by M. Bahadır Akgün / firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Punter was not even born the last time AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milano appeared in the Final Four. He talked to Eurohoops about the Italian powerhouse qualifying for the 2021 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, facing FC Barcelona in the semifinals this Friday at Cologne’s Lanxess Arena, and much more.
Punter, 27, signed with Olimpia Milano nearly one year ago. He has since been crowned Italian Cup and Supercup winner adding to his constantly growing list of championships. But the biggest challenge is coming right up with the meeting of the top four EuroLeague clubs in Germany.
His 14.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per match powered the already historic 2020-21 campaign.
Check out our conversation with Punter:
On how it feels to be a part of Milano’s first Final Four run in 28 years:
“It feels good. This was one of the goals during the offseason for Milano and myself. It’s a historical club, and getting back to winning ways in the EuroLeague… It feels pretty good.”
On playing under Ettore Messina and Messina’s project to build a culture in Milano:
“It feels good to be a part of it. It always feels better when you are part of a building process or when you are trying to reach certain goals. That’s always a great thing. Coach has done a great job from Day 1. Since I was here, we are trying to build and put things in place to be successful. Obviously, he’s done a great job by getting the best record in Italy, obviously getting to the Final Four and we’ve got the home-court advantage. So we accomplished a lot. Italian Cup, Super Cup… I think many people forget how long it’s been, we’ve been in this season for longer than any other team in Europe. No matter what competition anybody is playing. We have been here for longer than anyone. People tend to forget that. I feel like we deserve a lot more credit.”
Not having fans in Cologne:
“It sucks man. It’s not how it is supposed to be, but obviously, in times like this, it’s just how it is. I wish we were able to have a limited number of fans. With the vaccine, I thought that would help a bit, and we’d have some kind of percentage in the arena but I guess not. It kinda sucks. You got one of the biggest stages in Europe, EuroLeague Final Four and you cannot have fans. I would have never thought of that.”
On his role in the team:
“This is what I worked for. If you look at what I do during the offseason, it is no surprise. I expected this. A lot of other people would say no, but I expected and I put a lot of work in. I am extremely confident, for me it is no surprise.”
“Possibly. I would hope so at least. I am comfortable here with my teammates and everything. I am definitely comfortable playing in Italy, with the coaches. It’s been really good.”
On Barcelona game:
“I feel like we just gotta focus on us the most. I feel like any time we focus on us and handle what we need to handle whatever the case is that needs to be our main focus. That’s the key for us, for what we’ve been doing all year.”
On whether this season Milano could be considered successful regardless of the Final Four’s outcome:
“To be honest with you, if you ask me personally, you have to win everything. We have to win the EuroLeague. I am not saying that if we don’t win it, it is a terrible season. No, but the number one goal is to win EuroLeague. That’s all I think about, that’s all we work for. It is to win the EuroLeague. Whatever happens after that, you handle it whenever the time comes but the main goal is that.”
On Gigi Datome not being willing to sacrifice his beard if Milano wins it all and whether he would sacrifice something in case they win it:
“No, I ain’t doing that. Most people would say I could have sacrificed my chin hair but I ain’t doing that. I’ve been growing it for too long, now I am not cutting that. Maybe Zach (LeDay) would cut all his hair off. I don’t know. I don’t know man. I don’t know who would sacrifice anything. That’s tough man. I don’t even know how Gigi would look if he cut his beard off. I wouldn’t even call him ‘Gigi’ anymore if he cut his beard. So he has to live with his beard. I’d call him Luigi, his real name.”