With All-EuroLeague point guard Nick Calathes leading the way, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens finished the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season in fantastic form to clinch a playoff berth in Round 30. The same night Calathes led the Greens to that victory, he also recorded the first triple-double the competition had seen in a dozen years! The EuroLeague MVP for March, Calathes leads the league in both assists (8.9 apg.) and steals (1.7 spg.), while also averaging team bests of 12.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Calathes seems ready to face Real Madrid in the playoffs for the second season running and he is not concerned about the opponents trying to shut him down, because he knows there is enough talent in his team to win the series. "The good thing is that I have so many teammates that I can rely on, it is not just me," Calathes told EuroLeague.net. "For a team that says that, that they have to stop me and then it is over, that is good for us because I know I can rely on my teammates as much as anything."
Hello, Nick. The final week of the regular season was one to remember; you were named MVP of March, the Panathinaikos documentary you starred in was released, you recorded a triple-double and clinched a spot in the playoffs! How did all that feel?
"It feels good, man! It feels good, especially to be in the playoffs. Three months ago, I think people would never have thought that we would be in the playoffs right now, but we had a lot of confidence. We are looking forward to going to Madrid!"
All of that was about getting to the playoffs, which Panathinaikos did by winning seven of the last eight games. What helped you guys most to overcome such a tough situation?
"We have a lot of veteran guys in the locker room who know what we are capable of as a team."
"You know, we have a lot of veteran guys in the locker room who know what we are capable of as a team. We didn't play up to our standards at the beginning of the season. Once we started to get a little rhythm and play well with each other, we built confidence and it just took off from there. Obviously, Coach has done a great job with us, getting us prepared for that."
In your last game, your triple-double was the EuroLeague's first since in more than 12 years. How does it feel to make history the way you did?
"It feels great. Obviously, for me, I got close a lot and am just glad that I was able to do it, especially for a big game like to get in the playoffs. Also, I was able to do that because of my teammates, who helped me a lot. It is a great honor to be next to a guy like Nikola Vujcic, a legendary player."
After an amazingly tight playoffs race, with several teams playing do-or-die games for a month, do you expect the most competitive EuroLeague playoffs ever?
"I believe so. I believe that from top to bottom, the teams were really close from one another. I don't think there is a team that would say 'wow' like there has been in some other years. I think it is going to be a very good playoffs. All the teams that don't have the home-court advantage are ambitious and want to be in the Final Four because most of them have not been there in a while. A lot of teams are hungry to get to that spot."
You will face Real Madrid in the playoffs, the reigning champion and the team that eliminated you last season. Is that series in the back of your mind?
"I believe it was a learning experience. Every series that you play and every season you learn from it. Obviously, they are a very good team that won the EuroLeague last year. You can't take anything away from them, they played really good basketball also this year. It is a tough series, but we are a confident team coming in."
How do you face a playoff series knowing that you will be the player that Madrid will do anything in its power to limit?
"The good thing is that I have so many teammates that I can rely on, it is not just me. We have guys like Keith Langford and James Gist, who have done everything in the EuroLeague. We have multiple guys, I can keep going on and on, who have played huge games this season - Ian Vougioukas, Matt Lojeski, DeShaun Thomas... for someone to say that I am the only one, the player who they have to contain, try to stop, that helps us because we have a lot of guys who can step up like they did in the last 10 games: Papapetrou, Papagiannis... I could keep going. Like I said, for a team that says that, that they have to stop me and then it is over, that is good for us because I know I can rely on my teammates as much as anything."
Madrid may or may not have Sergio Llull, who came back from injury in the middle of last season's series. Is his presence or absence a big factor?
"We are going to prepare the series like he is going to play anyway. Obviously, if they don't have him, it is a big key for the team. He is the leader of his team and a heck of a player, but we are going to prepare like they will have him, just as we did last year."
Rick Pitino, after working with you just a few months, calls you the greatest passer he's ever seen. What's the best thing about working with Coach Pitino?
"He gives you a lot of confidence as a player. He came in and gave me support and confidence. He didn't take anything to say 'you don't shoot', 'you don't pass' or whatever. Each player, he believed in him and gave him high confidence and that is what you want from a players' standpoint, to be able to have a coach that believes in you. It helped us grow as a team and get better."
As we mentioned, you had the lead role in the recent EuroLeague documentary 'Guardian of a Legacy'. How much are you a guardian of the great Panathinaikos tradition?
"I am trying my best to keep the tradition going and keep winning."
"During the documentary, just seeing Alvertis and Diamantidis talk about Panathinaikos, see the old arena where they played in... it just shows how much it has grown and how much it evolved. Players, fans, arenas, presidents... everything! I learned a lot about Panathinaikos in that documentary that maybe I didn't know before, like playing in that small gym and things like that. For me, I would recommend anyone to watch it, especially if you are a basketball fan. It is a great story about a club and its history. I am trying my best to keep the tradition going and keep winning, keep it on the right track. I will keep doing my best to do that."
Panathinaikos has not been to the Final Four since 2012. Is that extra pressure, or an inspiration to do even better this time?
"I think it is a motivation to get there. We have a lot of older guys in the team who have never been to the Final Four, so I think we are very hungry as a team and want to reach that goal, for us and for the club, which has not been there for some years. I think it is a motivation and I don't think we need any more motivation, because we are a hungry team to get to the Final Four."
After all the accolades and records you've had recently, how much more would it mean to you to take this team to the Final Four again?
"Obviously, as a player, you want to be known as a winner."
"It would mean everything. Obviously, as a player, you want to be known as a winner. Player accolades, they come and go, but stamping your foot on a winning team, a winning year, it means everything. For me, being able to get to the Final Four would be amazing."