Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic recently took part in an international conference call to discuss the upcoming trip to London where his side will face the Toronto Raptors on January 14.
In the interview, Vucevic also discussed the outside chances of an NBA franchise that could make its way to Europe and his love for Chelsea Football Club.
You guys have quite a tough looking schedule ahead of making you way over to London, Cleveland, Indiana in the next two games. Can you just discuss how you guys will plan and prepare to play and put on a great show in front of a sold out London crowd.
Well we have to make sure we treat it as a business trip and not as a tourist trip when we go to London. Toronto are in our conference, they’re one of the best teams and are fighting for the top spots in the East. We’re trying to prove ourselves and make the playoffs this year having had a couple of tough seasons so it’s going to be an important trip for us and as you said we’ve got a tough schedule before we head there so we’re gonna have to make sure that we’re ready to play when we get there.
When you make it to London what do you expect from the crowd in terms of an atmosphere coming over and visiting London?
I’ve never been to London or England so it will be first time over there. Obviously I know that English people are very passionate about football, when you watch a game you can see there’s a lot of passion and they’re great fans. I don’t know how it is with basketball but obviously they’ve done games in the past so the fact that the NBA keeps going back there I’m sure they’ve had a very good experience so I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be a great experience for us, I think the fans will accept us there and it will be great to play in a different country. We played in Brazil in October and that was a great experience to go out and play in front of a crowd that hasn’t ever had the chance to watch a NBA game so I’m looking forward to it and it should be a fun experience for all of us.
You’re a relatively young squad in the NBA, do you see the benefits of a trip to London in terms of building a cohesion and togetherness in the squad and do you think the game will have a greater impact on the team than any other regular season game?
It will be special playing this game because its being played in a different country, there’s going to be a lot of talk about it, so that has a different feel to it and you’re playing on a neutral court. I think it will be great for our team chemistry to spend some time off the court with each other. I think when we went to Brazil earlier this year it really helped to come closer and learn a lot about each other and I think the same will happen for us in London where we’ll have to spend a lot of time together off the court in a different country, where we don’t really know anybody, so I think that will help a lot and I think it terms of the timing with mid-season approaching you have to step it up and towards the end of the season every game really matters. So I think it will be a great time for us to get closer and have a better team spirit. I think the team spirit has been really good so far but I think the trip could really help us get even closer as we finish the season.
Is there a lot of talk in the locker room about the trip to London? Is it a big topic of conversation?
Not really, not yet. We’re really focused on the games we have here now and we still have a good amount of games before we head there but I’m sure as we get closer to it the guys will start talking about it more. Earlier in the year we talked about how it would be fun for us to go there, most of us have never been so everybody is looking forward to going and we’ll be able to bring some of our family and friends there which will be great. Right now we’re really focussed on the games we have ahead of us which are really important games because in the East the standings are so close that one win can get you to second seed and one loss can mean you miss out on the playoffs so we’re really focussed on the moment right now but I’m sure as we get closer to it the guys will really start to talk about it more and will be really excited to go there.
It’s no secret that the NBA want a franchise in Europe, how do the players feel about that?
Obviously it would be nice for us European players if you had a franchise in Europe but I think it would be hard to do because of the travel. It takes a long time to get from Europe to the US and also the time difference would really affect the players as well so I don’t know if it’s doable. Obviously it would be great for the NBA to have a European franchise but I don’t know how it would work out but I don’t know if it’s doable for geography reasons.
How difficult is it to get over that jet-lag and prepare for your next fixture?
Obviously when we go on West Coast trips there’s some time difference and you have to get adjusted to that but obviously this time it’s gonna be a much bigger time difference so it could have some effect but at the same time we’re professional players and its part of our job to make sure we’re ready to play no matter what the circumstances are so all of us will have everything we need to make sure we recover, rest and are ready to play. I think they’ve given us a good a pretty good amount of break before we play the game and a good period of time after that so I’m sure we’ll have time to recover so we’re ready to play when we get back here.
You’ve lived all over the place both in Europe and both coasts of the states. Where for you do you consider home?
It would be Montenegro, that’s always been home for me even though I was born in Switzerland and my dad played there and then we moved to Belgium because he played there as a professional basketball player but I always knew that Montenegro was home and the only reason we weren’t there was because of my dad’s job and that’s how my parents raised me. I always understood that that was my home and that’s where my family is and even now that I’m in the US every summer I’ll go home once the season is over and go back to Montenegro.
