Looking for my first Eurocup title

Apr 28, 2014 by Nikos Zisis - Kazan, Russia Print
Looking for my first Eurocup title
Nikos Zisis - Unics Kazan - EC13 (photo Kalev Cramo)Hello again, Eurocup fans! This is your friend Nikos Zisis of Unics Kazan. We made it! We reached the Eurocup Finals against Valencia and are now going for the title! It is amazing to be in the final. It was not easy to beat Crvena Zvezda. We had a very tough week before Game 2, after losing by 11 points in Belgrade. I think we played by far the worst quarter of our season, the fourth one in Belgrade. I have to give credit to Zvezda for causing us to play like that, but it wasn't only the fact that we lost by 11 points - it was our performance, especially in the fourth quarter. That was hard to take, especially the day after the game. We had a long trip coming back to Kazan with plenty of time to think about it.

Finally, this team showed its character in Game 2. We were expecting a slow start; we were kind of nervous early in the first quarter. Zvezda controlled the game, but everything changed for us in the second quarter. For the first time in the series, we imposed our rhythm and felt comfortable on court, knowing exactly what we were doing on offense. We were without Ian Vougioukas, who is really important for us. On the other hand, when you lose something in life, you can win something. Our power forwards Luke Harangody and Kostas Kaimakoglou played together and that was a big threat from the perimeter. That lineup allowed us to get a good rhythm. In the second half, their coach decided to change his defense, but we moved the ball well and hit big shots. We took a well-deserved win and qualified for the finals!

I was really happy with this win. We had to work really hard throughout the season, for many months, to make it to the final. The most important thing is that the team won and I am happy that I helped my team to do it. Obviously, it was a big game for me and I hit big shots, including the go-ahead one late in the game. It was a great team play; we passed the ball really well and I was open. I think that's what we did in the whole second half; we played with great confidence, smart and our defense was very good against a very, very good team like Zvezda. They have great size and playing the Euroleague allowed them to grow as a team.

We will face Valencia in the final. Like I said in a previous blog when we played against them in the Last 32, Valencia is one of the best teams in Europe this season. They have only lost three games in the Spanish League and that tells you a lot of good things about them. They have a great team. All the losses that they had early in the season have forced Valencia to play Game 1 at home in all of its series. This could be a big advantage for them because Valencia is a great home team. It is going to be tough to win in Valencia; everybody has struggled there throughout the elimination series. Eventually, that will be the key. It is really tough to keep things under control in Valencia for 40 minutes. They play at a really high rhythm. If we play like we did in the Last 32, especially in the first half, we have a chance to make them uncomfortable and prevent them from imposing their rhythm. If they do that, they can kill you!

They have a lot of players, too, a very deep team. It might be a bigger problem if both teams played the Euroleague Playoffs, which are five-game series. Having to play on May 1 and 7 might be better for us; we have a couple of players less in our rotation and having more time in between games helps us. Hopefully we will be healthy. Vougioukas, with his size and one-on-one post skills, is very important for us. I expect Ian to be back and then we will be ready to go. I know that Valencia brought some players back, especially at the forwards positions, like Pablo Aguilar and Vladimir Lucic. They give Valencia a lot more options, but if you play two games in one week, it may not be a clear advantage. It would be different if you play five games in nine days like some Euroleague teams did this week.

There are three players in our team who played the Eurocup Finals last season - Maxim Sheleketo, Sergey Bykov, who arrived after the registration deadline and cannot play the Eurocup, and me. We talked about it earlier in the season. I know what it feels like to have a successful Eurocup season, arrive in the finals and not being able to win it – and believe me, it is very frustrating. We had a great run with Bilbao last year, but that’s sports. You need to go and try for the next time.

I feel blessed to get another chance to win the Eurocup almost right away, the following season. You can never take it for granted, it is a long process, a long season with a lot of ups and downs as a player and as a team. It is normal; just part of the process. Hopefully this season I can win the title. It is a bit strange, it doesn't happen very often, playing back-to-back continental finals with different teams. Once again, it is another Spain vs. Russia battle in the Eurocup final - for the fourth consecutive season, I think. It is nice!

Let me finish this blog with some personal news. I have just becomen a father again! The birth of my second son, Markos, was also the week we qualified to the Eurocup Finals. It was not my average week, I tell you that! I left Kazan for some days and was happy to present as his birth. I am back in Kazan and hope to dedicate the Eurocup title to him! It is not like Vassilis Spanoulis, who had a son every season he won the Euroleague, that's amazing! Still, my first son was born four days before we won the Italian League with Montepaschi Siena. I dedicated him that title and I hope to do the same with Markos!

I will get back to you again after Game 1 of the finals. Wish us luck!