Anything can happen in Group C, with three teams – Turk Telekom Ankara, Zenit St Petersburg and Partizan NIS Belgrade – are fighting for two available spots in the Top 16. The key game is expected to place in the Serbian capital, where Partizan faces Turk Telekom on Wednesday. It will be a special game for Turk Telekom center Vladimir Stimac, who returns to his hometown to play a critical game. Stimac is posting career-best numbers this season, averaging 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in nine 7DAYS EuroCup games until now. He is tied for third place in performance index rating at 19.1 per game, too. Stimac has returned to the competition after a three-season absence and arrives to this game on great form, having had 20 points and 10 rebounds against Dolomiti Energia Trento in Round 9. Stimac believes that experience can make the difference in this critical, do-or-die showdown, as he told EuroCupbasketball.com. "Most of us played a lot of games like this during our careers, and are now focused on beating Partizan," Stimac said. "We are ready. Either you perform or you don't, but I am sure my teammates are ready for this game."
Vlado, congratulations on the important win against Trento. How different are these do-or-die games compared to regular ones?
"Thank you. Well, first of all, if we didn't win that game, we wouldn't have any chance to qualify to the Top 16. We played sloppy in the first half but did really well in the fourth quarter and won the game, which was really important for us. As far as high-pressure games, we have really experienced guys with long professional careers so this is not a problem for us. Most of us played a lot of games like this during our careers, and are now focused on beating Partizan. We are ready. Either you perform or you don't, but I am sure my teammates are ready for this game."
You had 20 points and 10 rebounds against Trento. Was using your size advantage part of the game plan?
"Actually, we sometimes go inside like we did in this game, but we also have really good outside players like [Sylven]Landebserg and [Reggie] Redding. We have a compact team, also with Turkish players with huge experience like Kaya Peker and Ender Arslan, and a player like T.J. Campbell, who has been here for a long time. We are a good team with good players, fighters. The group of guys is great here. Everybody works hard. We had some problems in the beginning because we were a new team and had to adjust, but so far we are doing well."
"I love to play in Belgrade. It is going to be a great challenge."
This is your first 7DAYS EuroCup season in four years. How did the competition change during all this time?
"It got better; the playing level is higher. Of course, the EuroLeague is the highest level in Europe and there is no other league close to that, but the EuroCup is really tough with a lot of teams that are playing well and even a team like ASVEL, with a guaranteed spot in the EuroLeague next season. At the same time, I believe we are in the strongest group in the competition, with Valencia, ASVEL and Zenit. To me, it is clearly the strongest regular season group."
You have played under the new EuroLeague format. Going down to 16 EuroLeague teams was also good for the EuroCup, don't you think?
"Yes, definitely. Don't get me wrong, I love the EuroCup the way it is, but I would also consider having the same format as in the EuroLeague. It would be better for all teams to play more games. For instance, the eight teams that will not advance to the Top 16 will be out of European competitions, playing one game a week for the rest of the year. I believe that every player prefers to play two games a week. Of course, the EuroLeague knows what they are doing and what is best for the EuroCup, but maybe that format would be more fun. Some people will agree, some won't, but that is just my opinion."
Let's talk about you a little bit. You are posting career-best numbers in Turk Telekom. How comfortable do you feel in Ankara?
"I feel great. There are so many good players on this team that everyone draws attention and things are easier for me. I believe that Sylven is the best scorer in the EuroCup and opponents pay a lot of attention on him. Reggie has been huge for us, especially in the last couple of games. T.J. Campbell is playing really well and the team doesn't depend on just one or two players. Anyone can play well and that makes us more unpredictable, in a good way, because anybody can step up."
You played with many great scorers. Where does Sylven Landesberg rank among them?
"He is sitting right here, next to me! I can say I have not played with such great scorer in a long time, and I am not saying this because he is right there! He is doing great and I hope he continues like this. It is good to have someone like that because he draws so much attention from the opponents' defense. And if they double-team, I am there to get the offensive rebound! He has been huge for us. He had 24 points against Trento."
We have to talk about the game against Partizan. It is another do-or-die game, in Belgrade. How much motivation is it to play in your hometown?
"I love to play in Belgrade. Like you said, it is my hometown. It is going to be a great challenge not just for me, but for the whole team, for sure. It is important to keep in mind that we are an experienced team. But for me, it is always great to play in Belgrade and I hope we can get the win and qualify to the Top 16, that's all. It is win or go home for both teams, and we will be ready to give our best."
What needs to be done to beat Partizan? How different is it to play against them under these circumstances?
"It doesn't really make any difference because you always play a game to win it, nothing else. Every time we step on the court, no matter where it is, we must think about beating the opponent in front of us. We have to play tough and aggressive on defense, and make the most out of our bigger experience."
"Games like this is the reason why you work so hard during the season."
For a competitor. How great is it to play such a critical game in December?
"Well, games like this is the reason why you work so hard during the season. Every competitor wants to be in this kind of games and give his best. Nothing comes easy for any team in this competition, so it is normal. Anyone playing the EuroCup has to be ready to play several critical games during the season."
How important would it be for the club, the city and yourself to make it to the Top 16?
"It is very important for the club and for everybody here, not just me. We have been working hard lately and are now focused on beating Partizan. This is a very important game for us, but nobody is putting extra pressure on us. We will give our best. Turk Telekom is a historical club back in Europe and we all know it. Like I said, we have a lot of experienced players. We know what needs to be done and will do our best to do it in Belgrade."