Few players in European basketball manage to last for two full decades, but Nikos Zisis is one of them – and what a career he has had! Zisis won the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title with CSKA Moscow, reached three more Final Fours with the Russian powerhouse, Montepaschi Siena and Fenerbahce Istanbul, and made it to the 7DAYS EuroCup finals twice – with Bilbao Basket in 2013 and UNICS Kazan in 2014. A domestic league champion in four different countries, Zisis also had the opportunity to play for coaching genius such as Zeljko Obradovic, David Blatt, Dusan Ivkovic and Ettore Messina, among others. Most recently, Brose Bamberg retired his jersey barely a few weeks ago. Zisis sees the end of his career in the horizon but still can play an important role for Joventut Badalona, on and off the court, offering his great experience and mentoring some of the young point guards in his new team. "I was 11 when Corny Thompson hit that famous shot in that incredible EuroLeague final against Olympiacos," Zisis told EuroCupBasketball.com. "And now, 25 years later, I am most likely about to finish my career in this historical club that won so many titles and is already coming back after a great last season."
Hello, Nikos. You are back to Spain, and back to the 7DAYS EuroCup with Joventut Badalona. How does it feel?
"Obviously, I am very happy to have the opportunity to 99.9% finish my career in Spain, and also to play in the EuroCup. I played the EuroCup twice and it was a good experience. Last time I played the EuroCup was five years ago. The competition has grown and it is very, very tough. For the first time this season, two teams may qualify to the EuroLeague, which says a lot about how the EuroLeague wants to give more and more importance to the EuroCup. So for me, all this combined, made my decision easy to come to Spain and play in a really young team which is happy to be back in European competitions after some years. It is going to be exciting for me, being around many young guys with huge room of improvement and finish my career here. Like I said, I am 99.9% sure this will be my last team."
Joventut is a EuroLeague and EuroCup champion. How much of a challenge is it to help the team get to where it was before?
"I was 11 when Corny Thompson hit that famous shot in that incredible EuroLeague final against Olympiacos. I am aware that he was not a pure shooter. I remember it very well. I was watching all the big games and all the Final Fours in those years, as a young kid in Greece. And now, 25 years later, I am most likely about to finish my career in this historical club that won so many titles and is already coming back after a great last season. Joventut is trying to gain respect and have stability in the higher ranking of Spanish basketball and Europan competitions. Like I said, when this opportunity came, I knew this is what you wanted to do at this stage of my career."
"I am the kind of person that I don't want to just talk to them, but to lead by example, too."
Joventut has two young, talented point guards, Neno Dimitrijevic and Arturs Zagars. Do you feel like their mentor in this team?
"Exactly right. First of all, Coach Duran thought I was the right player to sign because I gained a big experience over the years. I am the kind of person that I don't want to just talk to them, but to lead by example, too. I want to try to give my best, practice as hard as possible, and tell them what it takes to be a good professional player. Both of them have very big potential and room for improvement. Neno is 21 years old and Arturs 19, and I remember very well how I was at that time – willing to learn many new things every day. I believe that both of them can be great players, even when they have different styles. I would be very happy if they get better and hope I can help them develop."
This is your 20th season as a professional basketball player. Did you have time to look back and see what you achieved?
"I am aware it is my 20th season and this is about to end, but I am not looking back. I want to try to give whatever I have to this team this year and when the end comes, I will go back and think about what I did. I played abroad for 15 years, for many different EuroLeague and EuroCup big teams. It was a big journey, and I also played in a big team like AEK, especially at that time, for five years. Now, they are trying to come back, too, as a big team in Greece. I am aware that the journey has been very, very long but I also want to focus on tomorrow, on what I have to do as a Joventut player to try to help the team win as much as possible. When the journey finishes, I will take my time, look back and feel that I was really blessed to live all those good moments."
How difficult is regular season group with UNICS, Cedevita Olimpija, Brescia, Nanterre and Darussafaka?
