Shane Larkin is getting ready for his highly anticipated season debut in the 2020-21 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. After an incredible run in last year’s competition, Larkin had a couple of NBA offers, but ultimately decided to stay in Istanbul with Anadolu Efes to continue chasing the EuroLeague title. During the summer Larkin had surgeries on both of his knees and is currently ready to come back and help Efes in both the EuroLeague and the Turkish League.
The 28-year old superstar talked to Eurohoops about his off-season, his current status, the goals he has for this season, as well as the NBA offers he received. Larkin also talked about the upcoming US election which he calls “one of the most important elections in my lifetime.”
You haven’t played competitive basketball in seven months. How does it feel almost being back?
Shane Larkin: I feel good. Today (Oct. 28) was actually my first five-on-five practice since that last EuroLeague game and I felt pretty good. I was able to get there, run around a little bit, play my game and compete with my teammates. It was exciting getting back out there and doing what I love to do.
In terms of your injury, how ready are you to get back on the court?
SL: I would say I’m pretty ready. Obviously not having played an organized basketball game since that last Olympiacos game (Mar. 6)… I don’t have my rhythm. I’m not going to say I’m not going to play at that level, but who knows exactly what I can put out there on the court. The biggest thing is just being able to provide another body for my team going out there and trying to help them win. Being able to practice a couple more times and get my rhythm back… I think the first 2-3 weeks will be up and down, but once I find my stride I think we’ll be right back to where we were last year.
If you could put a percentage on how ready you are right now, what would that percentage be?
SL: That’s a difficult question because health-wise I would say I’m 85-90%. Now it’s just about getting back to the basketball activities. Being able to go out there and prove to myself that my body is ready to go through all the minutes, the competitiveness of the defense and offense, after the surgery on both of my knees. The first couple of weeks, I’m at 85%. I’ll be 90% the next week, 95% after that and hopefully in the next month or so I’ll be at 100%.
On which part of your game did you workout the most this off-season?
SL: I think I have a pretty well-rounded game, so I try to find and tune some things. I shoot it pretty well off the dribble. I catch-and-shoot pretty well, I got good finishing around the paint, can read the defense pretty well. Obviously, you can always improve, but there wasn’t anything specific I worked on. Staying consistent and efficient. Just trying to be the same guy I was last year or even better.
What about your defense?
SL: There’s not really much you can do to work on your defense. Defense is mostly about matchups, will and how much you want it. I’m definitely going to lock in on the defensive end and try to get those plays, stops when it gets to those moments. I think the No. 1 thing I’ve done to help my team the last couple of years is just be able to outscore everybody.
Our first MVP Ladder was published on October 27. Obviously, since you haven’t played yet, you weren’t in it. Should we expect to see you in the next one?
SL: You gotta tell me when the next one comes out.
In a few weeks…
SL: Yeah, I should be on there by that time.
Do you still think of last season and the ‘what if’? Both individually for you and on a team level?
SL: I mean, obviously being around the team, everybody is speaking about what happened last year, the season that was cut short. So yeah, you definitely are reminded of last season and how successful we were. Every single time we have a game, everyone is talking about what happened last year. There’s definitely moments where you think of how great the season was and you appreciate it for what it was, but it’s a new year, a new season and we can’t continue to live off the hype from last year. We’re 1-3 right now, and nobody is going to take it easy on us. If anything, last season puts a target on our back.
We can’t sit there and think about the past for too much longer. We have to enjoy it for what it was and kind of wipe it out of our memory. We’re currently in 13th place and we need to fight for every single game in order to hopefully get back to the position we were last year.
Let me ask you about this then. What can we expect from you and the team this year? After all you ranked no. 1 in our top-100 EuroLeague players list heading into the season.
SL: We’ve had some injuries early on. We haven’t had our full roster yet and things haven’t been going the way that everybody had planned for us going into the season. Now that we have our full roster back, I think we can get back to where we were. There’s no reason why we can’t. There’s obviously a lot of teams that have improved and gotten better. You see some of the teams that were thought of as some of the teams that weren’t going to be that competitive like Bayern, Zenit and Zalgiris…
A lot of these teams are proving that are really good teams and will be fighting all season long. So, I think we still have the same team, same players, same chemistry. It’s just about getting the full team together healthy and getting in a positive mindset. I don’t see anybody in the league that we cannot beat. I don’t see anybody in the league that’s running away right now, so it’s still pretty much wide open. We have every opportunity to go out there and finish on top again.
