No other 7DAYS EuroCup team has won more this season than UNICS Kazan's 11 victories in 13 games. A couple of home wins have put UNICS in a comfortable position to return to the EuroCup Playoffs through Top 16 Group H. The Russian powerhouse comes off a 105-70 blowout triumph over Cedevita Zagreb in which five players scored in double digits. One was shooting guard Jamar Smith, who had 19 points and a career-high 10 assists for his first double-double in the competition. He hit 5 of 7 shots from downtown, but that was business as usual for Smith, one of the most consistent three-point shooters you will find at any level. Smith has now downed at least one three-point shot in 50 consecutive EuroCup games. He started his run against Zenit St. Petersburg on November 9, 2016. Between then and now, Smith helped Unicaja Malaga lift the 2017 EuroCup title and UNICS reach the playoffs last season. His amazing run has allowed Smith to tie for 11th all-time in three-point shots made, with 144. His accuracy is just as impressive, 42.2% from the arc for his EuroCup career. Smith now hopes to join a more exclusive list of players who won the EuroCup with different teams. Only 12 players did that in the past, and he would like to be the 13th. "We have a good chance to win and everybody's goal is to win the EuroCup by any means," Smith told EuroCupBasketball.com. "We don't care who is the star, who scores or anything like that. We just want to win the EuroCup so that UNICS can be in the EuroLeague the following season and get a taste of it."
Hello, Jamar. UNICS is coming off a great team win against Cedevita. How much of a good sign is this going forward?
"Yes, it is a really good sign. It was one of the first games that I feel like everybody scored pretty well. Everybody that played contributed and scored. If we want to win bigger games later on this season, it takes a team effort. You cannot just have a few guys scoring and everybody else not scoring that much. We have to keep sharing the ball the way we did in this last game and that can take us a lot further."
Speaking of sharing the ball, you had 10 assists against Cedevita, a new career-high, and your first double-double. Have you been working on passing the ball more, especially when double-teamed?
"My favorite memory was when the buzzer hit zero, man!"
"I just try to get my teammates involved and pass the ball in general. I don't think there is anything I focused on. I didn't say, 'OK, I am going to get 10 assists in this game'. If I am open, I am going to try to play one-on-one and score. I try to get two people to guard me, so that I can pass the ball to my teammates and get them involved. In this game, everybody was shooting and scoring right away, so I was able to get my first double-double in the EuroCup, which I think it is pretty cool, but it isn't really anything that I focused on before the game. I do watch a lot of film to see if I am making the right reads during games against different coverages. It makes me happy to see that I made a lot more correct releases than in previous games, and this is just by watching film and studying the game."
The good news for UNICS is that Raymar Morgan came back. He saw limited playing time but did really well. How important is he for you team?
"Oh, Raymar is super important for us. I think he is one of the best centers in the EuroCup. He can shoot from mid-range, post up, defend the pick-and-roll, pass on the double team... He can do a lot for us and we missed him in these last few games, especially when things get tough during a game. When we have three or four possessions without scoring from the perimeter, we always know we can run a play for Raymar and it will be two points, or he'll get fouled and get to the free throw line, or pass to the open guy. He is an all-around big man."
You have hit one three-point shot in 50 consecutive EuroCup games. Did you know about this milestone? How does it feel to be part of the competition's history?
"It is pretty dope, man! I didn't even think about it until a guy from EuroBasket told me at our game in Frankfurt. I was like, 'Man, why did you tell me that?' because normally, whenever someone tells you this, something bad happens, but it didn't. I am glad I was able to keep the streak going, and it kind of shows the player that I am – a shooter. I think it is pretty cool. I feel blessed and humble to have that record."
What does it take to be a great three-point shooter? How much do you practice in game conditions, shooting in movement or off screens?
"I do a lot of different things and play against myself a lot. I try to make records throughout the year, like how many shots I can make in a row. I shoot a lot of shots off the dribble, also catch and shoot... because just shooting stationery three-pointers, for me, isn't realistic. I never really get wide-open threes because all teams scout, so I don't really get left open. Most of my threes are coming off the dribble, or trying to come off screens and shoot. I work on that and try to make 20 in a row, 15, 10 in a row, and do different drills like that."
You will face Cedevita again this week, on the road in Zagreb this time. How different can this game be compared to the one in Kazan?
"They were missing some players last week and I think this next game will be different, for sure. They will play at home and will have a little bit more motivation. You are always more motivated when you play against a team that beat you recently. We just have to move the ball the way we did in our last game, defend and take care of their scoring guards, and I think we will have a good chance."
What is your take on the other two teams in this group? Andorra leads the standings and Zenit just signed one of your former coaches, Joan Plaza.
"Andorra is having a good run right now and I would be surprised if their level of play dropped. They are in a groove right now, after beating us at home and Zenit on the road. But I think this next game against Zenit will be really big and really important for them at home. Like you said, Zenit signed Coach Plaza and his attitude, the way he looks at the game, is going to help that team a lot. A never-give-up type attitude, always trying to outwork your opponents, and they way he uses his coaching staff, I am sure we will see more of his style in the way they play."
"I am a more complete player now."
What is your favorite memory of Game 3 of the 2017 EuroCup Finals, when you won the title with Unicaja?
"My favorite memory was when the buzzer hit zero, man! I just remember looking around and everybody was so happy! All the coaches, all the players, everybody! It was just a good feeling because we fought on the road the entire time. I think that a lot of people didn't expect us to win, mostly because we were the away team but we found a way thanks to Plaza's never-give-up attitude, fighting until the end. We could have easily given up when we were down 13 early in the fourth quarter, but we thought, 'Hey, we are here in Valencia and don't have anything to lose. We weren't even expected to win, so why not fight as hard we can?' We did that and luckily, they missed a lot of shots, too, but I think it was also due to our defense. We started playing a lot more physical on defense, making them turn the ball over. But yes, my favorite memory was taking a picture on their court with the trophy, with everybody having their medals around their necks. It was amazing, man."
This is your fifth EuroCup season. How much of a better player are you now than when you first played the EuroCup with Brose Bamberg back in 2014?
"Totally different! When I played in Bamberg, Coach Fleming did not allow me to even play pick-and-rolls at that time, just because it wasn't necessarily my strong point, it wasn't something that was really in my game. Like I said earlier, I watched a ton of film and it came from there, watching film and games, seeing where I was making the wrong read, where I could have made a better pass. I feel like I am a more complete player now. From then until now, I feel like I play with the ball a lot better, pick-and-roll, pass the ball a lot better and my efficiency is probably better. I just think I am a better all-around player than in my first year playing in the EuroCup until now."
They say that when you win a big title, it inspire you to do it again. Is that the same for you?
"Yes, that is my goal, also last year. I wrote it down this year, too. I really want to win the EuroCup again. One, for UNICS, for the club and for everything they have done for me and my family and bringing us here a second year. I have to play as hard as I can, and this is why they brought me here, to win titles. I really want to win a title for them and for my teammates. We have a good group of guys with a lot of experience. We have a good chance to win and everybody's goal is to win the EuroCup by any means. We don't care who is the star, who scores or anything like that, we just want to win the EuroCup so that UNICS can be in the EuroLeague the following season and get a taste of it."