By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
Fenerbahce Beko arrived in the first game of the new decade carrying the burden of its worst start in EuroLeague since coach Zeljko Obradovic took over in 2013: A 6-10 win/loss record that kept the high-aspiring Turkish team well below the playoff zone.
These results included four straight defeats (to Anadolu Efes, Panathinaikos Athens, Zenit St. Petersburg and Valencia) in the last games; three of them at home. Three of the losses also took place in the very last seconds of either regulation or overtime and two of those – the major upsets vs. Zenit and Valencia in Istanbul – occurred after Fenerbahce gave up leads down the stretch.
It was more than imperative for Fenerbahce to win in Piraeus against Olympiacos and commence a possible resurgence. That was the predominant sentiment around the squad before the game and the feeling echoed by Derrick Williams after he and his teammates got the job done. “I was telling people earlier that this could be a turning point in our season,” Williams told Eurohoops. “This past month, we had three excellent quarters and one quarter in each game that kind of killed us. Killed everything good we’ve done before. We didn’t want that to happen tonight.”
Williams has been producing 11.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 assists in 27.2 minutes in his sophomore season in EuroLeague. The former no. 2 NBA Draft pick had signed with the Turkish power in summer after completing his debut campaign in the competition with Bayern Munich by averaging 13.4 points, 4.2 rebounds in 26:02 minutes. It was a run that was widely considered as one of the best ever by a EuroLeague newcomer.
“I don’t need a huge stat line for me to have a good season,” Williams said to Eurohoops. “So far I’ve been playing good but I can play better.”
Williams’ own contribution to the win over Olympiacos was 13 points (5/8 2-pointers, 1/2 3-pointers) and five rebounds during the 33:14 he stayed on the court. The American forward played the most minutes for his team behind guard Kostas Sloukas, yet he indulged us with a Q&A session after the match that went as follows:
Eurohoops: Contrary to the defeats to Zenit St. Petersburg and Valencia in the last two EuroLeague games, this time Fenerbahce didn’t allow the opponent to complete a comeback down the stretch. Did you feel a sort of “deja-vu” when Olympiacos cut the deficit to single digits with 90 seconds left?
Derrick Williams: “I think that everybody knew the kind of losses we had. A lot of people have been saying things about referees (EuroLeague issued reports on refereeing mistakes against Fenerbahce in critical last-second plays in the losses to Panathinaikos and Valencia). ‘The refs this and the refs that’. But at the end of the day, I always say that you don’t want to leave it at the referees’ hands. At the end of the day, they make great calls and they make bad calls. You don’t want to put yourself in that predicament. You want to try at least have a cushion. You want to have good possession. Maybe we had that [previous games] in the back of our mind. But, I think we learn by our mistakes so far and we wanted to start the season with a good road win and we did.
– E.H: Fener scored 96 points. You moved the ball really well, creating many open shots that you translated to baskets. You didn’t commit many turnovers. Would you say that it was one of your team’s top games this season so far?
– D.W.: “For sure. I was telling people earlier that this could be a turning point in our season. We haven’t had games going in our way. As I said, good teams learn from their mistakes. We watched some of them on film. How to stay in the moment, whether you are up by 15 points or down by 15 points. Every possession counts. We learned. And that’s a credit to everybody on our team. This past month, we had three excellent quarters and one quarter in each game that kind of killed us. Killed everything good we’ve done before. We didn’t want that to happen tonight.”