After a 0-2 start in Group E of the 7DAYS EuroCup Top 16, Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas has bounced back in style by winning its next two games against UCAM Murcia to keep its playoffs chances alive. Gran Canaria rolled in regular season action and has already overcome its first critical situation, but still needs to punch its ticket to the next round. No one in Gran Canaria knows what it is to be successful in the EuroCup better than big man Richard Hendrix, who lifted the trophy with Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in 2013 and earned title game MVP honors. Hendrix comes off an injury-troubled season and is showing the best version of himself in the Top 16 with averages of 10.5 points on 68.2% two-point shooting, 4 rebounds and 1.8 steals in four so far. He ranks second in performance index per 40 minutes (32.7) in the Top 16. Hendrix now returns to Krasnodar as a visitor after three years with Lokomotiv, where he became a fan favorite. He is looking forward to it and wants to take Gran Canaria to the EuroCup playoffs as soon as possible, as he told Javier Gancedo of EuroCupbaskeball.com in this interview. "It is a special place for me. Their fans are great; I feel they are the best fans in Russia. For me, I felt like Lokomotiv was a hidden jewel in European basketball," Hendrix said. "I enjoyed every bit of my time there. It is going to be a good homecoming; hopefully we can come out with a win!"
Hello, Richard. First of all, congratulations on the big win in Murcia, in a pivotal game for you. What allowed you to have such strong start and get this key win?
"For me, personally, it was very important to come out with a sense of urgency. I have been in the EuroCup for a couple of years and had a lot of success, and I know we have a really good team. With such a talented team like this is, it would be a shame if we don't have the chance to try to compete for the title. We had our backs against the wall and dug ourselves a little hole, but it was important for me to be focused, to lay it all on the line in that game."
Like you said, you were 0-2 at the start of the Top 16. How important was it to keep your cool and keep playing like you did?
"You have to be focused. I think we have a really good team with a lot of potential, who has been there before, which I think it is important. I always have the mentality that if we are still mathematically in the mix, if we have a chance, then I am going to give all I have to try to help the team advance. Our job is not done yet, but we are now 2-2 and have a little breathing room. We have to keep working to try to advance to the next round."
Gran Canaria is the top scoring team in the competition. How much fun is it to play for this team?
"Well, you know, like I said, we have a talented team and it is a lot of fun. We have a great group of guys. For me, coming off a season last year that didn't go well - I had a foot injury last January and it has been a struggle for me to find my form, even last season when I joined Maccabi. It is starting to be really good to finally be healthy and be the old Richard that I know I can be, because I think I can make a difference on this team, playing with such good, talented players."
You are posting better number in the Top 16. Is it the EuroCup knowledge you have, or did you need some time to adjust?
"No, I don't think it is related to the team or anything. Honestly, like I said, it was very frustrating to hurt my foot last season. I have been fortunate in my entire career to be very healthy, but for the first time, I had something that bothered me, that lingered for a while. You can feel the frustration, basically playing on one leg, while you can't do what you need to do. That is the key and it is not a matter of getting used to anything, because at this point in my career, I think I am used to every situation."
You recently signed Ryan Hollins. How is he helping you and what can you say about him?
"He is a very good athlete and definitely has great size. It gives us a factor of intimidation up on the boards. He also gives us a vertical threat to finish plays. He is obviously a talented player with a lot of experience, particularly in the NBA. It is always a good thing to have another body on your roster to help bolster things."
How much of an inspiration is it to play with Kyle Kuric?
"Kyle is actually my roommate! I follow them a lot last season and watched him play, but this is something we never, ever had a conversation about. So for me, I don't really think about his story because I am just so impressed with how good of a player he is! I don't really look at him and think 'wow, this guy is doing a great job despite what he went through,' because he is doing a great job, period. He is probably one of the best shooters in the competition and one of the best in Europe, and he might not get credit for that. He brings it every night; he can stretch the floor for us and is a threat every time he touches the ball. It is great to have a weapon like that on the court - and definitely, his story, overcoming when he did, is definitely an inspiration."
You won the EuroCup with Lokomotiv Kuban in 2013 and earned MVP honors in the final. How important was that game in your career?
"It was a very important game for me, because in my first year in the EuroLeague with Maccabi, we reached the final [in 2011] and I did not have a good performance. I told myself that if I ever had a chance to play for a European championship ever again, at whatever level, I would make sure and guarantee that I would play a great game, that I would be very focused and locked in at every single bit of a moment. I realized, after that season, that getting to play for a championship doesn't happen too often at all for some players throughout the entire careers. For me, to have a second chance in 2013 with Lokomotiv, I wouldn't let that one slip off my hands."
Gran Canaria travels to Krasnodar to face Lokomotiv. How special is it for you to go back there?
"I am looking forward to it. For me, I had three great years over there, in my career and in my life, personally. I made a lot of friends and had a lot of success. It is a special place for me. Their fans are great; I feel they are the best fans in Russia. For me, I felt like Lokomotiv was a hidden jewel in European basketball. I enjoyed every bit of my time there. It is going to be a good homecoming; hopefully we can come out with a win!"
After the loss against them in Gran Canaria, what needs to be improved to get a chance to beat Lokomotiv in Krasnodar?
"You know, it is definitely going to be a tough match. They are very talented and have a new coach and a new motivation. I think that is going to play a huge factor in what we are able to do. We have a new-found life about ourselves after starting out 0-2. Hopefully we can bounce back and give ourselves a chance in Krasnodar."
You already took a team to its first-ever continental trophy. Does that inspire you to try even harder to do it again with Gran Canaria?
"I hope so! I think Lokomotiv was a unique situation for me. At that particular time I was playing a pretty good role, helping them out with the organization and bringing - with other guys, not just me, but with other guys - Lokomotiv to the level that it is now in Europe. Hopefully in Gran Canaria, I can be part of the same type of movement."