Will Clyburn's third Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season is the type that most players can only dream of. He was named to the All-EuroLeague First Team, played through pain to help CSKA capture the championship and was rewarded as the Final Four MVP. Clyburn paid his dues by climbing the ladder in Europe with stints in Germany and Israel before he got his EuroLeague break with Darussafaka Istanbul two seasons ago. In his two seasons with CSKA, Clyburn has established himself as a bonafide star. His reputation soared even higher with his strong performances at the Final Four in Vitoria-Gasteiz, including one of the dunks of the season in the semifinals over EuroLeague Best Defender Walter Tavares and a superb championship game effort on a wobbly ankle. Clyburn summed up his and his team's season in this EuroLeague.net interview, including what separated CSKA from the rest. "I think that we had the most talented roster in the EuroLeague offensively," Clyburn said. "And then defensively, we have a lot of guys who can switch, muck up the game, make the game tough."
Hello Will, congratulations on a historic weekend and on the weekend of your birthday! For the eighth time in club history, CSKA won the Euroleague crown. How special does it feel to be called a EuroLeague champion?
"It means everything. All the work we put in all year paid off at the end of the day. All the doubters that we had throughout the year that said other teams are better than us. It's a great feeling knowing that we came out on top and won the whole thing."
You went home with a pair of awards, too. After being honored All-EuroLeague First Team, you were also voted as the Final Four MVP. How much of an honor was it for you?
"Of course I'm happy that I have those awards; it kind of shows my talent and at the same time it shows the people that surround me, they got me better every day. And being able to play at that level because of them and practicing against them every day, it was always a great feeling. Our main goal was the championship and that's what we got."
CSKA had its usually strong regular season, then dropped Game 2 in the playoffs on your home floor against KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. How did you guys flip that down moment into a turning point?
"We had a lot of turning points this season, but that is the main one that people focus on. Every loss was a turning point for us. You have to look yourself in the mirror each time and go back to the drawing board and get better. Ask yourself, 'What can I do to get better? What did I do wrong?' That Baskonia one was the last straw for us. We knew what we had to do from there on out. We wanted it every other game after that. It was a great lesson for us."
"Our main goal was the championship and that's what we got."
In the semifinals, you guys came back from a 14-point third quarter deficit against the highest-scoring team in the competition. Where did you find the strength and belief that you could rally?
"I think that we had the most talented roster in the EuroLeague offensively, so 14 points might seem like a lot, but to us it's – I'm not gonna say easy, but it's not impossible for us. And then defensively, we have a lot of guys who can switch, muck up the game, make the game tough. That was what we did that game. Obviously, we put the balls in the basket, but on defense, we mucked up the game by switching defenses and trapping when we needed to."
Coach Dimitris Itoudis spoke highly about Kyle Hines, and what he means for this team on and off the court. He seemed even more vocal at this Final Four, even leading the all-team huddles. Can you describe what are the things that Kyle does that make this team better even when he is not on the floor?
"Everbody knows Kyle Hines. He's a winner. Everybody respects him as a winner. He has four EuroLeague championships. Him being on the team, court, locker room, he's going to bring that to any locker room. So it's kind of self-explanatory right there."
In the championship game against Efes you guys made 14 three-pointers, tying the all-time Final Four record, and on 63.6% accuracy, which is the best in the Final Four this century. What makes a team shoot so successfully at the key point of the season?
"Like I said earlier, we have a very talented offensive team. Everybody puts the work in. Everybody believes in their shot. Cory Higgins, Nando, Chacho, Dani. Everybody believes in their shot. So if we get that open look, we're gonna take it and we're gonna believe that we're gonna make it. Obviously, the ball's not gonna go in all the time, but that day the ball went in for us and like you said, we took advantage of it."
What was the game plan against Efes, particularly against Shane Larkin, who had a terrific Final Four?
"We knew that he was coming in hot. That for sure we knew he was gonna get his points. The thing we didn't want to do was help off of anyone else. If he was gonna beat us, he was gonna beat us alone; he wasn't gonna get everyone else involved, too. That was our biggest thing. We were gonna let him get his points, but we weren't gonna let him get everyone their opportunities as well."
How much credit does Coach Itoudis deserve for keeping the team together and keep its focus on the final goal - the EuroLeague title?
"We wanted to win that game and I was going to do whatever I had to do to win that game."
"He gets the same amount of credit as every player that played in these games, that was on the bench cheering. He knew. He built this thing. He knew what he needed to win a championship. Obviously, he gives us the freedom to play our game, the belief in everything. So he gets the same amount of credit as each one of these players."
You suffered an ankle injury in the final minute of the semifinals and did not come back into the game. However, that did not seem to prevent you from playing almost 30 minutes in the championship game. What did you have to do to be able to even be ready for Sunday’s game?
"After that game we did a lot of treatments. Twice a day, sometimes three. And you know what? Heart had to carry me through the rest of it. There's only so much they can do in that time span. The want to win and to help my team the best I could kind of took over and I felt the pain, but it really didn't matter because I wanted to win, I wanted to help the team. You could see in the game, you could see I wasn't moving my best because of this, but we wanted to win that game and I was going to do whatever I had to do to win that game."
This was your third EuroLeague season, and second with CSKA. In these past two years, you climbed to the status of a Euroleague superstar. How did signing with CSKA and being coached by Dimitris Itoudis help you to bring out your best basketball?
"He doesn't tolerate you not giving your all, for sure. That's the No. 1 thing. If you're not playing your hardest or if you're not giving your all, he's going to let you know. Like I said earlier, I'm surrounded by MVP guys, defensive player of the year guys. There's no way that I couldn't improve and get better during the year playing with these guys. It's a no-brainer. Of course, CSKA management makes sure that we have exactly what we need so that the only thing we have to worry about is playing the game of basketball. Of course, everyone knows that when you put on that CSKA jersey it comes with expectations and pressure, but they make sure that everything else is okay so that the only thing you have to focus on is basketball."