By Semih Tuna & Bilal Baran Yardımcı / email@example.com
Opening up on multiple topics surrounding Anadolu Efes and the offseason, the main focus of Shane Larkin is winning games.
Larkin, 30, talked exclusively to Eurohoops about the 2023-24 season, his sixth with the Istanbul outfit. The biggest difference compared to the previous campaigns is the absence of both Ergin Ataman and Vasilije Micic.
Ataman taking over Panathinaikos and players, including Micic, moving their talents elsewhere was attached to a new head coach in Erdem Can and plenty of new teammates.
Apart from his approach to Efes taking on the next editions of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and domestic competitions in Turkey, Larkin added to earlier reactions to the situation regarding the Turkish national team.
The Q&A with Eurohoops also features his projections on the next challenges for Ataman and Micic.
Q: First off, how are you?
A: I’m good. I am still trying to get in basketball shape. But overall, good.
Q: You missed the preparation process last year due to injury problems. But this year, you were with the team from the first day of training camp. Do you think this can help you to be in better shape when the season starts?
C: Definitely. Last year, I missed 17 games. I wasn’t able to do anything in preseason. I was kind of thrown into the fire without any practice. So, I think being around the team from the very beginning this year will help me be in shape as the season begins, and hopefully get back to my normal self early in the year as opposed to towards the end of the season.
Q: The same team can’t win the championship every year. But after winning two straight titles, missing the playoffs was huge. I believe you will agree on this too. What was wrong last year with the team?
A: I think it was a combination of things, but I’d say the number one thing is we didn’t have enough time. I missed 17 games, which doesn’t help us. When I came back, Vasa (ed. note: Micic) went out for a month due to knee injuries. At the end of the day, I don’t think we had enough time to gather, to kind of figure out how things will work out. Years prior to that… The first year we all got together took us some time to figure out as well. But once we figured it out, we kind of took off. I would say we were the best team in Europe for four years in a row. Last year we added a big figure, Will Clyburn. I think that was only going to make us that much better of a team, that much unstoppable as continuity to chase those championships. But me missing 17 games…
Clyburn and Vasa caught a good rhythm together early in the year. They were both playing really amazing basketball. When I came back, trying to implement myself into the system was different than in prior years. Because now we had another superstar scorer in our team that we could utilize as well. To kind of move, shift and figure it out in the best way possible took some time for all of us. I actually think that towards the end of the year, especially in the Turkish League playoffs, we did figure it out. People didn’t expect us to win anything, we got beat by 40 by Fenerbahce, and then we all came together and ended up winning the championship. Obviously, we had another injury there.
I think if we had the time from the beginning of the season to play preparation games, to play the early games in both EuroLeague and Turkish League together, and kind of figure out how we all fit, I think we would have great chances to win another championship. Obviously, we all wanted Vasa back this year, he took a great opportunity to go to the NBA. Now, we won’t be able to see how the “big three” work together. It is unfortunate but at the end of the day, I’m very happy for Vasa and the opportunity that he has. Now, we have to figure out how this team is going to work together. New coach, new system, bunch of new players… We just have to focus on now and see how much success we can have early on, build something special here, and kind of continue what we had here outside of last season.
Q: Your longtime partnership with Vasa has ended this summer. Replacing him, Darius Thompson is here. Vasa was a player who could create for himself and the team. He had a high-scoring volume. But Thompson is much more like a pass-first guard. Will we be seeing you “unchained” in the offense for the first time in many years?
A: I don’t think I would say “unchained”. I would say that my situation is a little bit different. Four years that me and Vasa had been together, we both kind of adapted to each other’s game. One day Vasa had 30 points, and one day I had 30 points. We were able to base it on who was playing well at the moment, we kind of had that feel for each other. I think Darius has the ability to score more than the last year, based on what his role was on Baskonia.
He was playing with another guard, Markus Howard, who was very focused on scoring the basketball. Howard is a great scorer and great player, but I think what I bring to the table is a little bit different than what he brings to the table. I can score the ball at a high level as well, but I can also go out there and have a lot of assists too. So, I think this situation will also unlock Darius’ scoring ability. But like you said, he is a pass-first point guard. So I do think my shot attempts, being found open in the corners, running the floor, etc. will increase. My scoring ability will take a jump somewhat similar to how it did in my second year here.
Q: Speaking of Vasa, do you think that Thunder was the right fit for him?
A: I think there were better fits for him, but it is difficult about how the NBA brings those situations. You get drafted, he was drafted in 2016 if I’m not mistaken, and the NBA team gets to hold his rights forever. He is a great player and I think he can find a way to get minutes in OKC. Once he gets on the floor, he will be able to show his ability, talent, and the ways he can help that team. But I just think it would have been a better fit for him to go and be on a team that is chasing the playoffs, and championships because he is that kind of guy. At the end of the day, he is about the be 30 years old, OKC has a young roster.
