By Stefan Djordjevic/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The 2021 Euroleague MVP and the 2022 Alphonso Ford Trophy winner, Vasilije Micic, talked to Eurohoops’ Semih Tuna in front of the Final Four.
The tournament will be held in his home country of Serbia and he is looking forward to it. He was also a part of the Final Four in Belgrade four years ago as a Zalgiris player and he would like to show home much he changed since.
Micic also talked about the opponent being Olympiacos, what exactly he learned that pushed him to become an MVP and the Top scorer of the Euroleague, as well as what he thinks about that status. He also commented on the ticket price and how many fans he will bring along.
-What do you think was the turning point of the season? Was there a moment the season changed for you?
“This season was really so strange. From the first day, I was hearing that we can’t achieve big goals and reach the Final Four. And I understood. We faced difficulties with motivation and injuries. Coming off a winning season, most of the time it is like this. People believe something is missing in the team or the individuals.
Besides that, withdrawing the participation of Russian teams helped us and other teams. All of them were in the top eight and most likely would have finished in the top eight, because they were really playing well. So, many things happened this season and I am very very happy and glad that somehow I personally and we as a team stayed focused, stayed humble in the tougher moments, and somehow pulled out and finished it strong.
A very very important game was against CSKA Moscow, despite them later being disqualified from the league. I think that until that point we had lost nearly all away games either after tight battles or big defeats. It was important for us. I really believe that was important for some of our players to understand that ‘OK, this is the time, we got to change something”.
-If you could choose your opponent right now, who would you choose? AS Monaco, who have explosive guards and wings, or experienced Olympiacos?
“Throughout the whole season, I have said that for me Olympiacos is definitely the biggest surprise of the season. They did not change much from last year. Of course, Moustapha Fall is a very big part of their game and has changed their look and I would say also, Thomas Walkup. Those two guys gave them craftiness, size, and style with a lot of switches, something very important for Bartzokas and practice of his for many years as a coach.
Of course, with the guys like Sloukas, a legendary point guard in EuroLeague who definitely knows how to play for a result and never gives up when the team does not play well. Vezenkov has had an amazing season. I know him since we were young. He has that capability. He had a similar career story to me. Getting lost early and then coming back strong. He showed and proved that this year.
I can’t really say they surprised me but they are getting results. They have not played special, beautiful, or extraordinary basketball but result-wise they are amazing.
On the other hand, when we played the second game of the league and we lost against Monaco on the road. I really don’t like to play against them, because they are very physical.
I really believe that a big part of why they lost this quarterfinal series was missing [Alpha] Diallo. Diallo was a big big part of their game, especially in defense. He can guard all positions from one to four. Since they lost him, they also lost toughness in defense. I believe that maybe that is why they lost the most important game, Game 3 in Monaco. Missing him, the team lacked its full image. With him, they were really dangerous and unpredictable. A lot of talent there. All these Americans when they play together as one, they are really dangerous, even from the outside looks. They play wild but they have some precise things, a system, and also big help from coach [Sasha] Obradovic.
So, I would not choose Monaco. But definitely, a really hard question to answer. Olympiacos definitely deserves to be in the Final Four.”
-As you mentioned, Olympiacos also switches a lot like Monaco. Should we expect something extra from the Final Four?
“Honestly, that switch in defense became most famous since – I would say, I am not sure, I am not the oldest player in EuroLeague – since Zeljko Obradovic started doing that, mostly with [Jan] Vesely and [Ekpe] Udoh on five. So, most of the teams are using this or trying irrational lineups. They are trying because basketball is changing. Basketball is definitely moving in a direction. It is not easy to predict the outcome. But now is the moment that switching became one of the priority defenses for many teams. You have Olimpia Milano with the toughest defense in EuroLeague, most of the time they switch. It’s something that decreases your potential of reading the pick and rolls and quick hitters inside the offenses. So, they actually put you in a position just to play one-on-one.
