Errick McCollum has Pinar Karsiyaka on his shoulders, and he’s enjoying it

2022-10-27T16:43:26+00:00 2022-10-28T14:45:35+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

27/Oct/22 16:43

Pinar Karsiyaka’s veteran Errick McCollum has been one of the best 2022-23 Basketball Champions League players so far and he expects that the stakes will become even higher as the season progress

By Cesare Milanti/

Thinking of Pinar Karsiyaka in the Basketball Champions League, a great team instantly comes to mind carried by players like Amath M’Baye, Bonzie Colson, and Raymar Morgan in recent years. and when a veteran at high-level European competitions like Errick McCollum joined the team, the feeling that they would still be competitive was evident.

After facing all of Pinar Karsiyaka’s opponents in Group B and recording the best scoring performance in the competition so far in the season with 33 points, the former Lokomotiv Kuban shooting guard spoke to Eurohoops about his first months in Izmir.

As he said, he only has one goal: to win.

“This is my 13th season, so I don’t really focus on myself personally. I’ve kinda been there and done that when it comes to individual awards and scoring accolades. I just want to get us to the Final Four and I feel like once you get there anything can happen in one game. It’s a long process, extremely difficult as there are a lot of good teams: I think we’re in the strongest group. I don’t really focus on that. I just try to help the team and do whatever I can to get to that level and that stage. That’s where Karsiyaka deserves to be”, he said.

There are several reasons why he thinks that Group B, with AEK Athens, Telekom Baskets Bonn, and UNAHOTELS Reggio Emilia, is the most difficult one in the BCL Regular Season.

“There are a lot of groups that might have a team that easily beat up on, teams that are currently 0-3 or that lose by 20 or 30 points. When you look at our group, every game has been very close. I’m talking about coming down to the last five or four minutes of a game. Even Bonn against AEK, they were down by 17 points before they made their 29-10 run. You get to see some many lead changes, controversial games, ups and downs, last second shots and late moments”, he commented about the current situation in the group.

For Errick McCollum, the presence of leading elements in each team’s backcourt plays a significant role as well, starting with Tim Frazier in AEK: “I think the guard play is what makes our group so special. Tim Frazier has NBA experience and he’s a guy that has a big assist, he showed his ability to hit threes this year. That was seen as a weakness from him in the NBA but he’s shooting extremely well this season”.

And of course, there’s Bonn’s TJ Shorts II: “Obviously, TJ Shorts has kinda made his name so far: he’s quick, electric, he can score and he’s a really good player. I think he’s someone that put himself in a position to be reckoned with and to be known. People will probably stop going under his screens so much and maybe he’ll trap on being aggressive”.

There’s also another veteran player, double-double machine Andrea Cinciarini, captain of Reggio Emilia: “Also, Cinciarini is a guy that’s high in the assists list this season in the BCL, he had 10 against us like breathing. He just showed you that a lot of teams usually have a lot of success when they have a good guard. Not to say there are not good bigs, because those teams have that as well. But a guard has the ball in the hands of the most time, making a lot of decisions for the team. And I think that’s why these teams are so strong”.

Every team in what he renamed “Group of Death” has its weapons to be worried about. Plus, they have good coaches.

“Then, they’re well-coached. You see Bonn with maybe not the biggest names and the most experienced, but you can tell they did a good job playing together and they have a great coaching system. AEK is a normal Greek team: they’re physical and tough, they battle, and they fight. Every time you play them, you’re going to be hurt. Reggio Emilia has a really good offense and a lot of sizes, they can use a lot of mismatches, and they have a tall four-man, bigger 3”, he said by focusing on each team’s characteristics.

At the same time, Errick McCollum talked about what can Pinar Karsiyaka display on the court, pointing out how difficult it can be to face them: “Last but not least, talking about us, we’re an explosive offense: we have guys with an experience like Kuzminskas, myself, Vitto and Jaylen Brown, Angel Delgado who’s one of the best rebounders in Europe. You put that all together and you’ve got the Group of Death”.

Taking a look at the best scoring performance since the beginning of the competition on October 3, Errick McCollum is in both fourth (29 points against AEK) and first (33 points against Reggio Emilia) positions.

This was his first Basketball Champions League appearance at 34 years old, but in Week 1 there have been other veterans calling games with decisive plays.

“I remember the first week of BCL I was watching just trying to familiarize myself with some of the teams and players, and I think that Toney Douglas hit the game-winner, I hit that shot and then Jamar Smith hit the game-winner easy as it goes. I just smiled because I love to see these older guys still competing on a high level and still showing we’ve got a lot of juice in the tank”, he remembered.

These are only some of the many veteran players showing a critical attitude in the first weeks of the 2022-23 Basketball Champions League, and Errick believes they occupy a key role on their respective teams: “I think veteran players are savvy. I think not only are they experienced for themselves and for their play to stay steady, but they also give confidence to younger players when they see their calmness. Sometimes older players taking over in some of those clutch moments allows an example to be set on the court”.

