In one of the biggest surprises in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague this season, Buducnost VOLI Podgorica edged previously undefeated CSKA Moscow 93-92 in the Montenegrin capital last week. Buducnost played a great all-around game, but none of it would have happened without Danilo Nikolic’s final basket, a revere, put-back, go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Nikolic finished the game with 14 points on 4-of-7 three-point shooting, but it was his closest basket of the night that will be remembered most by Buducnost fans. Despite coming off the bench and playing less than 13 minutes per game, Nikolic is averaging 6.3 points and 1.6 rebounds. His numbers have jumped to 16 points and 4 rebounds on average in Buducnost’s wins against KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and CSKA. In his first EuroLeague season, Nikolic is trying to make the most out of this opportunity, as he said in this EuroLeague.net interview. “It is a big challenge for every player and a great experience,” Nikolic said. “I want to learn more and more about basketball at this level.”
Hello, Danilo. Congratulations on beating CSKA Moscow. How was the atmosphere at Moraca, especially at the end of the game?
“Thank you. Well, it was really great! We managed to beat one of the greatest clubs in Europe and it was amazing. We have great fans who supported us all game long and were our sixth player on the court. Without them, of course, this good result couldn’t come. It was a really, really tough game, but I am glad we won it.”
Can you take us back to the final play? What did you guys talk about, and what went through your mind when Higgins missed the last shot?
“We knew that we wanted Edwin [Jackson] to take the shot, that’s for sure, because he is our best shooter. When he shot, I noticed that Kyle Hines was not looking at the ball; he was looking at the basket. I also saw that the shot was not going in, so I took my chances; I knew Hines was not looking at me and didn’t know where the ball was. I took that opportunity and it was an easy layup. Then when CSKA missed, it was incredible, everybody went crazy. Like I said, CSKA is one of the biggest clubs in Europe. It was unbelievable.”
“We know that with good defense, offense and good shots will come to us.”
Buducnost had a 0-6 start, but has won two of its last three games. With so many players, did you need an adjustment period to work better as a team?
“Yes, it was a tough period for us because of the national team situation. In the beginning, we couldn’t practice enough together, so we needed some time to adjust. The new players really needed that time to know us, the court, the environment… We knew that and kept working. And now the results are coming.”
This is the first EuroLeague season for most players on your team, especially the local ones. How exciting and challenging is it to play against the best teams in Europe?
“We knew it was going to be a really big challenge. Of course, it was a bigger challenge for us, the domestic players, because the EuroLeague really is another level of basketball. We prepared this summer and we had to work a lot more than we did before and it can be seen on the court. It means a lot for the club, the city and everybody in Podgorica. We want to show everybody in Europe that we are ready for a higher level of basketball.”
Buducnost set a EuroLeague three-point record in its win against Baskonia, hitting 21, and had 14 against CSKA. Is that your team’s best weapon, outside shooting?
“Yes, we have great shooters, but I think the best thing that we do is defense. We are a great defensive team and opponents don’t score a lot of points against us; only Real Madrid did, scoring around 100 points against us. Everybody has to work hard to score lots of points against us. We know that with good defense, offense and good shots will come to us. We just have to play good defense and wait for that.”
How important is it for the team to have an experienced coach like Aleksandar Dzikic and an experienced playmaker like Nemanja Gordic?
“It means a lot, for sure, to have a coach like Dzikic, who knows a lot about basketball. He knows how to talk to the players and make them better. Gordic is a really experienced player; he had played in the EuroLeague in the past and talked us through it, how it is to play in the competition and how big of a challenge it is. It means a lot to us. We are really happy.”
Buducnost will now play against Olympiacos Piraeus, which won back-to-back games last week. Both teams are in good shape. What needs to be done to fight for your first road win?
“Yes, we really need this road win; we don’t really want to be this home-court team. What we need to do is to fight like in every game until now and have a good focus. I think we are going to be good. Olympiacos is a great team, but we will be ready to compete against them.”
“I am looking forward to playing against Georgios Printezis this week. He is a great player, an Olympiacos legend, one of the best forwards in the EuroLeague. It will be a great challenge for me and I hope I will a good opponent for him.”
Now that you have played against most teams, is there any team or any player that surprised you so far?
“Well, at this level, you know you are going to play against great teams and great players. There is not a lot of space for surprises, but I am looking forward to playing against Georgios Printezis this week. He is a great player, an Olympiacos legend, one of the best forwards in the EuroLeague. It will be a great challenge for me and I hope I will a good opponent for him.”
At age 25, how important can this first EuroLeague season be for you, in terms of getting confidence for the rest of your career?
“It is very important because the EuroLeague is the best league in Europe. It is a big challenge for every player and a great experience. I want to learn more and more about basketball at this level. It is an honor to play the EuroLeague.”
How important is it for Buducnost to think only about the next game, considering that you will play six of the next eight on the road?
“It is a tough road ahead of us and December will be a tough month for us, that is for sure, but I think we will be ready. We have to stay together and stay positive no matter what happens. We always have to try to win another game, the next game.”