He is not anywhere close to the end of the road but to be the 30-year-old guy going over to the NBA on your first try, I think he would have been better off if all the handcuffs were off about where and how he could go. He would have been better on a playoff team which is for sure chasing a championship because I think he has that kind of pedigree, basketball knowledge, and ability to help teams chase championships. Who knows? OKC may turn into a team like that this year, but they have a team of 21-24-year-old guys. Vasa coming over at 30 as a rookie is a little bit different. At the end of the day, I think he will make it work.
He is a great player, he will be able to figure it out. I just think that if I were his age and I was able to put him anywhere he wanted to go, which is not possible by the way, so don’t try to take my words and make it seem like his agent didn’t work (laughs), I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that if the handcuffs were completely off and he could’ve gone anywhere, it would have been nice to see him in a place like Sacramento who had a great run last year. Third seed in the West, can they take that next step and get to the second round? Something like that. Or somebody like…
Q: Maybe the Celtics?
A: Yeah, like the Celtics. A team that right down the edge, needs another guard on the bench. Clippers… Some team like right down there, just needs a guy who can come in and be that guard who knows the game, plays well, can pass and score, can defend, do all those things. I would have liked to see him in a situation, in a role like that personally. Regardless of all, he got a great contract and he will have a great opportunity to go over there and show himself. Hopefully, he does a great job.
Q: You are a player who likes to interact with fans, especially on social media. You express your opinions about basketball stuff, other stuff. I remember that last year, you were criticizing your playing time in one of the crucial games of the season. I love players opening up about their opinions, but is there a downside to that for you?
A: Of course. If you say anything as a player, people are going to nitpick out of it and take it negatively. Some people are going to agree with you, some people will say you are complaining. That just comes with the territory. At the end of the day, I don’t take it as negative because I really don’t care what people say about me. I am very confident and at peace in my life with where I am. If I share my opinion and somebody feels negatively about it, that’s okay. You are entitled to have your own opinion, entitled to feel however you want to feel about it. That is why you have your own brain and I have mine. It doesn’t really bother me. I am open to hearing different opinions and different ideas about myself and what I think.
Q: You didn’t spend a lot of time with coach Erdem Can but what are the main differences between him and Ergin Ataman as far as you observed so far?
A: I would say the main difference is just the way they communicate. Erdem Can is a very intent, hands-on, communicating type of coach. If you are wrong, he is going to tell you that you are wrong and why you are wrong. Then, he is going to bring you to the side and talk, explaining to you what he would like you to do instead. Coach Ataman has a different approach to it. He tells you what he wants, he expects you to do it, and if you don’t do it, he is not going to have that conversation with you. He is just going to tell you that you didn’t do your job the way he wanted you to do your job and will put you on the bench. That will be the end of it. So I think the biggest difference is, that Erdem Can is communicating with you.
He has that person-to-person interaction, a relationship that coach Ataman doesn’t really have. Five years I’ve been with coach Ataman, I don’t think that I have ever sat down with him for any food or anything like that. Erdem Can is different in that way. He tries to build those relationships with players. Coach Ataman kind of keeps a wall up between his relationships with players: Basketball is basketball, we are here to do our job, we are professionals, we do what we have to do here, outside of this, you do whatever you want to do. I think that’s kind of the difference in terms of how coach Ataman goes about it and how coach Erdem Can go about it. I played with a bunch of head coaches in my career.
I had some coaches like Ataman, and some coaches like Erdem Can. I’ve had success with Ataman, and I’ve had success with coaches like Erdem Can. It really just comes down to who they are as a person, what they like to do, and how they like to go about being a part of a team. Obviously, I had a lot of success with coach Ataman. I am grateful for the opportunity, and everything that we had been through together. It has only helped me to be in the position I am today. Hopefully, with coach Erdem Can his style and his approach to everything we can have similar success and continue to grow and have something special here.
Q: As a human being, which approach do you prefer?
A: I just want to win. At the end of the day, our jobs are our jobs. If it wasn’t for basketball, I wouldn’t have met coach Ataman, I wouldn’t have met coach Erdem Can. We are here to play basketball. If the coach doesn’t want to have a personal relationship with the player, he doesn’t have one as long as the respect is there. If coach Erdem Can doesn’t want to build relationships with players, he doesn’t have to do it. It is just about ‘I respect you, you respect me, we are here to do our job, we are here to win’. I think both of them had that same mindset. Their individualized approach and their personality as to who they are on and off the court is just different.
I don’t have a preference. I would say I would like to be able to communicate a little bit more with the coach. So I like that side of Erdem Can’s approach. We can communicate about what I see, what he sees, what I think, what he thinks. Then they all come to a conclusion. At the end of the day, if he thinks he is right, he is still going to say it: ‘You are the player, I am the coach. I hear you but I am going with my system’.
The difference is coach Ataman wouldn’t have that conversation. He was more like ‘This is our system, this is what we are going to do and that is how we are going to do it’. And this is fine. At the end of the day, as a head coach, you have to make those tough calls because if we lose games people are going to blame the star players and the coach. If you have communication with the coach, you are still going to get blamed. Players are still going to get blamed. If you don’t have that communication, you are still going to get blamed and the players are still going to get blamed. At the end of the day, they both work. This is just about the team and how the team responds to it. We are going from one extreme to the other. Now, we will see how exactly it all works out. We had a lot of success here in the last five years with that group of players, that type of coach. Now we have a different group of players, a different system, and a different coach. We will see if we can replicate the same kind of success.
