Matt Nielsen, Eurocup Finals MVP

Apr 28, 2010 by Javier Gancedo, Print
Matt Nielsen, Eurocup Finals MVP
Matt Nielsen - Power Electronics ValenciaEven though a week has gone by, the taste of victory remains for Power Electronics Valencia, the freshly crowned Eurocup champion. One player who perhaps savors the achievement more than any other is big man Matt Nielsen, the Eurocup Finals MVP. The Australian native was the only Valencia player to have previously played in and lost a Eurocup final. He made sure that didn’t happen twice by anchoring his team in Vitoria. Nielsen was the second-best scorer in a high-scoring semifinal win over Panellinios Opap and then the top rebounder and leader of a record-setting defensive effort in the final. After taking a little bit of time to reflect, Nielsen spoke to about the celebrations, the games at the Eurocup finals and the feeling of being a champion. "As far as I can remember, it was the best defensive game I have ever been part of," Nielsen told of the title game against Alba Berlin. And he remains on cloud nine when talking about being a Eurocup champion. "There is nothing better that lifting a European trophy. The success of being a European champion is, for sure, the number one feeling. Whatever happens, will happen, but the cup is the important thing, definitely the best feeling."

First of all, congratulations once again for winning the Eurocup title. How have the celebrations been?

"It's been great. It's a funny feeling, because we were so happy on Monday, but at the same time it was a strange experience. It was really nice to go through the city, see all our fans, the mayor and all that... it was really something special."

Let's go back to the semifinal. You had to open the competition against a tough team in Panellinios and were seen as the favorite. How difficult was that?

"I think we knew that Panellinios was a very good team. They have a very good point guard in Rod Blakney. I had played against him and knew he was a very clever player. When you have someone like him running the team, with offensive players and talents like they had with Vougioukas and Devin Smith, we knew it would be a difficult game and prepared for it as much as we could. We understood that everyone thought we were favorites by a lot. We were never lost the focus we needed to go very high - or we would have been in trouble."

You broke offensive records in the first game and defensive ones in the final against Alba Berlin, allowing just 44 points. Is that versatility what helped you to win the title?

"That is a beautiful thing and the way we showed we are a true team. No matter how many players we have in this team, we all did a great job. In one night we showed our offensive talent and the next day we played unbelievable defense to win the title. That is something special that I will remember for a long time. It has been an important part of what we do as a team. We saw the way Alba played against Bilbao and understood they were a very well-oiled machine. We understood that, but there is one thing that I felt - in big games, people can get a bit nervous. You have to be focused in on defense. We were and took it to an unbelievable level. It was really good."

Matt Nielsen - Power Electronics ValenciaIt is very unusual to allow just 44 points in a European competition final - in fact, it happened only once before. Was it the best defensive game, as a team, in your career?

"Well, it would be very hard to say no. I think one of the best defensive games we played this season was against Barcelona. Holding such a great offensive team to just 59 points was phenomenal for us. But taking into account the game was in such a big stage and that we were able to show our defensive character, yes, I would say that as far as I can remember, it was the best defensive game I have ever been part of."

Of course, you have always been a special player for Power Electronics head coach Neven Spahija. He had you in Lietuvos Rytas and also in Valencia. Does winning the title make that player/coach relationship even better?

"I think so. We had a very good time when we were in Rytas. We had a good year. He left and brought me here last season right after he arrived in Valencia. It was a good gesture and shows that he really respects my game. It was a good opportunity for me to play for him again and I felt once again comfortable playing under his systems. I like the way he does things and obviously now and this season, I felt like I have really grown into his systems, understanding them better. At the same time, I think that when you win a championship, you have a special relationship with those people from that moment for the rest of your life. Whenever I see these boys again, we will have the good memories of these kinds of moments. That goes with the coaches, too - Neven, Pere, Chechu and all the guys."

Most of the main players on this team were already in Valencia last season. What made the difference from being a good team to winning the Eurocup in just one year?

"You know, it is always a different thing here and there. I wasn't here from the beginning, but I think that the preseason is very important to build a team's character and start together. I knew right from the beginning that we had a great group of guys. Myself, Marko, Rafa, Ivan, Jose Simeon... We all lived next door and you realized it was a good bunch of guys and we were all ready to work and have a good crack. From that moment, we just built on it. When the national team players came back, they fit in perfectly. Starting from the beginning, we all were ready to work and enjoyed what we were doing."

Matt Nielsen - Power Electronics ValenciaYou were the only Valencia player that had been to a Eurocup final before, losing against Real Madrid in 2007. Did you use it as an extra motivation to win the title?

"I didn't use it to motivate anyone else but myself. I knew the way I felt when I lost the final in the exact same situation - and I felt very bad. You get to relive the game, think about what you didn't do well and should have done, all that stuff, for a long time. I didn't want to feel that. As an Australian boy, I don't get many chances to lift a European trophy. I didn't want to let this chance to go past again. My personal motivation was a strong factor for me."

What do you treasure more, winning the Eurocup title, allowing your team to get the chance to play the 2010-11 Euroleague or a combination of both?

"The Euroleague is great. I love the Euroleague and playing in European competitions. And to play in the top one is obviously great... but there is nothing better that lifting a European trophy. The success of being a European champion is, for sure, the number one feeling. Whatever happens, will happen, but the cup is the important thing, definitely the best feeling."