Vladimir Lucic on Serge Ibaka: “His mental setup and work ethic are unbelievable”

2024-01-03T13:45:06+00:00 2024-01-03T14:25:38+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

03/Jan/24 13:45


Bayern’s captain is back in action after eight months on the sideline because of a serious hand injury

By Cesare Milanti / info@eurohoops.net

BOLOGNA, Italy – Needing a win in Munich to close the deal and advance to the Final Four, Milano pushed to the edge in Game 4 of the 2020-21 EuroLeague Playoffs series, even reaching a 13-point lead at the beginning of the second half.

However, little by little, the Bavarians started to get back on track, helped by Wade Baldwin’s midrange shots, JaJuan Johnson’s presence under the rim, and two pleasant protagonists, veterans of the team.

When the former Bayern Munich playmaker Malcolm Delaney missed a crucial layup with less than half a minute away from the final buzzer, Paul Zipser captured the rebound to run the court, offering Vladimir Lucic an easy dish to dunk it all over Shavon Shields, who also committed the foul.

Two days earlier, in Game 3, he had recorded his career-high night in the EuroLeague in points scored (27) and PIR (35), but that was the defining moment of his career: always ready to bounce, helping his team in crunch time. That’s why being forced to miss such a huge amount of time due to a severe left-hand injury hurt him even more.

A few moments after sharing some talks with the newest Virtus addition Ante Zizic, the Serbian small forward sat down with Eurohoops in Bologna – ahead of the EuroLeague Round 18 clash with the Italian black-and-white team – to discuss his anticipated return to the court.

How is Vladimir Lucic feeling right now?

Officially coming back against ratiopharm Ulm on December 17, he basically missed three months of action in the 2023-24 season, while also being sidelined from November 2022 to March 2023. After being one of the most important figures in European basketball, he disappeared from the radar.

Now, however, he’s back, coming off a 12-point game against his former team, Valencia. “I went through a huge break, I was out basically for eight months without basketball. With this tough EuroLeague schedule, I didn’t have the time to practice with the team. I made two and a half practices with the team before stepping into the season. I’m trying to get the rhythm and shape, seeing how to figure it out with the new system through the games”, he first commented in the interview.

Since undergoing his first surgery, the first thought was coming back as soon as possible. “Seven days after my surgery I started working out, at least what I could do. I went through a lot of problems due to the metal part I had in my hand: I couldn’t run because the wires were pulling the bones, and my hand was swelling. I’m lucky that part of the recovery took part during the summer. The bad thing is that I skipped the national team, but in the end, I didn’t skip the whole 7-8 months”, he added.

Apart from the physical side, basketball-wise he has had “enough experience and seasons behind,  but it’s a problem to stay somehow in shape for 34 years old who has had already 14-15 professional seasons”. Everything came for a reason, though. “I had more time for my family and my daughter. It was a difficult time, but I spent it with the closest ones. Things didn’t go as I expected during recovery. Now I’m trying to stay as much as possible on the court, stay healthy”, Vladimir Lucic said.

Being 12th in the standings with an 8-9 record, right behind the large group composed of play-in contenders that goes all the way up to Olympiacos (6th at 10-8), Bayern Munich has entered a new basketball era, with a renovated core of young and promising figures.

Despite being “pretty early to judge, having played only six games and still trying to fit in the team with the roles being set up already after half of the season”, Vladimir Lucic made great comments about each of his teammates. “Andi [Obst] made a huge impact and improvement in the last 2-3 years, especially last season and in the summertime with Germany, winning the gold medal”, he first said about the German sharpshooter, who stole the show at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Another (naturalized) German player who has been in Munich for quite some time is Nick Weiler-Babb. “He is an elite team player, he’s a guy who can do a little bit of everything: lock up defensively everybody from 1 to 4, and in important moments of the game, even without being involved on offense, he can step up and make a series by himself. Great guy off the court, we’ve had a few seasons together already. I played against his older brother [Chris Babb] back in time when he was in Ulm”, he added.

Bayern’s captain also touched on the two new guards of the team. “For [Sylvain] Francisco is a huge chance being on a big scene now in the EuroLeague. He’s talented in the 1-on-1 game, and it’s something good to have on any team. I expected a breakout season from Carsen Edwards, but maybe he suffered a little bit at the beginning of the season, he’s now coming back. If he finds the real rhythm and form, he can be really important for our game”, he said about the newest Bavarian backcourt duo.

