|In just three games, VEF Riga has managed to get as many wins as it did in the 2010-11 Eurocup. Its home wins against PAOK BC and Cholet Basket put the Latvian champion in a good position to fight for a Last 16 spot. Its policy of having the best Latvian players along with talented foreigners and top prospects is paying off handsomely. One of the players belonging to the first group is scoring machine Kristaps Janicenoks, who is in his second season with VEF. Janicenoks is well-known for his shooting skills in his three previous seasons in the competition with Telekom Bonn, Fortitudo Bologna and Riga. Janicenoks went beyond the 20-point mark four times in six games last season, but has changed his role in the team. He had a Eurocup career-best 6 assists against Cholet and is evolving into an all-around player this season. Janicenoks hopes to lead VEF to the Last 16 to take the club to another level, as he told us in his Eurocupbasketball.com interview. "Nothing really changed a lot, just that we have the experience to play harder and get that road win we need," Janicenoks told Eurocupbasketball.com. "This is very important for us."
Hello Kristaps, congratulations on beating Cholet. What were the keys to that win?
"Thank you. Defense was the biggest key, as we didn't allow Cholet to score a lot of points. Our main goal was trying to stop them and to play our game. So I have to say that defense was what allowed us to win the game."
You 6 six assists in that game, your new Eurocup career-high. People have seen you as a great scorer throughout your career. Have you changed the way you play?
"It really depends on the team you play for, its systems and coach. Actually, I didn't pay attention to the number of assists I had, so it is a bit surprising. Like I said, it depends on the coach you play for and the systems he uses. Personally, I just try to help my team as much as I can."
Now that you have played against every opponent in your group, what do you think about it?
"It is a very tough group. Khimki is a very, very good team, but Cholet and PAOK are also very dangerous, especially when we play against them on the road. We are in a good position now, but still need to take a big step forwards and get a road win. Hopefully, we will manage to do it soon and that way, we will be able to qualify to the Last 16."
VEF has managed to keep together its group of Latvian players - you, Sandis Valters, Dairis Bertans, etc. How does that help in terms of team chemistry?
"This is a great thing of this club. Their project is based on good Latvian players and the club management is trying to build its project slowly. This is not a one-year project, as VEF Riga wants to become a solid team under a serious project with big ambitions. Hopefully we will achieve our goals, which is being a well-known team in Europe. We won the Latvian League and made it to the Baltic League final last season, so we hope to go at least to the Eurocup Last 16, taking it step by step."
You first played the Eurocup with Telekom Bonn back in the 2004-05 season. How has the competition changed over the years?
"I really don't remember much about that season, it was seven years ago! The competition is better and better every year. There are many teams at the Euroleague level - for instance and without looking to any other regular season groups, Khimki. They were unlucky not to go to the Euroleague. The competition is great and even though I don't remember much about that season with Bonn, it has improved a lot over the years."
VEF seems to be better than ever with coach Ramunas Butautas. What do you like about him?
"Coach Butautas is really great. He is Lithuanian, but we understand him perfectly and he is like a local coach to us. He coached ASK Riga and many players were with him back then. He knows his players and everyone likes him. His playing style starts with strong defense. Our offense starts with good defense."
Now that you have played against Cholet, how does VEF approach the crucial Week 4 game in France?
"This game will be completely different. Cholet is a different team at home, they run and play more fast-paced in front of their fans. They are a very dangerous team and have to be really focused on winning the game. Of course, the 16-point win in Riga helps, but we are sure the game in France will be very different."
Last season VEF was unable to win any Eurocup games on the road. What is better about the current squad that makes it possible to win at Cholet?
"We are more experienced this year. We are a little bit better team than last year, with more rotation players. Nothing really changed a lot, just that we have the experience to play harder and get that road win we need. This is very important for us. One of our new players, Courtney Sims, is helping us a lot under the baskets, too. He is a great player."
What would it mean to you, your teammates and VEF Riga fans to advance to the Eurocup Last 16?
"It would mean a lot - we would make history! VEF has never made it to the Last 16 and hopefully we will achieve that goal which, like I said before, is very important. I will be very happy. Not just me, I know everyone will be very happy, from the team owners to the coaches, players, fans... everyone."