He has been one of the hottest players in the 2017-18 7DAYS EuroCup in recent weeks. Not many basketball experts knew playmaker John Roberson before this season; the 29-year-old worked his way into the EuroCup after playing in Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Hungary and France. Tony Parker signed him to be ASVEL Villeurbanne's floor general and he has not disappointed. Roberson is the third-best scorer in the competition (17 ppg.), sixth in assists (4.7 apg.) and first in three-pointers made, averaging 4 per game with a sensational 55.2% shooting percentage. Roberson made history by hitting 11 three-point shots – and setting a EuroCup record – in a triple-overtime, instant-classic win against Herbalife Gran Canaria in the regular season finale. His 42 points scored in the game and performance index rating of 44 were both the highest in the current EuroCup season. Last week, he hit a critical triple to lift ASVEL over Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia. In this week’s interview, Roberson spoke about it like a true leader. "I have come into this role where if the game’s on the line, everyone trusts me to have the ball in my hands and make a play. My teammates trust me, coach trusts me, so I just go out there and try and make a play, either to find an open teammate or if they give me the shot, I’m taking it," Roberson told EuroCupbasketball.com. "I have been given that confidence, so I just try to do what’s best for the team.”
Hello, John, congratulations on a great season. It is your first experience in the EuroCup but you are doing great. What has allowed you to play so well right away?
“This is my first in the EuroCup, but I have played in a European competition for maybe five or six years in a row. So I have had a lot of experience playing against European teams. And playing in the French League is a lot of good competition, so I think it’s really gotten me ready to take that next step. I play for a good team, I have a lot of talent around me and it just makes my job that much easier, so I don’t really have to go out there and force things or do too much. I have a lot of guys around me make my job easy.”
ASVEL beat Reggio Emilia this week. You hit a three-pointer to put the victory on ice, with the shot clock winding down. What was in your mind off the timeout?
“I had the ball in my hands, that’s just something I have come into, I have come into this role where if the game’s on the line, everyone trusts me to have the ball in my hands and make a play. My teammates trust me, coach trusts me, so I just go out there and try and make a play, either to find an open teammate or if they give me the shot, I’m taking it. I have been given that confidence, so I just try to do what’s best for the team.”
We need to talk about your team's triple-overtime win in Gran Canaria. How much fun was to play that game? Also, was it the best game of your career?
“Man, it was a crazy game! I think we were down 14 in the fourth quarter, we were able to come back, tie it up. We had so many chances to win the game. That’s what I think about. Everybody goes, ‘crazy game’, ‘three overtimes’. I don’t think it should have gone to three overtimes. We had so many chances to win it and we weren’t able to win it and finally we were able to close it out in that third overtime. Definitely one of the craziest games of my career. I don’t know about the best. Maybe my best? I’m not sure. Considering who we were playing, Gran Canaris in Gran Canaria, maybe I have to say that was the best game of my career. We were definitely playing against a great team. There was a lot on the line, actually, too, to finish first in our group. We really wanted to win that game and we just laid it all out there. It was definitely a team effort. There is no way you are going to be able to win games by yourself at this level. Your teammates have to chip in and support. David Lighty had a great game that night with 21 points. Kahudi made some big shots. Our big men, Watkins was great in that game as well. So we had a lot of guys step up and make some plays and make shots. And they did too, they had a lot of guys who were hitting shots. It was back and forth, it was a crazy, crazy game.”
You hit 11 three-point shots, an all-time EuroCup record, and had 42 points, the fifth-best mark ever. How great is it to be part of the competition history?
"It is definitely an honor, knowing the history and tradition of the EuroCup, how many players were in this competition and how many great teams. For me, being in the record books is definitely an honor and very humbling."
A few times this season, you have been pretty quiet in the first half, only to erupt in the second half, including your record-setting performance at Gran Canaria. What is the cause of this second-half dominance?
"To be honest with you, I am not sure! I am a point guard, so I have to kind of worry about getting others involved and getting myself involved. The fact that I have the ball in my hands, I can kind of pick and choose whether to be aggressive, and I have always been the type of player that when the game is on the line, when it is money time, that is when I step up. This is the type of player that I am. If things are not going well for me in the first half, I try to focus on the second half and continue to be aggressive."
Your professional basketball career has taken you throughout Europe, including Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Hungary before you came to France. What did you take away from those stops that have made you the player you are today?
"I took everything from those stops, a little bit of everything and a little bit of something in every country I have been playing. When you are an American, you come to a team and they need you to produce right away so the pressure is on, and I had to be able to deal with that pressure to somehow make it to France. For me, to be able to deal with those pressure situations, come out and be successful, I think it shaped me into the player that I am today. I was able to play for great coaches and had some great teammates around me. I was blessed to be able to go to the right situations for me that helped me be the player I am, and I was able to have the freedom to go out and just be who I am as a player."
ASVEL is owned by one of the best point guards ever in basketball, Tony Parker. How much of a honour is to be chosen by Parker himself to lead his team at the point guard position?
"It is definitely an honor, man. When he called me last season, I was really excited. I have been watching him his whole career and I have tried to soot this little floater he has; I am still working on it. I have been watching him and just being able to talk to him is something unbelievable. He is a down-to-Earth guy, very humble and I can talk to him like anybody else. He is great guy and I can talk to him whenever I want, he is ready to talk any time of the day. I can ask him questions and ask him for advice. He is our president and is still playing in the NBA; he has that type of experience that can help you, and we play the same position, so that definitely helps. I talked to him, he told me his vision for the team and I was on board, ready to make that next step and join the ASVEL family."
There is a lot of talk about young Theo Maledon, who was the tournament leader in scoring and assists at the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Ciutat de L’Hospitalet last weekend. What can you tell us about his prospects?
"Yes, for sure. I play against him every day in practice. I didn't know he was that young! When I found out how old he was, I was in shock; he is 16! He is far ahead his years. He has size, speed, athleticism, shooting... he can do everything! He is only 16 and what he did at the tournament proves it. I think he had 35 points and 11 assists in his last game, playing against older guys. That is phenomenal and he has the work ethic, too. He stays after practice getting shots up, asks me questions and wants to work out with me. He has the hunger and will, not just the talent, so I know he is going to be a great player."
How do you find the EuroCup until now, in terms of competitiveness?
"For me, the EuroCup is the best competition I have played in so far. I played in FIBA competitions five or six years in a row, I think, and these teams that we are going against have a lot of talent, are well-coached and can punish you inside and outside. So you always have to bring your A-game and be ready. It is very fun, a challenge to step up to and a good meter to see where you are at."
ASVEL will now face Limoges CSP in the next two weeks. Both teams have played dozens of times, but this will be their first games in European competitions. How much are you looking forward to that?
"I am looking forward to it. Actually, we already had a crazy game against them. It was the first game of the season and went down to the wire. We know they are a good team, well-coached, with good players, so it is going to be fun. We expect it to be very hostile when we play in Limoges because they have a great crowd, so it should be fun."