Praising basketball veterans, on the court and the bench

Most importantly, however, the biggest signing by the German organization came midway through the 2023 FIBA World Cup, when Bayern announced the addition of Serge Ibaka. “Physically, he’s still dominating as a 5 in the EuroLeague. His mental setup and work ethic are unbelievable. He’s always working out, before practice, and hours after practice. When he’s done practicing, he goes to the recovery room, spending even more time recovering”, he first touched on his professional attitude.

“Probably he’s the most professional on the team. An NBA champion and long-time NBA player coming here in the EuroLeague: especially for the young guys, it’s great to have him around showing the mentality and the way he’s working and constantly improving every day”, he then commented on the Spanish big, who has been putting up 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

If Serge Ibaka decided to live the EuroLeague experience with Bayern Munich, the reason mainly relies on the guy currently sitting on the German bench. “I needed time to build somehow a relationship with him, coming back from injury. He’s a coach who brings a winning mentality to this organization, he’s been the coach for 12 seasons of the biggest name in European basketball, Real Madrid. Having won arguably every title, worked with unbelievable players and talents”, he said about Pablo Laso.

Considering the balance of the European competition, Vladimir Lucic believes Bayern Munich has the right tools to aim for bigger things in the near future. “We’re a team with talent and experience. The season is long, and in January with the eight EuroLeague games it will be even more crucial. If we talk about the playoffs, I think this month and the upcoming games are crucial, starting from Virtus”, he commented ahead of the clash with the Italian team.

Moving from one coach to another, the Serbian small forward also touched on his former bench leader at Bayern Munich, who has now got his first win in charge of Zalgiris Kaunas. “I’m glad he’s back in the EuroLeague. I already said several times that Andrea [Trinchieri] is one of the best European coaches, crazy obsessed with basketball and details. Living basketball life even more than 100%”, he said about the Italian mastermind, who recently joined the Lithuanian team.

Reaching the EuroLeague Playoffs in back-to-back fashion – being very close to this stage in 2022-23 as well -, he has nothing but great words for Andrea Trinchieri. “So far I play my best basketball being coached by him, a member of 1st and 2nd EuroLeague teams. He found me the perfect role as a system player, taking my talent up to the highest. As he said in the press conference talking about Partizan and Zalgiris, he loves to be in a club with such a huge tradition like Zalgfiris, having the whole city [of Kaunas] behind him. He really deserves that, basketball is everything for him”, he added.

A bittersweet World Cup Final, setting the eye on Paris

Before the EuroLeague season started, Vladimir Lucic also witnessed from home a bittersweet ending to the 2023 FIBA World Cup, as Serbia lost in the final against Germany, which could be considered the country that really adopted him after playing for Partizan and Valencia.

Seven years in the making since his arrival in Munich, he’s now an active part of the success German basketball is living at the moment. “I’m not glad that they beat my country in the final”, he first joked, “but I’m happy for German basketball, being part of Bayern’s success, setting the bar higher each season in the making, getting an A license of the EuroLeague, being a member of the playoffs for two years in a row”, he then commented about the red-and-white club.

What made the gold medal dream a reality is what stands behind Gordon Herbert’s words, the three-year process. Vladimir Lucic saw it back in time. “Having a lot of potential is a great thing for German basketball, and honestly, even in EuroBasket 2022, I saw a lot of talent. Maybe they were particularly underrated, but from the beginning in my eyes they were one of the favorites in the World Cup, having tons of players fitting in certain roles perfectly. Maybe they were the “most-team” of all in the competition. Being a part of German basketball is a huge honor”, he also added.

Of course, the satisfaction also shifted where on the other side of the court, the losing one, there was Serbia, his native country, who once again couldn’t make it to the top after not reaching its full potential several times in the past.

The 34-year-old wasn’t there, of course, despite this being his initial thought straight from the first day when Svetislav Pesic was appointed once again as the national team’s head coach. “My goal would have been to conclude with World Cup and make it to the Olympic Games, having the best ending possible to retire from the national team at 35 years old”, he first admitted.

The first scenario wasn’t possible, but Vladimir Lucic keeps the dream alive. “But the injury happened, and I wasn’t able to play at the World Cup. If I’m healthy enough, the Olympics in Paris is not even a question for me. But I really don’t want to talk or think about it, hopefully, I will be healthy and the coach will make his decision”, he finally touched on his future with Serbia.


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