Kresimir Loncar, Unics Kazan

Feb 27, 2009 by Javier Gancedo, Print
Kresimir Loncar, Unics Kazan
Kresimir Loncar - UnicsWith experience that few 26-year-olds anywhere can claim, Kresimir Loncar of Unics Kazan is making a name as one of Europe's best power forwards in his debut Eurocup season. After leading Unics to last weekend's Russian Cup title, just its second trophy ever, as MVP of that tournament, Loncar is now trying to help Unics complete an amazing run in the Eurocup. He has been rock-solid all season as an injury-plagued Unics made it all the way from the first qualifying round to the Last 16. Only he and frontcourt mate Dimitriy Sokolov have played all Eurocup games for Unics, which still retains chances to reach the Final Eight despite three tough two-point losses in this round. Unics has battled injuries and hard luck to stay competitive and win at least one trophy, so as Loncar says, motivation is not lacking to keep up the fight in the Eurocuop. "Of course, we are a little bit disappointed but we still have a chance to make it to the Final Eight," Loncar told "We have to beat Benetton and Turk Telekom to keep our chances to go to Turin."

Hello, Kresimir. First of all, how has been the Eurocup season for you and Unics Kazan so far?

"I think we have been a little bit unlucky so far, with three losses by two points in the Last 16, against Benetton in Treviso and then twice against Zadar. After winning the Russian Cup, we lost this key home game against Zadar. Of course, we are a little bit disappointed but we still have a chance to make it to the Final Eight. We have to beat Benetton and Turk Telekom to keep our chances to go to Turin. Like I said, we are disappointed after the last home game against Zadar."

This is your first Eurocup season. What are your impressions about the quality of this competition so far?

"The quality is great. It is the best competition I have played in my career since I played for Benetton in the Euroleague several years ago. The Eurocup has great teams and great players, so the quality of games is very high."

Those losses against Zadar may mark the outcome of this group. Unics has been without Marc Jackson for the best part of the season and missed silent leader Tariq Kirksay in the most important games. How important are these two players for Unics?

"In fact, we had problems from the beginning of the season. We have had somebody hurt in every game. Terrell Lyday was out for a month and a half, Marko Popovic also missed some time, also Vladimir Veremeenko and like you said, Tariq and Marc also missed several games, too. We had many injuries throughout the season and of course, it is difficult to give our best as a team with that injury situation. Of course, Marc and Tariq are very important for us. Marc just got back in the team. It has been hard to play without any of them."

Kresimir Loncar - UnicsKresimir, it's obvious that Unics has one of the deepest frontcourts possible: how are the roles split up between you, Vladimir, Dmitry Sokolov and now Marc Jackson?

"Well, we had a different rotation in the Eurocup compared to the Russian League, as two Russian players have to be on the court at any time. Dimitry Sokolov and Aleksey Zhukanenko play a lot more in the Russian League, and with the injuries we had, sometimes the playing time was different. With Marc back in the team we have adjusted pretty quick, everyone feels confident and I am sure that our best games are yet to arrive this season."

During this Last 16 phase, you had the chance to play against your former team Benetton in Treviso. How special was that experience for you?

"Of course, it was very special for me to go back to Treviso to face Benetton. I joined Benetton when I was 16 and they were very patient with me, allowing me to play for Wurzburg in Germany before returning to the team. When I was back in the team, we made it to the Euroleague final against Barcelona. It was the most successful year in my career so far. It was great to see all the people at Benetton. I will always be thankful to Maurizio Gherardini, who brought me there, and also to all the staff at Benetton. It was a special feeling to be back in Treviso, no question about that.

Unics won the Russian Cup last weekend, downing CSKA and Dynamo Moscow in the process. You also earned final four MVP honors. How special is this title for you and what does it mean for a strong club like yours?

"I think that few people expected us to win that competition. Everybody thought CSKA would win the title and if someone else won it, few people thought about us. I think we were a bit lucky that CSKA was not in great shape in the semifinal game against us. We showed heart and proved we could beat one of the best teams in Europe like CSKA, playing tough defense to go to the final against Dynamo. We played two very good basketball games that weekend. It is important also for Unics, a strong club that had not won a domestic title for several seasons. Like I said, CSKA is the team to beat and Dynamo has one of the biggest budgets in Russia, so this is a big success for the club, its players, coaches and staff."

You took part in the 2008 Olympic games with your national team, Croatia. How was the experience?

"For me, it was great because it was the first time that I played with Croatia for a long time because of my injuries. We had to qualify first but managed to play with concentration and make it to Beijing. Being part of the Olympic Games was really, really great. It was very important for Croatia after so many years without being in the Olympics. I hope to keep contributing to my national team, too."

This is your third season in Russia after two years playing for Lokomotiv Rostov. How do you see the progress of Russian basketball in recent years and how are non-Russian players like you helping in that development?

Kresimir Loncar - Unics"Of course, this rule of having at least two Russian players on court at any time is really good for Russian players. Russian basketball has developed a lot in recent years, you can see it in how the teams' budget increased lately. There are very good players in the Russian League and also great coaches like David Blatt, Sergio Scariolo or of course, Ettore Messina, and they are making this league even stronger. Personally, I would like to see more good, young Russian players. There are some, of course, but I would like to see young players develop with the help of veteran foreigners."

Few people might recall that soon after turning 20, you helped Benetton to reach the 2003 Euroleague final game. What memories do you have of that experience?

"I was injured when the 2003 Final Four came and I couldn't play but even with that, it was a great experience. Benetton had a great team like Jorge Garbajosa, Marcelo Nicola, Riccardo Pittis, Trajan Langdon, Tyus Edney, Denis Marconato... We had a great group of guys and a great coach. And of course, I remember Dejan Bodiroga, who was the best player in Europe at that time."

You just turned 26 this month and have been playing professional basketball for almost a decade. Due to that experience, do you feel like the best years of your career are about to arrive?

"Yes, for sure. I hope that I have left all my injuries behind and I am experienced enough to do better in the next years. I think that the best years of my career are about to arrive and I will do my best to play tough, work hard and do the best I can, just as always."