|By becoming the only team to win on the road in Game 1 of the Eurocup Quarterfinals, it is safe to say that Spartak St. Petersburg may be closer than anyone to the Eurocup Finals, which will be played in Khimki, Russia in mid-April. One of its pillars has been combo guard Yotam Halperin, who is enjoying a new role in coach Jure Zdovc's team this season. A great scoring guard throughout his career, Halperin ranks second in the Eurocup in assists (5.3 apg.) and has helped Spartak to win its regular season and Last 16 groups. In his first Eurocup season after a full decade in the Euroleague, Halperin reveals to us the key to Spartak’s great results in this Eurocupbasketball.com interview. "I don't want to think about anything else but Game 2 against Nymburk. We have to win this game and only then think about the Finals," Halperin told Eurocupbasketball.com. "By going game by game, we won our regular season and Last 16 groups, and we also had a good result against Nymburk. It is three wins away and we know it, but I am sure we will go step by step."
Hello, Yotam. How has the Eurocup season been for you and your team, Spartak St. Petersburg?
"This is my first Eurocup season and I really didn't know what to expect. I knew that the playing level would be close to the one in the Euroleague, as the competition has a lot of good teams and experienced players. I knew it would be very competitive. I don't want to say this out loud, but so far it has been good for us. We managed to win our regular season and Last 16 groups, and then we had a good result against Nymburk over there. We are on the right path to get what we want to achieve. We want to go game by game, step by step and I think we are doing that, so I would say it has been a good season until now."
You managed to beat Nymburk on the road in Game 1 of the quarterfinals. What were the keys to that win?
"Nymburk is a very dangerous team; you never know what to expect from them. First of all, we did not allow them to get fast break points and we controlled the game rhythm. We tried to make it a low-scoring game and our defense was the key. We allowed only 64 points, which is a good result for us against a good offensive team like Nymburk, so defense was definitely the biggest key. Nymburk can score a lot of points any given night."
Spartak is also very unpredictable, a lot of players can step up at any times. Does it make you more dangerous?
"Yes, definitely. We have three or four players that have played at the highest level in the Euroleague. Some other players have been in the Eurocup before and like you said, all that has helped us to have a good Eurocup season until now. Any of us can step up in any given night and everybody is ready to give something to our team. It doesn't matter if we play one or 40 minutes, we will give our best. It is not a secret that each one of us brings something to this team."
You have a 4-point lead in the series, but I guess nobody expects Nymburk to surrender. What do you expect to see in Game 2?
"Nymburk is a very, very dangerous team and the game will not be easy at all. A 4-point difference is not a big margin and our mentality must be to go out there and win Game 2. Thinking of having a 4-point lead may not be a good idea, especially against an offensive-minded team like Nymburk. If we are not focused against them for one second, they will punish us immediately. All we know is that we have a game in St. Petersburg and that we have to win it."
You played with Patrick Beverley longer before anyone else. What do you think about the great season he is having?
"This is the second time I have played with Patrick; I was with him at Olympiacos two years ago. In my opinion, he has become a completely different player. He does almost everything on the court and has become this kind of point guard able to do well in defense and offense – assists, rebounds, scoring... He is one of our leaders, if not the main one. I think he deserves it, because he is working really hard every day, trying to improve. He is still young and a great future is ahead of him. I can only say good things about Patrick and the way he is playing this season."
Does the fact that Juri Zdovc was a great player before becoming a coach help him to understand his players better?
"I think we are lucky to have him as a coach. He is the right coach for us and knows exactly what we need. He was in our position before and used to play basketball at the highest level. He is a great coach! You don't have many opportunities in your career to have great coaches and when you have them, then you have to use it. We have a great coaching staff this season and all of us get something new from him every day. It is great for the team, for all of us."
Like you said, this is your first Eurocup season. How do you like playing in the Eurocup?
"It is a great competition! It has very competitive teams and everybody wants to get to the Finals. I can mention several Euroleague-level teams like Khimki, Valencia or Lietuvos Rytas, which have been in the Euroleague for several years. The difference is big if you compare the Eurocup to the top-level Euroleague teams. Still, there are a lot of teams that could easily play in the Euroleague."
Spartak will open a new arena soon and is living up to its great basketball tradition. From an insider’s point of view, how has Spartak developed in recent years?
"I think that Spartak is moving in the right direction. The new arena is another step toward becoming a big team. It is very, very important to have a great arena, which will attract more people to come and watch our games. Basketball is not the main thing in Russia, but a new arena will definitely help people to come to see us. It is great to play for a team that is taking big steps forward."
You were a great scoring guard early in your career. This season, however, you are second in the Eurocup in assists. How has your game changed over the years?
"Well, if you had asked me the same question last season, I would have told you the opposite, as I was scoring more. We have different players in this team and I am seeing minutes at point guard this season. Even if I play as shooting guard, I try to make the right decision and get everybody involved. Some coaches have told me that when you dish an assists, you make two people happy and if you score, you are the only one who is happy. It is important for me to help the team, passing the ball or scoring. I don't really care if I have to score or pass, the only thing for me is that we are winning and we are doing it the right way."
It is hard to ignore that Spartak is three games away from winning the Eurocup. What would that mean for you?
"I would be a big thing! If you asked everyone before the season, nobody thought it would be easy, but we did things the right way to get where we are now. I don't want to think about anything else but Game 2 against Nymburk. We have to win this game and only then think about the Finals. By going game by game, we won our regular season and Last 16 groups, and we also had a good result against Nymburk. It is three wins away and we know it, but I am sure we will go step by step."