Unicaja Malaga is one of the hottest teams in the 7DAYS EuroCup after reeling off four straight wins to reach the midway point of the regular season with a 4-1 record and a share of first place in Group D. Combo guard Jaime Fernandez is one of the team's newcomers and has been one of its top contributors. Fernandez showed that in Unicaja's 104-105 road win against Fiat Turin, in which he scored the game-winning basket - a 'bomba', in the style of one of his basketball idols, Euroleague Basketball legend Juan Carlos Navarro - and a defensive stop that helped his team to put the victory on ice. Fernandez is averaging 13.2 points on 46.2% three-point shooting and 4.6 assists for an average performance index rating of 15. He now hopes to lead Unicaja to a win against Rytas Vilnius, the only team that has beaten the Spanish powerhouse so far in the EuroCup this season. "All games are important but in this case, they beat us before and we don't want to be an easy-to-beat team. We want to beat all of our opponents in this group," Fernandez told EuroCupBasketball.com. "We have to compete in every game and try to win them."
Hello, Jaime. Congratulations on a great start to the season - four wins and a solid team performance. What has allowed you to play so well right away, with so many new players on the team?
"Thank you. Well, truth to be told, things are going well for us. We believe in our coach's basketball. He is a very demanding coach and even when we are winning, he asks us to play at the maximum level. We have been comfortable playing at home and also had good games on the road. I am happy with the wins that we had until now, but we have to carry on. The season has just started."
Unicaja won by one point in Turin and you scored the last basket of the game and had a decisive critical stop, too. What do you remember about it?
"We want to beat all of our opponents in this group. We have to compete in every game and try to win."
"It was the play Luis [Casimiro] drew up in the timeout. I got the ball from Carlos [Suarez] and made a move that comes natural, one that it is totally integrated into my game. After that, I was able to finish it with a 'bomba' that went in. And then on defense, I used my intuition, touched the ball and it was enough to stop him [Tony Carr] from shooting. I helped the team win with two actions that I usually do and that were the right ones."
Unicaja is on a four-game winning streak after losing in Round 1 against Rytas. Was that game a wake-up call?
"That first game was a little bit unusual for everyone and we may not have taken the court with the energy that we were supposed to have in such a competitive competition such as the EuroCup. In the end, you can beat anyone, but also lose to anyone, and you always have to respect your opponent. As you said, it was a wake-up call to give 100% and play with energy, which is what we need to win."
You will face Rytas again this week. Is there a special motivation because of the loss, or is playing at home enough motivation already?
"A little bit of both. It is already a big motivation to play at Martin Carpena, but at the same time, after losing against them, it is a matter of pride, too. All games are important, but in this case, they beat us before and we don't want to be an easy-to-beat team. We want to beat all of our opponents in this group. We have to compete in every game and try to win them."
You have been playing outstanding lately, with great self-confidence. What has been the cause of you playing so well so far?
"I don't know, things are going well for me. I always believed in my hard work and I am more experienced now. I am calmer when it comes to basketball. I reached a good level of maturity and things are working out. I am also able to help my team in other aspects, like defense, when my shots don't go in as often as they have been now. I am doing well on offense, but want to carry on giving my team energy on defense. I want to keep doing this right."
After growing up in Madrid, do you think that the year you spent in Andorra changed your career for the best, making you a better basketball professional and seeing things in a different way?
"Without any doubt, my year in Andorra was critical and I got a lot out of it. I became more mature by living alone, away from my city, and focused exclusively on basketball. I had to leave my comfort zone in Madrid; I felt good, very comfortable, but I wanted more. I wanted to keep growing and experience what I am experiencing right now, you know? It was a very good move for me, very positive. It was not easy, especially in the beginning, but I went to work and the effort paid off."
You always said that Juan Carlos Navarro was your basketball hero. He recently retired from the game of basketball. How has he influenced your game over the years?
"Yes, Navarro was a basketball idol for me. I always watched his games and he is a player that made me enjoy basketball. I am proud that not only did I watch him play, but also had the chance to play against him, too. I studied his moves a lot and after watching so many of his games, I copied a lot of his moves. He is a one-of-a-kind player who gave me a lot as a basketball player. I wish him all the best in this new stage of his professional career."
We are halfway through the regular season. Other than Unicaja, what teams do you see as the top candidates to go far in the competition?
"No matter what score you just got, the next day is the most important day of the season. The next game is more important than the previous one."
"It is a tough question because everything can change in the playoffs. Even with that, it is true that there are many strong teams in the EuroCup this season like Lokomotiv Kuban, ALBA Berlin, UNICS Kazan, Valencia Basket... Any team can reach the playoffs and find the right rhythm. Anything can happen in sports."
Unicaja is the biggest club you have played for in your career, a EuroCup champion used to competing for titles. How do you like the extra pressure - and the extra responsibility?
"It is true that by growing as a player, I arrived at a big, demanding club, but I keep it cool. I am aware that the team has big challenges every season, but that doesn't change anything for me. I have to keep working hard every day, playing and enjoying basketball. I don't feel any pressure."
Unicaja won the EuroCup in 2017. What needs to be done to be able to win it again?
"The only key here is going step by step. We have to survive the regular season, then go past the Top 16 and reach the playoffs. We have to do a lot of things right to make it happen, but above all, we need continuous work. We have to stay focused during this long season, in which we will have tough times. This is why Luis insists on giving 100% every day and this is what we need to do all season long. No matter what score you just got, the next day is the most important day of the season. The next game is more important than the previous one. We have to be focused to reach the decisive moments in the best shape possible."