, I could have made better decisions in that game. It was a learning experience for me. I know myself, and I always want to come out aggressive and not get discouraged after missing a couple of shots. But from my point of view, I could have made better decisions against Madrid, and I'm learning from that. I'll be more prepared now in that situation, and throughout the whole season, just depending more on our team play and who we are as a team."
After three seasons in the EuroLeague, what do you enjoy the most?
"You can't help but love the competitiveness. Every single game is competitive. And of course, you get to travel the world. Any kid coming from where I do, traveling the world and playing in a league this good is a blessing. The competitiveness and what you get to see traveling around the EuroLeague are both unreal. There's nothing better than having this opportunity."