And there’s an explanation for this.

“The knowledge that we have as athletes when it comes to taking care of your body or extending your career: guys like LeBron and Chris Paul, of course, we don’t have the resources they have but we took some things and I think you see players competing at a higher level in Europe for a longer period of time”, CJ McCollum’s brother said.

If Errick McCollum tied Bryant Crawford for the best scoring performance in the 2022-23 Basketball Champions League with 33 points against Reggio Emilia, TJ Shorts II registered another achievement on the same day against AEK.

Telekom Baskets Bonn’s leader became the second player in BCL history to record 25+ points in three consecutive games after Kevin Punter. When asked if he can eventually join the list, Pinar Karsiyaka’s number 3 believes it would be more difficult.

“Me doing this for so long, the defense I get is a little different. I’m getting more double teams, faceguards, and a lot of defensive pressure. Nobody ever goes under my screens, and I think when people go under your screens not only do you get to shoot three-pointers, but you get to spin the ball and land it up: that’s what TJ is getting because people fear his speed, but he’s also getting to organize the offense”, he said about how the defense is responding to one of the most exciting players in this first part of the season.

But this won’t last for long, according to Goshen College product: “We will start to see teams being more aggressive, like against me. Against a good player you want to trap, getting the ball off his hands and making somebody else beat you and I’ll be surprised if teams didn’t start to do that to him. The under-defense is not working”.

Even in the first games of both BCL and Turkish league, he’s experiencing a different attitude from the opponents when guarding him. But he’s still founding a way to be effective. “For me, sometimes the points won’t be there because the defense is so geared to stop me, and that’s okay. Bonn did that, and that’s why I had 11 assists. It happened this year in the domestic league against Gala when maybe I had one or two shots at halftime. It was a game where every time there were two or three people around me, I also had 8 assists at halftime. As an experienced player, I just want to win. That’s what it takes. Maybe I’m not taking that record, and that’s okay with me. It’s just different”, he said.

Also, it’s his reputation as an offensive threat that speaks for him: “When you have the reputation of the scorer, the teams are more interested in slowing you down or stopping you rather than just trying to win the game. That’s fine, as long as we win the game I don’t really care. We have a lot of talent and a lot of good players. If they need me to do that and if the game calls for that, the aggressiveness and the defense of attention to detail to me is not that strong, I’m more than capable of that. But if they bring two or three defenders, I’ve got the make the right play for my team. That’s how I play”.

Pinar Karsiyaka is Errrick McCollum’s third Turkish team in his 13th season-long career. There have been three reasons why he decided to bring his talents back to Turkey.

First, the most important one is his family. “I’ve always talked with my wife about the fact that towards the late years of my career I would pick up places that were more family-oriented, with good weather and a nice life off the court. We have a two-year-old and she’s pregnant right now, so I wanted her to be comfortable with everything: that was number one, family to me is most important”, he underlined.

Then, it came to who’s currently sitting on the bench of the green-and-red team. Ufuk Sarica, who spent all his playing and coaching years in Turkey except for a short passage at Bnei HaSharon in 2001, had a significant role in Errick McCollum’s choice.

“He’s a coach with great experience, who has won championships and who has a name in the European basketball landscape. He’s a players’ coach, he played the game, and he understands what it’s like to be out there on the court, to win championships. What it’s like to come to practice and balance life on and 0ff the court. Instantly, when he called me and we had a conversation, we kinda hit it off: that was a big factor”, the former Galatasaray and Anadolu Efes player said about his coach.

Finally, a big part of his decision process involved where he would eventually end up playing. “Turkey is one of my favorite countries as well as my wife’s, from the food, the culture, and how we are accepted and loved”, he said before focusing on the fans’ topic. “And especially, the fan support: every time you have the crowd behind, it’s exciting. People think that you lose the love and the desire as you continue to play, but you don’t if you really love the game”, he added.

Errick McCollum compared the atmospheres that he experienced in the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Karsiyaka Spor Salonu with other arenas where he played previously. “What is more thrilling than coming to a city like Izmir where they have the best fans in the Basketball Champions League, some of the best in Europe? They can pack the gym and be loud. There’s no comparison with other leagues where I played previously. When I was in Russia, the fans came to support us, but it was more a spectacle”, he commented.

It’s an everyday feeling, an immutable passion. “You can tell that Pinar Karsiyaka’s supporters are truly attached to the team. You can tell that if you lose the game, it bothers them when they go home, and it can affect their sleep like a player. When we lose, maybe you don’t sleep that well, wondering what you could have done better”, he added.

It’s a blessing for players like Errick who, after a very long career, still live for this kind of feelings on the court: “That gives us, even more, drive and fire because you’re not just playing for Pinar Karsiyaka, for your teammates, and for your family, but you’re playing for those little kids and girls who are out there screaming and chanting. For the people who are attached to the team and the city. The more you played, the more passion keeps you driving and pushing. And I like that. I’m thankful for that”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League