A Turkish Airlines EuroLeague winner in 2014 and a veteran of seven seasons in Europe's premier competition with four different clubs, Alex Tyus switched gears over the summer when he signed with UNICS Kazan to compete in the 7DAYS EuroCup for the first time. The mobile center hit the ground running and ranked among the leaders in rebounding and blocks while helping his team win its regular-season group. Like every season, UNICS has big goals in the EuroCup and Tyus has the experience, leadership and presence in the paint needed to boost his team's chances. As UNICS heads into the heart of the Top 16 schedule, now was a perfect time for EuroCupbasketball.com to interview Tyus, not only due to his key role with his team, but also because he has been nominated for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague All-Decade team. Tyus spoke about that topic as well as how he feels in a new land. "Kazan is a nice city. It has really good restaurants. My daughter loves the school, my wife likes it here," Tyus said. "Those are the important things and if they're comfortable, basketball is a lot easier."
This is your first full season in the EuroCup. How do you find the level of competition?
"It's different for sure. The EuroLeague is the No. 1 league outside the NBA, but there's a lot of really good players in the EuroCup, a lot of really good teams. Teams have been trying to spend more money to get better, to win the EuroCup and be able to play in the EuroLeague. You can tell the difference for sure."
You joined a team that has many of its key players from last season back, yet you seemed you hit the ground running. How were you able to build chemistry on a new team so quickly?
"I think a lot of it has to do with how I play. I really don't need the ball in order to make an impact and I can do a lot of different things to help the team win. Some of the guys I knew of them and how they played before I got on the team. I also played with Errick McCollum in the past, so it wasn't that hard of an adjustment for me."
"We learned what our weaknesses were and we were able to work on them."
During the regular season, UNICS won five in a row and then lost three straight before bouncing back. Does the adversity you faced in that period make you a stronger team today?
"Oh yeah. Definitely. When you win, no matter how you win, a lot of times you don't really pay attention to the things that may be hurting you and can cause you to lose games. That happened to us during that three-game stretch. We learned what our weaknesses were and we were able to work on them and try and get better. So I think going forward in the EuroCup, that will help us do everything we need to win games. I think it was really beneficial to not win every game and not get confident and relaxed and make sure it doesn't happen again."
UNICS's next two games are at home. Between the travel, the weather and the fans, what is the home-court advantage like at Basket Hall?
"I think that the travel is a big part just because it's very difficult to get Kazan. You can't fly straight into Kazan. And the weather is cold; overnight last night it snowed. I'm pretty sure Monaco is getting in today [Monday]. And our fans, we have a pretty good crowd. They show up a little bit more in the EuroCup, but I think that we have three good factors that kind of help us going to the game and also while playing the game.
"The travel is something that we've kind of gotten used to. When teams come play us, they are not used to it so it can be a little bit of an advantage for us… I've played for teams where you pretty much leave the city on only one flight and [to get to Kazan] you're taking two flights or you're getting in almost the next day, almost at midnight or 11:30 are you back to Kazan. Traveling almost 24 hours is tough. And it really affects you the day or two days after because you don't get to sleep. But we've adjusted."
You have two games coming up against your former team, Galatasaray. Are you looking forward to playing in Istanbul again?
"Yes. I had a great time playing in Istanbul with Gala. They have great fan support. I had a fun time. And to go back to Istanbul, some of the fans still show me some love. That'll be a fun game to play in."
Which of the other teams in the EuroCup that you have played or seen on TV have impressed you the most so far?
"I think Partizan has a pretty good team. Their first game of the Top 16, they played really well. They have a great home-court advantage with their fans, their coach is a really good coach, I played for him at Cantu. So I know he'll have his guys ready. Obviously, Bologna has Teodosic and has a great roster. They're playing pretty solid. Malaga is always pretty good. They're looking like a team that can make it to the final four of the EuroCup. So there are some pretty good teams. I think that there is no real clear winner, but I think there are some teams that can make it to the final four."
Even though you grew up in the midwest United States, you went to college in Florida and have played much of your professional career in Israel. How are you adjusting to the Russian winter?
"Actually it's funny because everyone was telling me how cold it was going to be. But really when you think about it, unless you're an outside person, you're really not outside that much. So you don't really notice the weather too much except for when you're driving or always having to wear a big jacket. I've played always in places with nice weather, even going to college in Florida, so I was pretty nervous about the cold. But I have adjusted to it. It's not as bad as I thought it would be. Kazan is a nice city. It has really good restaurants. My daughter loves the school, my wife likes it here. At the end of the day, those are the important things and if they're comfortable, basketball is a lot easier and it'll be a happier life.
"I spoke to Errick McCollum [before I signed] and he pretty much told me how things were going to be... He basically told me that I was going to like it, but it was just going to be cold and if you can adjust to that, everything will be okay."
The team made a big midseason signing by bringing in Jordan Theodore. What does he add to the team?
"I think he was very much needed. He is a very good playmaker. He plays for others. I think we needed a guy because we have Jamar Smith and Errick McCollum, who are very good scorers, but we needed somebody to get into the paint and make the game easier. For me as well. Jordan is very good at getting to the basket, he can score, draw fouls and just make people double team him and make life easier for everybody else. I think that was a big key. He has a lot of experience; he's played in a lot of good teams."
"To get these guys to get their first championship will help their careers going forward."
You are a former EuroLeague champion as is Kostas Kaimakoglou and both Errick McCollum and Jamar Smith are former EuroCup champs. How important is that championship experience going forward as UNICS tries to make a deep run in this competition?
"I think it means a lot because to have that experience, having guys that know what it takes to win, it's always very important and I think that for the other guys, to try to lead by example and lead with our voice to get these guys to get their first championship will help their careers going forward."
You have been nominated for the EuroLeague All-Decade team, which honors the best players in the competition between 2010 and 2019. What does it mean to you to be included on that list?
"It means a lot. Just all the hard work that I put in as a player going back to when I was a kid and going through high school and college, not necessarily having my first dreams to play overseas. If I could have imagined that and predicted that, it would have been crazy. But just being able to play at a very high-level overseas and to be nominated on a list with a lot of other great players, players who played in the NBA, players who were legends in Europe, it means a lot. Whoever voted for me, I appreciate it."
If you had to choose your own all-decade team, who would you put on it?
"For sure guys like Spanoulis and Diamantidis, even though I didn't really play against those guys in the peaks of their careers, I played against them towards the end, but I heard so many great things about them and they won so many EuroLeague titles. Teodosic and De Colo, for sure, too. There's a lot of really good players. I could just keep naming guys.
"A lot of my teammates. Tyrese Rice. David Blu, who to me is the best four-man shooter in the EuroLeague during that time. Ricky Hickman. Big Sofo, who is a legend in Tel Aviv. I thought Ekpe Udoh was a great player. Vesely has been very good for a long time. Tomic, to just name some bigs. There's a lot of guys."