Sani Becirovic, Benetton Basket

Jan 23, 2012 by Frank Lawlor, Print
Sani Becirovic, Benetton Basket
Sani Becirovic - Benetton BasketA fixture on some of Europe's greatest clubs for more than a decade, Sani Becirovic has seen it all in basketball. As a teenager, he was already one of the Euroleague's top scorers, but lost a continental final the next year and saw his career stopped cold by a knee injury before making a long, hard personal comeback to lift the trophy in 2007 with Panathinaikos. This season, for the first since 2006, he is back in the Eurocup, coming off the bench to help Benetton Basket fight for survival in one tough group after the next. Among the things inspiring Becirovic, now 30, is the opportunity to play under a legendary guard from the generation before his, Benetton head coach Sasha Djordjevic. "It's not easy to find people who can still teach you a lot at my age or this stage of my career," Becirovic told "When I was growing up, Sasha was like an icon to me. It's a great honor just to play for him. I am pleased to know that in every second of every game, he can give a crucial tip or some advice that can be decisive."

Hello Sani. First, tell us about this new part of your career with Benetton Treviso...

"It was an initiative by Sasha. We met this summer and he said, 'I really want you to come to Treviso and help me out.' The club was in kind of a difficult spot, and basically he asked me - not for a favor - but he showed me the respect to say, 'I can't give you big money, but I can give you a lot of other things.' And he has kept his end of the bargain. I came here and found a great organization. Everyone is positive and Sasha is doing a good job with our team. I feel that I made the right decision after two years of changing teams a lot. I think I finally found a place where I can stay for a longer period. It's close to home, of course, in Ljubljana. And since my daughter started school, she doesn't like too many changes. So here we are close enough to home and family that it makes a difference."

You played in the Eurocup once before. How do you like it this time around?

"I found that this competition has improved a lot since I played in it for Varese about seven years ago. You can tell the teams are much, much stronger now, even in first phase. Our group was a real killer, and we were lucky to be in the right shape at the right time, and able to win some important games. Then if you look at the teams in the Last 16 groups playing now, you can pick some that could play in the Euroleague and be important teams. So I am quite happy with the quality of the Eurocup."

Congratulations on beating Alba in the Last 16 opener. How hard was to beat such a great team for starters?

"For us, it was a very important win. We want to stay in this competition as long as we can. We know Alba is a good team, with a physical, one-on-one team. They have that kind of one-on-one talent. Buyt we did a pretty good job, got the win and bettered our chances going forward."

Your other opponents in this group are Lietuvos Rytas and Lokomotiv Kuban. What do you think about them and how tough do you find this Last 16 group?

Sani Becirovic - Benetton Basket"Yeah, it looks like in the Eurocup, we can't get an easy group. Both of those teams are big and deep, which common for Russian and Lithuanian teams. Kuban has more talent on the floor at the same time than a lot of teams. On the other hand, Lietuvos Rytas depends a lot on its point guard. They are really, really tough teams that we will have a difficult time against. Both have great coaches, too, so I am kind of looking forward to competing with them. We are the underdog in all these matchups, so I just want us to go fight and do our best."

Benetton recently signed Marcus Goree, Jobey Thomas, Ben Ortner and Jeff Viggiano. How can they help the team from now on?

"Well, we had lost some of our starters. Alessandro Gentile to Milano, two guys to the NBA. So it was tough for us, honestly. We had to basically start the season all over in the middle, most crucial part of the season. But we didn't give up. We were working hard, knowing that sooner or later our new guys would fit in and give us their best. Right now, we're on the rise after two important wins in the Italian League before we beat Alba. We can say that things are starting to fall into place again here at Benetton."

How special is to be coached by a basketball legend like Sasha Djordjevic?

"It's not easy to find people who can still teach you a lot at my age or this stage of my career. When I was growing up, Sasha was like an icon to me. It's a great honor just to play for him. I am pleased to know that in every second of every game, he can give a crucial tip or some advice that can be decisive. It's fun to play for him. We all know what he did in the past, and he never shows it, but at the same time he helps me and all the team with his advice. A young team like ours needs a leader like that, with great experience."

Benetton made it to the Eurocup Finals last season. What would be a good result for your team in the 2011-12 Eurocup?

"We're going step by step. At the beginning, no one knew what the goal was, so we said: ´Let's give it our best and see how far we can make it.' Now, we're still sticking to the same mentality. Every game is a final for us, so we want to give our best and hope to make it as far as we can, to the end. It's a special situation here. Many things are uncertain. All they ask from us is this: to give our best and see where it gets us. I hoping and wishing that this team can go further than anyone expected."