Q: As you mentioned, you had five successful years with coach Ataman. Now he is in Panathinaikos. Do you think he will have success over there?
A: I know he is going to go there and implement his system, plays. He is going to demand what he expects out of his players. If they don’t do what he expects, he is going to tell them straight to their face. He will tell the media, to everybody that they are not doing their job, they are not living up to the standards that he set for them. He has done that to me, he has done that to Vasa, he has done that to everybody. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which player it is. It is just how he goes about his business. If those guys and that locker room come together, find continuity and chemistry, and gel well, I think he can have success.
There are a bunch of new players on that team with a bunch of new plays and a new system. It is not going to be about how great of a coach he is. It is going to be about the system he implemented. If his players can go in there and make that system work – just like when we came here. We had our players, we had the plays, he ended up making it work and kept that same group for most of the five years and he had a lot of success in it. If they can find that same kind of success level with the players’ skills, abilities, minds, and wills; then sure, they can have success. It is not just on him to have success. He can’t go out there and make a three-point shot by himself. If he goes in there and has success, you can’t say ‘Ataman did it’. It is going to be Ataman and his team.
If we have success here, it is not going to be like ‘Erdem Can do it’. It will be Erdem Can and the players that we have. I think everybody wants to point their finger in one way and say ‘Can Ataman do it? Can Erdem Can do it?’. It has never been Ataman by himself. It has never been Erdem Can by himself. I haven’t won the EuroLeague by myself, Vasa hasn’t won the EuroLeague by himself. None of us lost those games last year by ourselves either. It is really all one, but everybody likes to point fingers and give success to individuals. Basketball has never been individual. I’ve never seen one person beat five people. At the end of the day, that is how it will always be. That’s how I feel about it.
Q: A lot of drama in the summer about Turkey’s national team. What happened from your side?
A: The national team wanted me to come here. I had an injury in my knee. I came here and saw the national team doctor at the hospital. We got an MRI. We sat there and waited for the MRI to be read by a specialist. Afterward, a national team doctor came into the room. He had this look on his face… He said ‘You have a really bad problem in your knee’. I asked ‘Is it that bad?’. He said ‘yes’ and added: ‘Don’t do anything, stay off of your knee, don’t run, don’t jog, don’t bike, don’t do anything because your knee is really in a bad shape. If you do any of those things and injure your knee more, you probably going to need surgery.
That surgery will keep you out for an extended period. You’ll miss months of the season. After that day, they gave me some medicine, I started taking some pills. We were really aggressive in the rehab process. I took the medicines, I got really sick for three days because the medicines tore up my body. Then I came back here a few days after that. I got another MRI. My knee was progressing but it wasn’t anywhere near the shape of playing any kind of basketball. The doctor said ‘Maybe you can start doing some bike, something like that’. I said ‘Okay, I am going to go home, see my doctor in the States and take his opinions about my knee’. He texted me ‘Good luck back home, wish you well, says greetings to your doctor back home’.
Everybody knew where I was, everybody knew where I was going, and everybody knew exactly what was going on. In my opinion, from my side of it, I thought that would have been communicated with the team.
Q: Just to make it right… All these were told to you by the national team doctor, right? How did this whole story come out?
A: I don’t know about it. That is not for me to answer. I am telling you what exactly happened on my side. If you want, he can show you the text messages. We have everything. But somehow, they said I didn’t show up. They said I disappeared. That is not for me to decide.
Q: And now you are not a local player… Is there anything to do about it?
A: We appealed it to the court. We’ll see what they say. We sent all the text messages, all the MRIs, and everything to them. We will see what happens on the court. In my opinion, it shouldn’t even be the case. When you lose basketball games, you try to point the finger in some direction, at the fact that I wasn’t there helping the team. I am one of the guys you can blame. I think that’s what happened. I got blamed for losing a game that I couldn’t have played in. You all can go and say whatever you want, we will see what people have to say about that. But that’s what happened. I was not healthy, I was injured, national team doctor told me to do nothing.
When I came back, he said ‘Okay, you can start to do some small things, greetings to your doctor back home’. I said ‘Okay, with the permission of the national team, I am going back home’. He said ‘Okay, greetings. Say greetings to your doctor, and go home. Then all the stuff blows up in my face when they lose the game. What can you do about it? It is not up to me or you or anybody to determine what is fair or not. I just know that I can go to sleep every night knowing that I did everything I could have done to play for the national team in these games. Even though I did all of that… I came over here, I proved that I wasn’t healthy.
I did everything that I could’ve possibly done to try to be healthy. Took those medicines that destroyed my body. I did everything. But at the end of the day, I’m the bad guy. If that is the picture they want to paint, they can do that. It is not up to me to decide. I know I did everything possible. I can go to sleep peacefully every night knowing that I did everything possible to be there for the team. Other than that, there is not much I can do.