At age 31, Manu Markoishvili is in his 16th professional season. In other words, he has spent more than half of his life as a pro basketball player. He made history by playing the 2003 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague championship game with Benetton Treviso at age 16 and returned to the Final Four with CSKA Moscow 12 years later, in 2015, but never got to lift Europe's top continental trophy. In his fourth 7DAYS EuroCup season, Markoishvili has the chance to make history with Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia. No Italian team has ever reached a EuroCup Final, let alone won the title, but Reggio Emilia has the chance to get closer on Wednesday when it hosts a do-or-die Game 3 of the quarterfinals against Zenit St Petersburg. A win would send Reggio Emilia to the semifinals against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar starting next week. Markoishvili is playing a key veteran role for Reggio Emilia, averaging 9.2 points and 2.3 assists in 18 games. After missing the entire 2016-17 season due to injury, Markoishvili is enjoying everything about Reggio Emilia's historical EuroCup run. "Right now, being on the court is the biggest satisfaction I have. Being with young, talented players, in this kind of organization, when I am on the court, playing important minutes and making important decisions with the ball in my hands," Markoishvili told EuroCupbasketball.com. "Being part of something so good is probably the biggest satisfaction I ever had."
Hello, Manu. First things first, your quarterfinal playoffs series is tied at 1-1 and Reggio Emilia has the home-court advantage in Game 3. How much are you looking forward to it?
"Of course, expectations are high, and playing at home, we all expect to win the game. Like you said, we have the home-court advantage and hope to use it in any way possible, but we also understand that this game is not a regular one. It is going to be very difficult and it all depends on the situation, how the players feel, and who plays tougher until the end. The home-court advantage is a little thing but not the main thing. We are working to be ready to learn and improve from our mistakes, especially in Game 2. We are confident but also know we cannot relax, not even for a second."
Reggio Emilia played a great Game 1 and a very good first half in Game 2. What happened after the break in Game 2 and what's the fix?
"I think that the main problem we had was rushing our offense, giving them the possibility to run and score too many fastbreak points. We are not a team that gives up 91 points defensively. This should be our main focus – not allowing them to get hot. In Game 2, they definitely got hot and as you know, they have players like Kyle Kuric, Sergey Karasev and Evgeny Voronov, who can score a lot. They have really good players who can do really well on offense, and once they are hot you are in deep trouble. So I would say that our problem was not keeping control on offense and coming back slow on defense. That gave Zenit a lot of confidence."
So will controlling the game rhythm, which is always important, be absolutely critical in Game 3?
"It will be the key if we are able to do it. We have to run our offense using the game clock, avoid letting them play in transition, and slow the game down. The main goal for us is to play good defense. We will be playing at home and our defense should be good, as it has been all season. Once we play good defense, controlling the rhythm would give us a chance to play better."
How excited are Reggio Emilia fans and people in the city about this game?
"Especially these days, we are not going around too much. We are spending these days at home, fully concentrated on practicing. But if you happen to meet somebody, of course, everybody will tell you 'mira commando' and tell you they will be there at the game. I believe there will be a lot of people and no matter what happens, they really deserve the best effort we can give because our fans have been really nice to us all season. They are always there for us, and they are always loud! One thing we can promise is that we will fight until the end and give everything on the court."
Amedeo Della Valle is having an outstanding season. Does he look for advice from someone so experienced as you are?
"I think Amedeo is having an MVP season. He has to be one of the main candidates. I don't want to put pressure on anybody, but thanks to him and his leadership, also with the help of the rest of us, the team is where it is right now. He is a very good leader on the court and is helping the team a lot with his energy, even in desperate situations, offensively and defensively. I cannot say he needs to use much of my experience, by my main goal is to deliver the ball to him and find him open. I try to help him but I don't think he needs it too much. Just being on the court together we help each other, I think, because we can switch on defense and help each other offensively, attract the pressure to leave the other open and things like that. Again, he is doing an amazing job for the team and takes a lot of pressure from the opponents' defense, creating a lot of space for others. This is a very important thing for us."
You are 31 but this is your 16th pro season. Does that experience help you enjoy a do-or-die game like this more than anybody else?
"I will be honest with you: this is my 16th season, but I have been struggling with injuries and many problems, so right now, being on the court is the biggest satisfaction I have. Being with young, talented players, in this kind of organization, when I am on the court, playing important minutes and making important decisions with the ball in my hands, being part of something so good is probably the biggest satisfaction I ever had. I am really enjoying this season, even with our struggles. We lost a lot of games and had a terrible start, but I believe this team is getting better and better every day. We still have a lot of games left in the Italian League and I believe we can get to the playoffs. But for me, personally, this is a great experience and I really enjoy every day, in practice and definitely in the games. I don't know how much time I will be here, but I love it."
One of the keys for Reggio Emilia has been the arrival of Pedro Llompart, Chris Wright and James White since the season started. How much credit does the management deserve for this great EuroCup run?
"I think they definitely deserve a lot of credit. We needed an experienced player, so they checked the market the best way they could and I believe they got the best player we could dream about. Pedro is the most experienced player we have and he is a point guard. When he is on the court, he knows the game and how to help his teammates, not just in games, but also in practice. They also got Chris Wright, who gives us a lot of energy and is a great scorer who can also create for everybody. Of course, James White is also very experienced; he plays in the 'four' position, but can also drive to the basket, switch on defense and is a dangerous three-point shooter. The management really took their time to bring these players because they understood exactly what we needed. They were smart and didn't rush to just take somebody. Through the season, you can see they made the right choices and that is helping the team move in the right direction."
Reggio Emilia is your fourth EuroCup team. How has the EuroCup changed since you played it with Kiev for the first time?
"It got much better, also because the EuroLeague cut down the number of teams. Now the EuroCup has teams that usually played in the EuroLeague, so the level has grown up. There are big teams with big budgets, like the Russian teams, Bayern Munich and Darussafaka. These teams have the dream to go to the EuroLeague and their competitive level is really high, so I would say the EuroCup changed a lot and in a really good way."
Back to Game 3: Will it just go down to who wants it more?
"Of course, tactical things are important, but in the end, what will be most important is which team gives the best effort, who is hungrier and wants it more. It is a question of not giving up and hustling more than your opponent. You cannot give up anything easy, must be smart in every situation, and must execute in the best way possible. These will be the keys to the game. Tactics are important, but if you don't execute things the right way, it won't help you."
Finally, how important would it be for you, Reggio Emilia and even for Italian basketball to have Reggio Emilia in the semifinals?
"I don't know how others feel, but for me, it would be big. I think that, for our club, we already made history by being where we are, but of course, all of us want to do better, win this game and make it to the semifinals. We have a possibility, a chance in our hands. No matter how big it is what we did until now, we always need to fight for bigger things, for bigger goals. I am sure that the team and our fans will really appreciate it."