By Alex Molina/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Calathes feels FC Barcelona will be ready for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four.
He talked to Eurohoops about the challenge presented by rival Real Madrid in the Semifinals of the season-ending tournament in Belgrade and also explained why he is now unwilling to grow an afro if the Catalonia powerhouse wins the EuroLeague.
In addition, he discussed idolizing Steve Nash growing up and gave his own advice to the younger generation of players.
Eurohoops: We are entering the most exciting and decisive stretch of the season. How do you think the team is right now?
Nick Calathes: I think we are good. We just had a tough series against Bayern and we need to pick it up these last two games in Liga Endesa to get a better rhythm and better feel. And then we will start the biggest games of the season.
EH: Everything will be decided in just a few games but the team finished as the top-seeded team both in Euroleague and Liga Endesa. Does finishing as the best team of the regular season in the two competitions feel like having achieved the first goal you set as a team?
NC: For sure. When you go into the season you want a home-court advantage and you want to be first. For us, to be first on both is nice. With the schedule that we have, with so many games it’s very difficult. For us, it’s something that we wanted to set our minds to and we accomplished that. Now it’s the next step.
EH: Just like the year before, even though you finished in the first position you had to go to game five in the playoff series to get rid of the eight-seeded team. This just proves how hard every game is and that there is no easy opponent, doesn’t it?
NC: For us and in general, every game is difficult, especially in the playoffs. When you play against teams like Bayern or Zenit that they grinded out, especially Bayern whose defense is very good, every part of it is difficult. We knew it was going to be a difficult series, we wish we had won 3-0 but like you said, it’s not that easy against teams that have experience like them, who are very well-coached.
EH: You will be playing against Real Madrid in the Euroleague semifinals, a team you have already faced six times this season. Barça won every time -two Liga Endesa games, two Euroleague games and the Copa del Rey final- except for the Supercup final. Do you think about the fact that someday they will have to win and maybe it will be in the worst time for you and your team?
NC: Winning is more important than losing, that’s for sure. For us winning against them, our rivals, is very key. Like you know, every game against your rival is different and you come to the game different so we don’t look at it like ‘We beat them many times in a row’. Every game is going to be played differently, maybe in the Final Four they show something new in defense or offense. For us, we come with the same mindset, we are not thinking about previous games. Once you get to the Final Four it doesn’t matter what you did before, it’s one game where anything can happen, you have to take it step by step and hopefully we will go to the next game.
NC: We don’t look at what he says. We go there with the mindset that we need to win against Real Madrid in the semifinal and once we get to the final we can talk. Our focus right now is beating Real Madrid.
EH: Now let me ask you a couple of questions about yourself. Your playstyle is very unique and I always wondered, who was your idol growing up?
NC: To be honest it was Steve Nash. I loved him and watching him play, that was who I was really watching and learning how to read the game. When I was in the United States I really didn’t even know what Euroleague was so I can’t tell you any players. When I came to Panathinaikos, obviously Diamantidis was a guy who I watched a lot because I feel like we have a lot of similarities. He is my kind of player, when I came to Europe he was the player I tried to play the most like. I also loved Jason Williams because of the fancy things he did.
EH: What is the advice you would give to any young player?
NC: For me is all about being in the gym. When I was growing up, every day I practiced a lot and lived in the gym. Working on things that you have problems with, like left-handed layups, shooting, passing, transition stuff… As a kid you have to love the game, you have to enjoy getting better at basketball and that’s how you become great or just make it to the next level. And you have to set goals. If you are young maybe your first goal is to make it to your high school team, in my case maybe get a college scholarship or even become a professional basketball player. As a young kid, you need to set goals and dreams and don’t let anyone say that you can’t make those dreams, it doesn’t matter if you are 1’60 or 2’10, anything is possible.
EH: Last year I asked you about what you were willing to do if Barca won the Euroleague title. You told me you would grow an afro just from the sides, are you sticking with that?
NC: No, I will change it up. This year I will just celebrate with the team. I’m superstitious so I will just celebrate with them.