I believe they are going with the expectation that is not many individually good players in EuroLeague that can create space. But in our case, we really struggled at the beginning of the season against defenses that like to switch. I would say that we get so much attention for me and Shane [Larkin] attacking from the top. After some team meetings, we definitely understood that we got to be dangerous from both parts of the court, low post, and one-on-one on the top. Not many things that you can create from it but you must be patient and of course expect it.”
-When you started that story about four years ago, have you ever thought that you would be so successful and if you had the chance to talk to your younger self what would you tell him and how would he react?
“There is one big fact about me. I am trying the same way I tried to make points or practice or do extra workouts, it is trying to be always patient. Not having any plans. Honestly, I never expected this. Not because I don’t believe in myself, but because life is so unpredictable that you can’t see something one hour ahead, let alone four years ahead. But one thing that I always believed is if you have the right approach and right point of view on certain things, especially about yourself, there is no way you can’t succeed. There must be something that will come in return. And I never have expectations. I always go day-by-day, game-by-game. Overall, I definitely see results. That approach gives me full focus on each game and on each day. That is how I build my confidence and let’s say the results of my individual performances. So, I am really glad about these achievements but at the same time, I can’t say it is so amazing because it’s part of me. I am just going to keep doing the same things as long as I can. I believe this is the correct approach but we all have a different point of view. This is what I believe gave me the most success.”
-A lot of people consider you the best player in Europe. My question is do you see yourself as the best player in Europe?
“No, I never think like that. I never think that I am someone who is the best, best, best. Because, sometimes when I watch my games, I can’t say ‘look how amazing this player is’. Sometimes, I am not so pleasant to watch. There are players like Devin Booker that is amazing, Shane Larkin has amazing moves, Mike James has amazing agility, and more. In my case, maybe I am more effective for the team and the game of basketball. But I am here for a reason. I am in this position for a reason. I really put in a lot of work. I always try to be better. I always try to improve small things, even slightly would be great for me. I am very happy people think about me like that. I like to improve. As soon as you start to think like this, then you are stuck. And if you don’t think like that, you are moving toward a better direction.”
-Speaking about improvement, you have experienced the Final Four with Zalgiris and now you will be on the court for Efes as the MVP. Looking back to four years ago, what is the most important aspect you have improved in your game?
“As I have mentioned many times, Zalgiris was a very important part of my career. The most important thing was that I was brave enough to leave that environment to leave Saras [Jasikevicius] in terms of getting the opportunity. I felt that there was some space inside of me that I couldn’t show because Kevin [Pangos] played much better than me. Axel Toupane and me, we shared minutes. I needed one year to mature. I felt like I could show more than that one season. I couldn’t say that and convince Saras by having – I don’t know – eight points and five assists and being solid all the time. I just felt I needed a change and another opportunity. When I decided to come to Efes, it was not a logical decision. I felt something inside, some instinct leading to believe it was a good decision. Why? All the work that I had put in before, all the lessons that I had learned from Saras in the season, all the understanding about basketball that he showed me and I picked the best out of him. I wanted to show myself if I am right or a little arrogant by thinking like that. But actually, of all individual things I improved, the understanding of basketball was something that helped me the most to improve and make the next step forward in Efes, and I am very very glad that it happened.”
-We just spoke with Tibor [Pleiss] about him getting the trophy in his hometown. Is it your turn?
“I don’t know. I would be really happy because there are unique chances. This season also unexpectedly Belgrade is the host of the Final Four. It changes the city every year. This is the ideology of the EuroLeague. But somehow it returned to Belgrade. It is really an unbelievable feeling. I think that four years ago when I played with Zalgiris, I burned myself in the Semifinal. I just felt like I needed to do everything and then I didn’t play well. That’s part of growing and getting mature. This season I feel calmer. I hope I will be healthy and fully ready to help my team. And then we will see, minute-by-minute, game-by-game. If this happens, I will be very happy.”
-How many people will come to the games from your family?
“I don’t want to sound like a cheap guy, but the tickets are too expensive. I couldn’t afford hundreds of tickets to accommodate my fans. But definitely, there will be a lot of fans. When you have close family members with you, you don’t need much. Like last year we didn’t have fans but we did have the closest people to us around us in Cologne and it was more than enough to celebrate.”