In one of the games to remember from the 2014-15 Eurocup season, Unics Kazan went against the odds to not only hand Lokomotiv KUban Krasnodar its first loss, but to knock them out of the competition. Unics arrived to Krasnodar facing a 9-point deficit and without star guard Keith Langford, but managed to beat Lokomotiv 58-79 to make it to the semifinals for the third time since 2011. No-one did better than high-flying small forward James White, who finished the game with 29 points, 8 rebounds and a performance index rating of 38. Widely known for his outstanding dunks, White has developed into an all-around player able to help Unics in many ways. He has averaged 13 points on 45.2% three-point shooting and 95.2% (20-of-21) free throw accuracy in 10 Eurocup games this season. White helped Reggio Emilia win the EuroChallenge last season and now wants to do even better by leading Unics to its second Eurocup title, as he told Javier Gancedo of Eurocupbasketball.com in this interview. "I don't know how many people have won back-to-back cups like that," White said. "That's a goal of mine, to do that and next year, hopefully, win the Euroleague."
Congratulations on a great game and a great win against Lokomotiv Kuban. Did you feel that you had to step up with Keith Langford sidelined?
"Thanks. Indeed, of course. I think that really everybody does. The whole year, I have been playing a role where I have been the guy that has been playing on other people, playing a defensive role and doing little things, whatever it takes to help the team. I have big games and not so big ones in terms of scoring, but now, we switched our game a little bit with Keith out. I had to step up and make the same plays he was making."
It was Lokomotiv's first Eurocup loss after 20 consecutive wins. How did you approach the game?
"Well, you know, we lost the first game and didn't play well. The first two times we played in the VTB League, they were really close games. We saw that we came in with a nothing-to-lose attitude. We felt like nobody believed we could win. We played hard and stuck to our game plan. We knew that if we could get them on the ropes a little bit, the pressure would be on them. This is really what happened, really. It was tough for them to get back."
Earlier on this season, you had a similar rally to win the Euroleague Qualifying Rounds. Did that experience help you against Lokomotiv?
"Definitely. I think we have been in some tough situations. We lost a game to Nizhny Novgorod to go to the Top 16 and even that experience helped us in this situation. We have been in some tough situations in which we faced must-win games and I think those experiences helped us this time."
Was it difficult for Unics to transition from the Euroleague to the Eurocup?
"I don't think so, really. I think we have done a good job with that because sometimes teams have so much expectations for themselves to do well. Our goal was to make it to the Euroleague Final Four, so not to get to the next round and have to go play the Eurocup was taking steps back. We did a good job, even with injuries and everything that has been going on, to continue to play and maintaining the goal of winning the Eurocup championship."
You will face Herbalife Gran Canaria in the semifinals, a team that has been almost unstoppable until now. What's the key in a high-pressure series like this?
"I think that the key, always, is to do what you do better and not doing what they do. We have to try to impose our will and play great defense, like we have been playing. We have to try to stop the things that they do well - and do the things we do well better than they do."
You will play Game 1 at home. Does it make much difference in terms of how to approach the series?
"I think that the key is just to win by as many points as you can and play the best you can in whatever game, first or second. It takes a little bit of pressure off instead going to the game thinking 'we must do this or do that'. You just have to go into the first game and just win, whether you are home or away."
You played the Eurocup with Spartak St. Petersburg five years ago. Has the competition changed a lot since your last appearance with Spartak?
"Bringing Euroleague teams makes it stronger, but there have always been strong teams in the competition. Last time around, we had Bilbao in our group, which was a really good team that year. I think it does make it stronger because those Euroleague teams, most of the time, are really competitive. A team like us, a really good team, which should have been in the Top 16, makes the competition better. Then you have teams like Lokomotiv and Khimki that are Euroleague-level teams and should be there, too."
Throughout the years, you have become an all-around player who can rebound, score and play defense. Everybody knows you as a great dunker, but how has experience helped you develop your game?
"Even when I was younger, when I was 16-17, people would see me dunking from the free throw line and that is what they look at, but I have always been a guy who plays multiple positions and does a lot of things. But that's what people look at; fans who don't really watch basketball, but see highlights. It was hard to develop all aspects of my game; I am getting older now, but I try to add something new to my game every year so that I can continue my career."
Unics is the only team to beat Madrid on the road in Euroleague action in two years. You guys just handed Lokomotiv Kuban its first loss in this Eurocup season. Do those wins make you believe you can beat anyone, anywhere?
"I think we are a very dangerous team and those two wins prove it, but also, we have to find the consistency to be that same team every time. That's the key, but we have the ability to beat anybody, anywhere. We just need to find the consistency to do it every time."
Of course, all four surviving teams are really close to winning the Eurocup. You won the EuroChallenge title with Reggio Emilia last season. What would it mean for you to go one step higher and win the Eurocup?
"It would be really big for me. It is a big goal. When I found out we were going to the Eurocup, it increased my will for winning the competition even more. Like you said, I won the EuroChallenge last year and I don't know how many people have won back-to-back cups like that. That's a goal of mine, to do that and next year, hopefully, win the Euroleague."