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09.03.2009 · 00:00

Euroleague Interview: Novica Veličković

Novica, congratulations on a great month and on qualifying for the playoffs again. What does this February MVP award mean to a young guy like you? "For sure, this award means a lot to me. This is the prize for everything I gave to basketball, as well as new stimulus for more work. But our team is awarded by this, not a single man. The team is number one: I am part of the team." Before the games started in February, did you guys analyze the schedule and know that by winning three games you could qualify for the playoffs? "We made some calculations before the start of the group competition at the beginning of the season. But later we made no calculations. We never analyzed the situation. We start each game with winning in mind, and in the end we have the satisfaction of qualifying for the quarterfinals. " How did the team leave behind Top 16 opening-game loss at Panathinaikos, the biggest all year, to start so strong in the next, crucial game against Roma at home? "Panathinaikos was not a much better team in that first game, like the final score seems to show. Don't forget that we were leading for 20 minutes and the game was equal for 35 minutes. In final minutes, we fell down and they showed their experience. But we have an extra quality that lets us get back on our feet fast, so we started the game with Lottomatica like nothing happened in Athens a week before." After all the one-point losses in the regular season, the one-point win you needed most came against Unicaja at home. Would it have been devastating to lose again by one point? "I even can't count how many one-point losses we have had the last two seasons. But fortune kisses us in the decisive games. Just like last season, this season it happened again. We are working hard and the results must come. I don't believe it would have been devastating losing again by one point. We always believe in our team and in ourselves." In the first Unicaja game you missed your first seven shots but were the go-to guy in the fourth quarter. How did you keep your head in the game? "Our secret formula is that we believe in each other. I believe in each player in the team, and all players believe in me. That gives you stability. With that thing in mind, you can be the right man at the right time." In the week before meeting in Malaga, Partizan won the Serbian Cup and Unicaja lost the Spanish Cup in overtime. How much effect did those tournaments have on your overtime victory in Malaga? "It is not the same thing winning or losing a trophy. I understand Unicaja's players. They lost in a dramatic overtime to Tau, then Cook missed the winning shot against Partizan in regular time. And then they fell in overtime. We also played three games in our cup tournament, but we won and that gave us extra force." How did you and your teammates spend the time before the Panathinaikos victory the next day confirmed your spot in the playoffs? "We spent the day traveling back from Malaga to Belgrade. It was a long trip and we did not have time to think about the game in Rome. Even if there had been time to think about anything, we should have thought about beating Panathinaikos at home. That's how we understand basketball and the Euroleague competition." You seem to have become a leader on this young team. Did you choose the role or did it come to you naturally? "Partizan is strong as a team. There is no leader in the team; each player is able to take leadership role when the time comes. I am not a leader, I am just part of the team. That's how we see it." Let's not forget the fans. Even for someone like you who has played his career at Pionir, what is it like each time that you walk on the court for a Euroleague game there? "The atmosphere in Pionir is absolutely special. I have played throughout Europe and there are hot courts and hot fans, but nothing could compare to Partizan fans. First of all they know and understand basketball. This is the reason they are leading us during the games. It's like they coach us collectively, by trance."