If each of the EuroLeague playoff series had an MVP then the one who’d win the award for the quarterfinals between Barcelona and Zenit St. Petersburg is no other than Brandon Davies.
In the quarterfinals, Davies averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, being instrumental in Barcelona beating Zenit to return to the EuroLeague Final Four for the first time since 2014. The American big man had 22 points and eight rebounds in each of the Game 2 and Game 3 wins to help the Blaugrana recover from a home loss in Game 1 and turn the series around.
Davies sat down with Eurohoops to talk about the status of Barcelona ahead of the upcoming Final Four, the tournament in Cologne, the lessons that he and his teammates learned against Zenit, the origins of the “Rambo” nickname and how nothing else is in his mind thatn becoming EuroLeague champion.
Eurohoops: What do you think of how the current shape of the team is at the moment? And how are you feeling?
Brandon Davies: I think in this moment we are all feeling pretty good, we are feeling confident not just with ourselves, with each other, and also with the coaches and the staff. Those things combined are a good recipe going into something like this. And I’m feeling pretty good, feeling refreshed, luckily we now have some time to prepare for this so we can get mentally and physically ready for the battles to come.
EH: It’s been a few days since your last game and you guys won’t be playing again until next Wednesday. This is probably the time you had more free time in the whole season, did you do something different?
BD: This was definitely the most time we had off, no games or things like that, but I think we’ve approached it the right way, making sure to have time to recover our bodies, not just physically but mentally as well. I didn’t do anything special, I just spent the time at home with my family and my kids, went to the beach, took them to school… those things you kind of miss out during the season, to me that’s a great way to spend time off.
EH: It took Barça seven years to get back to the Final Four and it made it there being the top seeded team. Is this extra weight on your shoulders?
BD: It’s easy to look at it as pressure, a little pressure is always good in a situation like this, but for me and my teammates it’s more of a motivation factor. We have seen and we feel how special this is for the club, and we feel our fans supporting behind us. I think we can turn the pressure we feel into extra motivation.
EH: Nobody was expecting the playoff against Zenit to be easy, but maybe nobody thought it would be that hard. Do you think that being forced to give 100% and having a really close quarterfinal series is something that will be helpful on the upcoming Final Four?
BD: We definitely learned a lot about ourselves not only as individuals but as a team in that series. It was in no sense of the word easy in any moment but that’s how these games have to be and it shows the importance and difficulty there is in making it to the Final Four. As long as we use that as means to grow as a team it’s definitely going to be something positive.
EH: You were one of the main reasons Barça managed to win against Zenit. Is this your best time as a Barça player?
BD: I try to put my best foot forward specially in the end of the season. Now is the important time: in such a long season people can forget how well or how bad you played at the beginning of the season but it’s more important how you finish the season. Obviously you try to play as well as you can throughout the year but end of the year is crunch time, where you have to leave it all out there and do everything you can for your team.
EH: Only a few players in the roster have been to a Final Four and you are one of them. Are you feeling any different compared to 2018 when you made it to the Final Four with Zalgiris?
BD: My time in Zalgiris was unforgettable and definitely something special, specially with everything we went through to get to the Final Four, having to win all those games just to qualify… things like that were something special. We took a different route here in Barcelona but it’s always just as hard to get to these situations like the Final Four. They are bot special but different.
EH: In two weeks you will be in Cologne just a few hours shy from starting the semifinal against Olimpia Milano. What are your thoughts on the Italian team?
BD: They are a really good team, especially because they are not the same team they were during the regular season. They are better than they were at the start of the year and they continue to get better game in and game out. We definitely have to take them serious, can’t look past them. Luckily we have some time to prepare for them and to find a game plan that’s going to help us win.
EH: Three out of four quarterfinal series were decided in Game 5 but in the end, the top four teams are those that qualified for the Final Four. Are you happy with the outcome? Would you rather had other teams?
BD: Honestly, I didn’t think too much about it. There were so many changes this year, ups and downs so it was hard to predict. You can look at a team like Zenit, that throughout most of the season was a Top 5 team, they hit a patch due to the coronavirus and some other things that had them fall to the eighth seed. If it was a regular year or things were different, maybe we don’t match up with them. But at the same time I don’t think we would have it any other way because what we had to learn about ourselves and as a team we couldn’t have learned any other way without playing against Zenit, and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.
EH How was the nickname “Rambo” created?
BD: It started when I first got here, there was this preseason tournament called ‘Catalan Cup’ in Badalona and I was really excited to be here, it was my first official game being here so I obviously wanted to play the best of my abilities. During this tournament I was playing with my headband tied behind my head, got into a couple altercations, fights with other guys from opposing teams, was trying to rebound everything, trying to dunk everything, I was bleeding at one point… After we won that championship, the team equipment manager turns me and says “Man, you look like Rambo”, and ever since then it stuck.
EH: Many things have been done after winning Euroleague titles, like when Gigi Datome cut his hair after winning the 2017 Euroleague. Do you have any kind of bet, something that you are willing to do in case of winning the Euroleague?
BD: All I can think about is winning it. I haven’t thought of what’s gonna happen or what I’m going to do. Until I’m a champion I can’t think of anything else.
Photo: FC Barcelona