After five rounds, we’ve seen many upsets around the competition. Do you think that we’ll see this throughout the season? In other words, will we see the best team win the title or could an underdog type team win it all?
SL: It’s definitely a different kind of season. In seasons like this one, anything can happen. There’s no fans, there’s no pressure. A lot of upsets can happen because focus may not be there, the motivation may not be there when playing on the road. A lot of things go into it, but at the end of the day it is basketball. When teams come into the Sinan Erdem Dome the last two years, you’re playing in front of 16,000 screaming people. Now you come there, you’re not playing in front of anybody. So, it takes away the pressure.
It takes away the momentums that usually can take teams and create those gaps in the score. Fans get on top of players, refs, opposing coaches and it helps the momentum of games. In a season where we don’t know if we’re going to have fans, I think we’ll see more upsets. At the end of the day though, the EuroLeague has always been a competitive league. There’s a lot of talent from top to bottom, so I don’t really know if you can say it’s an underdog kind of story that could win the title. The team that wants it the most and puts the work in, will end up being champion.
SL: You definitely don’t expect it. You look at the rosters, you look at the prior seasons and don’t expect these teams to make changes that quickly and be at the top of the league after 5-6 rounds. It’s one of those things where a team can get in good rhythm, play really well and end up being one of the top teams. Three years ago when we finished at the bottom of the standings, I don’t think many people that following season would have said that we would have been playing in the championship game. So you never know what can happen. Basketball is more than just the talent that you have. Coaching goes into it, chemistry goes into it, momentum, confidence and you can see these teams now are playing with great confidence. And they are teams that you have to watch out for. Nobody is going to look at them lightly or as a team that are pretty much guaranteed to beat. Now everybody has circled them in their calendars.
You’ve played against Kostas Sloukas a number of times both in the Turkish League and the EuroLeague. Do you see a potential threat in Olympiacos’ new roster? What do you think of the changes they made and the roster they put together in the off-season?
SL: I think they definitely improved their roster. They brought in a bunch of athletic guys that can play hard and get up and down the floor. They’re playing at a much quicker tempo. McKissic pushes the tempo, Harrison comes in and shoots a lot of threes. They got a new big guy in Hassan Martin and he’s playing really well. Charles Jenkins is obviously a great defender. They’re playing free basketball, switching on defense and putting pressure on offense. They’re one of the teams that you have to look out for. They made some strides last year and are continuing to build off of that.
Bringing in a guy like Kostas Sloukas who’s been a great point guard, has played in a lot of Final Fours, has championships under his belt, has that quality, it kind of gives them that calming factor in the point guard position. And that can help these younger guys and put them in situations in which they can be successful. You don’t see him always having a lot of points or assists, but he’s running the team and getting everybody in position. He’s giving the rest of his teammates that confidence that everything is going to be okay. I think they’re definitely a team that you have to watch out for and they are a team that has every opportunity to be there at the end.
You’ve said that you’ve had some offers from the NBA during the past summer, but Anadolu Efes’ role satisfied you the best. Did you have a guaranteed offer from an NBA team that you came close to signing with?
SL: I had a multi-year guaranteed deal in the NBA. It was good money, similar money to what I was going to be getting here in Efes, but things just didn’t work out the way that we wanted them to and now I’m back in Efes. I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to have another opportunity to win a EuroLeague championship. It would’ve been a great opportunity, but things didn’t work out. It’s all good and I’m back in Efes where I love to be. Back in a country where I love living. I love my life, love my situation here in Efes, love being in Istanbul. We’re now going to make the best out of this season and try to get what we’ve been chasing for the last three years.
The US election is coming up on November 3rd. Do you want to comment on the importance of this election?
SL: With all the things going on in the United States, this is going to be one of the most important elections of my lifetime. I think there’s pros and cons to both sides of things. It’s going to be very interesting to see how things play out. If you go with one side, things can be very hectic, tumultuous with a lot of tension, but also if you go the other way, it can be a similar situation just on the other hand of the spectrum. I think it’s a very difficult time in the States. There’s a lot of tension between people, parties, decisions. I don’t know who’s going to be the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, but whoever does pull it out, I hope they find a way to bring some unity.
Above all else, that’s what’s most important right now. I don’t think the economy should be the most important thing. Being able to have people feel comfortable in their own homes and have people feel confutable leaving their houses, being out in public, being able to control this virus are things that are most important to me. If it’s Trump it’s Trump, if it’s Biden, it’s Biden. At the end of the day, whoever wins needs to put a focus on unifying the country and bringing us back together.