"The group is tough but I believe all EuroCup Regular Season groups are difficult. I played the 2012-13 season with Bilbao Basket and the following year with UNICS, and my personal opinion is that the league has grown a lot. Some years ago, the big teams would not be challenged in the regular season but now, every team must give a big fight in order to qualify to the Top 16. UNICS is the team to beat in our group, not only because they have the most expensive roster, but also because of its home-court advantage. It is practically impossible to beat UNICS in Kazan. They have an experienced team and the same coach for three years. They have many experienced players and are the big favorites in this group. And then all other teams have chances. Darussafaka doesn't have the same power it had two years ago when it won the EuroCup, but is definitely a team with quality. The same can be said about Ljubljana. Cedevita made the decision to go there and my teammate Klemen Prepelic is telling me a lot of good stuff about them. I expect to be competitive. Brescia has done well in the last two or three years, Nanterre was in the EuroLeague not so long ago... Every team will have its chances and from my experience, you will need to win all of your home games and get as many road wins as possible to give yourself a good chance to advance."
"One or two teams [always] come out of the blue and find great chemistry. Those Cinderella teams always surprise people, every single year."
You had two solid EuroCup seasons but ended up losing in the finals. You must have bittersweet memories in this competition, right?
"Yes, for me, it has been bittersweet. When you go to a final of such a strong competition, it is always big. It is something you don't take for granted and you go a long way to arrive there. When I played for UNICS, we played 24 games to arrive to the final. It is a long way to go, especially having to travel long distances from Kazan. It was also big for Bilbao to be in the final. Again, you don't take it for granted and it was the club's only European final until now. We made it to the final beating teams like Valencia, Ulm or Budivelnik, led by Malcolm Delaney. We had solid campaigns but when you arrive to the finals, close to the finish line, you want to win. We didn't, and that was tough. It was kind of funny that I played a single-game final with Bilbao and a two-way final with UNICS. The 2013 final was a single-game against Lokomotiv in Charleroi and their big guys killed us – Aleks Maric and Richard Hendrix, who was the Final MVP. The next year, UNICS faced Valencia in the final. We had beaten them twice in the Top 16 and had the home-court advantage in the series, but Valencia was just in incredible form. At that time, they had the playing level of a EuroLeague Final Four team. They played excellent, especially Justin Doellman. In the end, both finals went to the team that deserved it the most."
You played with many good shooters in your career -- Trajan Langdon, Andrew Goudelock, Bogdan Bogdanovic... Where does Klemen Prepelic stand in this list?
"Obviously, the three you mentioned are legends, basically. Bogdan is younger but he is a top, too player, and I believe he will soon play the NBA All-Star Game. I knew Klemen as an opponent but after five or six weeks of working with him, I can see clearly the kind of potential he has, not only as a shooter. He has a lot of talent and has many ways to hurt his opponents. I believe it is a great opportunity for him because, in my opinion, he is our most talented player. We will count on him a lot and Klemen will be very important for our team's success."
Who do you see as the main candidates to win the EuroCup this season?
"I think it is clear who are the, let's say, biggest favorites. Virtus Bologna signed Milos Teodosic and I think it is big for the competition to have a player like him. It is clear that he is the biggest star in the competition. Virtus has very high goals and a very strong roster. I am sure they want to try to become a very good team, and have all the ingredients to do it and go back to the EuroLeague. There's also Lokomotiv Kuban, with head coach Luca Banchi. They will be very strong, just like UNICS. These three are the strongest teams but, of course, we all know there will be many good teams in the competition. For instance, MoraBanc Andorra played great last year and went to the semifinals. Partizan is very well-coached and will try to do better. And teams like Tofas or Reyer, the Italian League champion, will also be strong. Unicaja is always a very strong EuroCup team, traditionally. Right now, it looks like there are seven or eight teams able to win the EuroCup, but by experience, every year, one or two teams always come out of the blue and find great chemistry. Those Cinderella teams always surprise people, every single year."