Miljan Pavkovic, Hemofarm Stada

Jan 24, 2011 by Aca Ostojic, Belgrade Print
Miljan Pavkovic, Hemofarm Stada
Miljan Pavkovic - Hemofarm StadaAs has been the case many times previously in the Eurocup, there is a buzz this season surrounding Hemofarm Stada. It survived some drama late in the regular season as well as the loss of its leading scorer and rebounder just to advance to the Last 16 in the final seconds. Then it started the new stage by earning one of just two double-digit wins in Week 1 of the Last 16. Perhaps the one man who bears most responsibility for Hemofarm’s is playmaker Miljan Pavkovic. Though you won’t see all that he does in the box score, Pavkovic is Hemofarm’s leader on the floor and off it. After he missed most of last season battling mononucleosis, Pavkovic has been dealing with an injury to his right shoulder this season. That has not stopped him from handling the ball and making clutch shots for his team when they needed him most. Now in his fourth season with Hemofarm, Pavkovic knows what is needed to win big games – he played on the 2008-09 squad that reached the semifinals at the Final Eight in Turin, Italy – but he also has the experience to understand how this team needs to move forward, as he explained in this interview. "This season, Hemofarm did not mark any goals, like we have in the past, to reach the quarterfinals," Pavkovic said. "Instead, all the players set a goal to go step by step to the Last 16. Now, our ambitions have increased and we want to reach the quarterfinals and I hope that we can do that. It will not be easy, because we are part of a very tough group, but we will fight hard as long as the chance exists."

Hi Miljan. First, congratulations on stopping Cedevita. What did you do so well to beat such a dangerous team?

"Thanks for your congratulations. We managed to beat Cedevita, first of all, by playing clever on offense and aggressive on defense. We did good scouting and we knew it was important to limit their most dangerous weapons, Edwards and Draper. We managed to do that even though we had been weakened under the boards because our big men Milivoje Bozovic and Ivan Maras were injured. Still, we managed to outrebound Cedevita convincingly, 47 to 24, and that was key for our win. I am sure we will have to play a much tougher game against them in Zagreb, because Cedevita is a real quality team."

Hemofarms' regular season ended with an overtime win against Besiktas Cola Turka and a one-point loss against Asvel Basket. You played a big role with free throws made and even missed one on purpose to run the clock down. What was that like?

"Of course I prefer to remember our wins. First, we beat Besiktas Cola Turka at home in a beautiful atmosphere. That game was extremely important for our Eurocup future this season. Our fans gave me extra force and concentration to score from the foul line. Usually I try to forget all emotions and concentrate on the ball and the basket. I have to admit that sometimes it is harder to miss one free throw than to make two for a win. That's what happened against Asvel. I will remember that moment, for sure, because I wanted to miss the first from the line to avoid overtime, because a loss by less than 4 points put us in the Eurocup Last 16. I shot at the left angle of the backboard and the ball hopped several times before it went out. After that I was so scared to shoot another, but I was lucky to miss again."

Your Last 16 group also features two tough teams in Unics Kazan and Gran Canaria 2014. What do you think about this group and what do you need to do to reach the Quarterfinals?

"Our group is very tough one. I think the toughest in our side of the bracket. The other teams are more experienced than we are, first of all Unics. Their roster is full of stars that played in the Euroleague before. Gran Canaria has showed it is a quality team and much better at home. They already proved it by beating Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Spanish League. This week, we have to face Gran Canaria in Las Palmas, and I expect a nice and dramatic game. I am sure it will be a battle for one of the two top places in our group that lead to the quarterfinals. I suppose that all teams plan to win all their home games and to get at least one road win. Hemofarm will try that, too."

Hemofarm has been to three Eurocup semifinals since 2004, giving it one of the richest traditions in the competition. How important is the Eurocup for you and your team?

"The Eurocup is so important to all of us because this is the competition where we can show how worthy we are and where we are compared to everyone in European basketball, what we can do and what kind of progress we have made. I think the Eurocup competition is the strongest this season, at least as I see it following and playing in it. It would be a real success if Hemofarm reaches the quarterfinals."

After Milan Macvan left recently for Maccabi Tel Aviv, how did you guys adjust and stay fully competitive?

"It is evident that we miss Macvan a lot in our rotation. We managed to compensate in Eurocup games so far, but it was obvious in Adriatic League games how important a part of our team he was. We had to change a lot in our game because he was the leader and most important player on our team. Macvan took responsibility in crunch time. Now, we must play much faster and spend a lot more energy because the pressure is on our big men. But in some games they showed they know how to play and I have to give them my compliments."

You seem to have a bigger role every year, especially this season. What has coach Zeljko Lukajic asked of you this year?

"My position is playmaker. It is a position of such responsibility in any team, maybe the most important one in terms of team play. So it is normal that Coach Lukajic wants me as a coach on a floor. Generally I am satisfied how it has worked out so far, but it could be even better. After the seven months that I was sidelined last season, I am day-by-day getting back in my old shape and I expect that I am going to play better to finish the season."

At the 2009 Eurocup Final Eight in Turin, Hemofarm knocked off mighty Dynamo Moscow and came close to downing eventual champ Lietuvos Rytas. How was that experience for you, personally?

Miljan Pavkovic - Hemofarm Stada"When someone mentions Turin, fond memories wake up in me. We were youngest team in the competition, but we managed to fight for our place in the Final Eight and to beat Dynamo Moscow, who was the big favorite. I have to say it was unexpected. In the semis, we lost to Lietuvos Rytas, which later won the Eurocup. They were celebrating as we were feeling regret because we had been so close to beating them. But we have to be proud of our performance at the Final Eight. I think we presented our country at a high level."

Hemofarm signed Mladen Jeremic for the Last 16. How can he make the team better?

"Sure he is able to help us a lot. Jeremic is an outstanding player and a great shooter. We needed a player like him and so it is good he decided to became part of our team. Not only for this season but for three-and-a-half years. I think he is a quality long-term investment. He needed little time to become part of our team and to fit to our style of play even though he did not play games for six months. Our club management made a real good deal signing Mladen Jeremic."

This is your fourth consecutive Eurocup season. What do you like most about the competition?

"It is huge difference between the Eurocup and, for example, Adriatic League games. In the Eurocup, all teams play much more firm and aggressive on defense. Personally, I like it a lot. Playing in the Eurocup, we became stronger and tougher, so that later it was a much easier job for us when we played in the Adriatic and Serbian leagues, especially against teams that do not compete in the Eurocup or the Euroleague. And we cannot forget that the Eurocup gives you an opportunity to reach the Euroleague if you win the competition. For sure, Hemofarm has ambitions to play in the Euroleague. This season, we missed our chance in qualification round, unfortunately."

Now, however, Hemofarm is in a good position to battle again for the quarterfinals. Your club is used to beating the expectations against the biggest clubs. What ambitions does Hemofarm have in this Eurocup season?

"This season, Hemofarm did not mark any goals, like we have in the past, to reach the quarterfinals. Instead, all the players set a goal to go step by step to the Last 16. Now, our ambitions have increased and we want to reach the quarterfinals and I hope that we can do that. It will not be easy, because we are part of a very tough group, but we will fight hard as long as the chance exists."