Guduric, 25 played in 44 games during his rookie year in the NBA, averaging 3.9 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. The situation in Memphis, however, wasn’t ideal, and so at the start of his second year, he was waived.
Since returning to Istanbul and playing his first game back in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague competition, Fener has managed to win all three EuroLeague games, improving to an 8-10 record.
The 25-year old Serbian star talked to Eurohoops about his decision to return to Turkey, Fenerbahce’s early struggles this season, Igor Kokoskov, as well as the reasons things didn’t work out in Memphis.
You’re back in Europe, back in Turkey, back with Fenerbahce. How do you feel?
Marko Guduric: It feels really great. Istanbul is home for me. It feels like I never left. I’m really glad that I’m back and happy that we’re currently playing well.
What were the reasons you decided to return to Fener and sign that deal until 2023?
MG: It just seemed like the best thing for me, at this point. I haven’t played in almost a year, my last game was in January (2020). It was really important for me to come back here, to a place I know. I know the people here will trust me, and that’s it. I signed until 2023, and hopefully, we can win the EuroLeague by that time.
What went wrong in your time in Memphis with the Grizzlies?
MG: It’s a long story. I wasn’t really in a good shape at the beginning of last season, coming off the FIBA Basketball World Cup. I didn’t have much time to prepare and adjust to the NBA type of game, but I still think I had some good games and showed that I can play.
Over there, it’s different. It’s all about opportunity and change. The coach decided to make some changes in the lineup, and the roster of the team. He decided to put me out of the roster, we started playing well as a team, and from that point, he never changed the roster again. I never got the chance again. It’s simple. That’s life. Sometimes, it’s not all about you. I was working hard, trying to stay in shape, but I never got the chance back.
In the future, would you like to have a second shot at the NBA?
MG: Of course. It’s that simple.
Were you watching this year’s EuroLeague at all? What stood out to you the most?
MG: I watched many games, especially when I was back home in Belgrade. I had time to watch EuroLeague. I mostly watched Crvena Zvezda and Fenerbahce; my two teams. I think 2-3 teams are standing out at the moment (Barcelona, CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid). Bayern Munich surprised me a lot, they’re playing really well. Zenit as well.
You never know what will happen. Anadolu Efes is not doing really well, but we all know that they’re capable of being at the Final Four. Olimpia Milan and Maccabi are also there. This year’s EuroLeague is more even. You have 2-3 really good teams, 2-3 bad ones, but everything else is open. We’ll see what happens, we got a long way to go.
What did you make of Fenerbahce and its early struggles before you arrived in Istanbul?
MG: The biggest thing in EuroLeague is all about chemistry; staying together for a long period of time. The thing for Fener this year, was that they changed a lot of players, the coach, the systems. You have 7-8 new players. It’s not easy to build good chemistry right away. They just needed time. I’m really glad that we’re playing much better right now. We just got to keep working, keep growing, keep building this chemistry that we’re talking about.
Since you returned to Fenerbahce’s lineup, you guys have won all three EuroLeague games, including the Cvrena Zvezda road win thanks to Lorenzo Brown’s buzzer-beater. How important is this for you personally and for the team’s mental aspect in general?
MG: It’s really important. I’m very happy. I believe that this team has potential, and deserves to win more games. I know a lot of guys, I have a lot of friends here, and we have good chemistry. And as I said with the new guys, we just need time to learn how to play with each other, and build-up that chemistry. Now, things are clicking. Hopefully, we can stay healthy and keep on winning.
Talk a little bit about your coach, Igor Kokoskov. There’s been some heavy criticism from fans this season, saying he can’t coach in Europe…
MG: People will always talk. No matter what you do, people will have their own opinion, even if they don’t know basketball. Igor is a great coach, his basketball knowledge is incredible. He spent 20 years in the NBA, and that’s something that not a lot of coaches can say. He won a European championship with Slovenia and knows how to coach in Europe. He understands the game.
You just need time. Time to get to know players, time for players to get to know him. There’s no question that he’s a great coach, and has the chance to be one of the best coaches of all-time in Europe; if he stays here.
Individually, what goals have you set for the rest of the year?
MG: Honestly, coming here, I just wanted to win the first game. I’m trying to stick with those principles. Take it game-by-game. Now we have two games at home against Baskonia and Panathinaikos, and it’s a good chance for us to try to win those games and move up to a 10-10 record.
Since you mentioned Panathinaikos, is it kind of weird to not see them at the top of the standings as contenders, but see them at the bottom of the league with a 5-12 record?
MG: Of course. From Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, you always expect them to have good teams. They always have good Greek players, good foreign players. It’s strange. They lost some games in the final seconds, final minutes, but I think they have a good team. They’re talented, especially offensively. They got guys who can really score the ball. They also changed a lot of players.
It’s not easy to play with many new guys, especially in Europe. It’s all about chemistry, it’s all about being together for a longer period of time. Time will work for them.
After your first game back, we texted and you said that you miss being in Europe, and having the fans in the arenas. Now that you’ve experienced both crowds in the States and in Europe, how much of a difference are we talking about?
MG: You already know the answer… you can write whatever you want (laughs). It’s a really big difference. There are some teams in the NBA that have really passionate fans, such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Utah, Boston. But, it’s so different compared to Greek, Turkish and Serbian fans. And like I told you, we really miss fans.
Especially for those teams such as Panathinaikos, Crvena Zvezda, Fener… If we had fans, we would be able to win more home games. Panathinaikos has lost seven games at home. If there were fans in the arena, they could have won the games. I think those teams are missing fans the most. But, it is what it is. Let’s hope this will be over soon.