Kevin Punter has arguably been one of the most underrated players of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague competition over the past few years. The 27-year old signed a one-year deal with Olimpia Milan last season and is currently making the most of it by leading his team in scoring with 14.3 points per game.
The former Olympiacos and Crvena Zvezda guard is flirting with the 50/40/90 club this season, shooting 47.4% from the field, 39.6% from the three-point line and 86.1% from the foul line. Besides, Punter has been key to several of Olimpia’s victories by coming up big in clutch moments. Eurohoops had a chance to speak with Milan’s leading scorer, and he touched on this year’s run, the Final Four, being underrated, as well as superteams in Europe.
You guys have already won two titles in Italy. How would you assess the team’s performance with six games remaining in the EuroLeague regular season?
Kevin Punter: To be honest with you, we’re third in the EuroLeague, first in the Italian League. It’s nothing to really complain about or anything. We’re having a great year. We got two titles, and we’re trying to continue to build and get better every day. It’s been a long year. We started playing before anybody with the Super Cup in little group stages. We’ve played in a lot of games so far. I feel like we’re making good progress up until now.
Olimpia had a very strong offseason, bringing in star EuroLeague players. How have you managed to put your egos aside for the team good… cause from the outside looking in it’s like everybody’s getting involved.
KP: I feel like we don’t get enough credit for that. We’re one of the deepest teams in the EuroLeague. We don’t get enough credit for guys coming together and putting their egos aside to fight for one goal. A lot of times when you have a lot of great players in one team… everyone knows how that doesn’t always work. I feel like we’ve done a great job of playing together since August. Everyone here is one for one goal. That’s what we’ve been working towards.
You guys have five players who average double digits in points, and in close games we’ve seen a variety of guys putting the game away. How important will it be to have multiple options down the stretch in playoff games?
KP: Extremely important. We got a bunch of guys that can make big time shots in crucial moments. A lot of guys on this team have won. Late down the stretch we’ll see some games Chacho (Sergio Rodriguez), some games may be Malcolm (Delaney)… you know what I’m saying? It’s always different depending on how that game is going. We may roll with whoever’s hot and keep playing through him.
How much of an impact does coach Ettore Messina have in this?
KP: Believe it or not coach gives us a lot of freedom to be ourselves. That’s the most important thing with having so much talent in one team. You got to get those guys freedom to be themselves. And coach has been doing a great job from day one of coaching us hard and letting guys be themselves. We got to give a lot of credit to coach Messina for that.
Back at the start of the season, Gigi Datome had told me that he doesn’t like to listen to predictions and that the team’s goal is to make the EuroLeague playoffs. Since you’re currently the 3rd seed in the standings, do you think one step ahead about the Final Four?
KP: You see it, you think about it, but you try not to get too far ahead. You try to stay the course and look at what’s in front of you; and in front us right now is the regular season and finishing strong in the best possible manner. That’s the main focus. Sometimes you do look ahead just to see like ‘man we could really do something special,’ but overall you just got to stay focus in the moment.
What are the teams you’ve circled in the calendar this season and think could advance to the Final Four?
KP: Everybody. I try not to sleep on nobody to be honest with you. For me personally, every time that I step on the court, everyone is circled on my calendar. It doesn’t matter [if they’re a lower seed]. As we know in EuroLeague, this doesn’t matter. You can be the No. 1 seed and can lose to someone who’s 12th. Everyone has a pretty good team. You always got to come ready to play, cause that night a player might get hot and you could end up losing the game. You always got to be locked in and ready.
Individually for you, how would you compare your season to last year with Crvena Zvezda?
KP: I feel like I’m having a good year. I’m playing with a lot of legendary guys; obviously a lot of people know what these guys have done on the EuroLeague level. And this was big for me, to play with these other great players and show that I can play and win with them. That was extremely important for me.
In my opinion, you and Shavon Shields are one of the most underrated duos in the EuroLeague. Do you feel the same?
KP: Possibly, yeah. I feel like a lot of people have been sleeping on me ever since I been in Europe. My second year of playing in the EuroLeague… I can definitely agree to that.
Do you think there’s a particular reason for that? In other words, why are people underrating you?
KP: Honestly, it’s just being familiar. People don’t know the unknown. If you don’t know something, you’re not going to like it and you’re not going to pay attention to it. People like to see a winner over and over and over. The other person that they don’t know nothing about, they’re not going to say nothing about him. They’re going to overlook it. That’s basketball, it happens. That’s been happening to me ever since I was younger. I’m kind of used to that.
Barcelona recently announced the signing of Pau Gasol and Malcolm Delaney took on Twitter saying, ‘super teams in Europe… love to see it.’ Do you think that superteams in EuroLeague are actually a good thing or not?
KP: That’s a really good question. Me personally, I don’t really care. A lot of people will call us a superteam. I don’t know. I’m on the good side of it. Some players that aren’t on that side of it may be like ‘that’s not fair.’ It’s part of the game. I like it. I don’t have an issue with it. Even if I wasn’t part of a superteam, I wouldn’t care.