Old friends, new beards and no defeats

Jan 17, 2014 by Nikos Zisis - Kazan, Russia Print
Old friends, new beards and no defeats
Nikos Zisis - Unics Kazan (photo unics.ru)Hello, Eurocup fans! Remember me? I guess you do! My name is Nikos Zisis and I play for Unics Kazan. It has been a good season for us until now, as we are still undefeated, but the fact that the Eurocup expanded with eight teams coming from the Euroleague means this is just getting started. We have a lot of veteran players on this team who understand that we haven't done anything yet. We just won our first two Last 32 games and that is very important. It is the exact same format as the old Euroleague Top 16, a format I have played a lot.

I know that anything can happen and the key is always the third and fourth games, when you play back-to-back against the same team - in our case, Telenet Ostend. These games usually clear up many things. I had 0-2 starts with Montepaschi Siena in the Euroleague or with Bilbao last season, but winning Games 3 and 4 against the same team allowed us to change everything. A 2-0 record doesn't mean anything yet, either, because this is a tough, competitive group. We must keep going and be ready against Ostend, a team that beat Zielona Gora and played the Euroleague qualifying round final this season. They have a lot of talent.

We just beat a very good team in Valencia. I think they have a better team than last season. I faced Valencia many times with Bilbao last season - in friendly games, Spanish League and in the Eurocup, too. They made some changes, which made them stronger. They are definitely one of the strongest teams in the Eurocup this season. They could compete in the Euroleague Top 16 for sure. When you have a 13-2 record in the Spanish League, in my opinion the most competitive domestic league in Europe, you must be a special team and have all the tools to be successful. I give my team a lot of credit for beating them, but we still have to play four games, which will be like four finals in order to get to the elimination rounds.

We will play in Ostend this week, which is great. I hope to see my great friend Tomas Van den Spiegel! We won the Euroleague together with CSKA Moscow. I am about to send him a message now. I hope he will be in Belgium, because Tomas has a new job and is around a lot. I hope I can see him and have a nice dinner with him after the game. We are much more than former teammates, of course - we are very good friends! My family went to his place twice last season - when Bilbao played in Charleroi and then when we returned to play the Eurocup final against Lokomotiv Kuban. My wife thought about staying at their place again next week, but it is a pretty long trip from Kazan, especially with a two-year-old child. So my family won't be able to make it, but I will get to see them!

It was a great move to bring all Euroleague eliminated teams into the Eurocup. Honestly, it makes the Eurocup much more competitive. I was a Eurocup rookie last season - I played many years in the Euroleague, but never in the Eurocup - and made it to the final with Bilbao. We faced a lot of good teams, but this is even better now. The fact that the competition was expanded and, after a 10-game regular season, good teams like VEF Riga could not advance says it all. VEF Riga is a solid team! The Last 32 is even stronger now with Euroleague teams. There are teams that had good chances to advance to the Euroleague Top 16 and are now struggling in the Last 32. Zielona Gora, Strasbourg and Montepaschi Siena have all started with 0-2 records. Anything can happen still, but this makes the Eurocup stronger, more competitive and more interesting for people to watch.

Life in Kazan is really good. I tell you, when I decided to sign for Unics last summer, I had previously played in Russia, but it was with CSKA in Moscow. I didn't know what I would find here but the city is much better than I remembered it, especially since it hosted the Universiade last summer. The Greek guys, Kostas Kaimakoglou and Ian Vougioukas, told me good things about it after a full season here. They said that the city got so much better - the airport, the roads, the parks... everything. That makes it better. It has been a good winter, at least until now, mid-January. We didn't have snow until late November, which was a big shock for everybody here: they usually have snow in early October.

Overall, we have a very nice atmosphere in the locker room and that makes your daily life better. You can enjoy a nice dinner with your teammates after a game and spend some time with them off-court. Above all, I have my family in Kazan and that is my number one priority, the most important thing for me. When you are at home with your family, it doesn't really matter in which part of the world you are. Just being with them and having a good time makes you be at home.

Kostas Kaimakoglou - Unics Kazan - EC13 (photo unics.ru)My road roommate, Kostas Kaimakoglou, has grown a really long beard. I have to tell all my blog readers that I am begging him every day to please shave it - but he doesn't listen to me! Let me tell you a funny story about it, since it's is Eurocup-related, after all. We played against Zielona Gora on the road and spent a day in Berlin because we had to fly straight to Siberia to face Enisey Krasnoyarsk. We didn't go back to Kazan, but straight to Krasnoyarsk via Moscow. While we waited in Berlin, Alba hosted us and we practiced at their place on Thursday. David Logan and Levon Kendall played with Kostas in the past and Sven Schultze came to say hello, too. Everybody asked him if he had razor blades in Kazan. It was really funny! Everybody keeps wondering what is going on. I will keep trying to convince him to shave it - he looks much better without it. I tell him every day!

So, Kostas, here's the deal. If we win the Eurocup, let me shave your beard, man. Do we have a deal?

Wish us luck and keep an eye on Unics Kazan! See you next time!