It is 10 years since the awful train crash you had. Has that been a motivating factor in your career or is it something you push right of the back of your mind and something that you don’t like to be reminded of?
I don’t like to think about it too much. You know obviously it was a horrible tragedy for everyone who was involved and for the whole country of Montenegro. So I don’t like to think about it too much, it’s something I don’t wanna look back at, I can say I was very lucky to survive such a bad crash and you look at your life differently once you’ve been through something like that but I try not to think about it too much because it obviously doesn’t bring a lot of happiness.
This season you’re having a great season, what are you doing differently and what do you to achieve for yourself and your team? Also where would you place yourself alongside the league’s other top ‘big men’?
I don’t like to talk about myself too much or place myself among others I just focus on doing the best I can every night on the court to help my team win, that’s really my only focus. You know people always like to talk about ‘Who is the best player in the NBA?’ but I try not to get caught up in all that too much. As far as what I’ve done this year I think I’ve been able to gain a lot more experience by playing which helps a lot. I think experience is a big factor in the NBA, you learn how to manage your body with all these games, how to prepare for each opponent. You learn about every opponent when you go up against them so many times as I have in the past few years. I’ve got better at working on my game and improve as a player. We finished the last few seasons early because we weren’t making the playoffs so I had a lot of time to work and study my game which helped a lot. Also the fact the team is playing much better this year makes everyone’s job on the team easier and easier to play better. I just wanna keep getting better and help the team out.
This year I watched you at the NBA Africa game in Johannesburg, a lot of the reasoning behind it was for coaching for younger people, how important was it for you to be part of that trip and what did you take away from it?
It was important for me because it was the first time the NBA had a game there and it was a great thing that the NBA did to give the fans a chance to see some of the players play there and also for me it was a great experience to go there and meet some NBA players that I only got to watch on the court and to play against them and I had a chance to meet some of them off the court and spend some time with them. I think that was a great experience. Also I’ve never been to South Africa and I really wanted to go there and meet a new culture, new people and it was really a great experience. I’m really happy I went there, it was really well organised by the NBA and we had a really great warm welcome from everybody there, the fans and everybody who was involved in the game so it was really great for me, I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to going back there.
Did you manage to get your one-on-one practice session with Hakeem Olajuwon?
I didn’t actually. He only did one session and I couldn’t make that one because I had something else on so I didn’t get a chance to work out with him but I did have the honour to go up against him in the game, he scored but that’s okay. I’ll take that because it was a really great experience to go up against one of the best players to ever play the game and especially at my position, one of the best centers.
Dwight Howard recently praised you and he’s also very praising of your leadership abilities, do you feel that following in his footsteps and Shaquille O’Neal’s that you’ve got a responsibility or a duty or does it inspire you playing for a team with such great centers in the past?
I don’t look at it as a responsibility just because I had great ‘big men’ before me. It does inspire me to know that there are so many good big men that payed for Orlando in the past and I do my best to help the team and be remembered like the two guys before me but Shaq ad Dwight but I have a long way to go before I can achieve what these two guys have for the team but it’s great when you hear that people compare you touch great players and it really means a lot to me so I just try to keep improving and hopefully I can leave a legacy here that’s close to what they did.
Can you explain what it’s like playing in the Eastern Conference? It’s pretty tough in the Eastern Conference this year, apart from the Spurs and the Warriors all the best teams seem to be in the East this time around.
Yeah it’s really close right now in the East, a lot of teams are playing good basketball and if you look at the standings obviously there’s a long way to go before the end of the season when the standings really matter for the playoffs but like I said earlier you win one or two games and you’re going to be second in the division and if you lose on or two you’re gonna be out of the playoffs and I think that’s great because every game matters now and you can’t relax for any game. Every game is kind of a must-win situation for very team in the east and I think it’s great for basketball because we have to go out there and play our best every night. There are a lot of good teams so there’s gonna be a lot of good games, a lot of close games and I think it’s gonna bring the best out of every player and every team. In the Eastern Conference there’s so many better teams this year compared to last year when so many people were talking about the East being much weaker than the West and this year that has changed. The East is a much better conference now compared to last year and I think it will be a great contest until the end of the year.
What sort of challenge do the Raptors represent at the game in London?
The Raptors are a team we’ve struggled against the last few years but this year was a very close game that we were able to win at the end but they are a very good team. They are one of the best teams in our conference and one of the best teams in the NBA. They have some very good players, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas so they are a good team, they have a lot of good guys who come off the bench and provide a boost so it will be a tough matchup for us against them. Every time we play them it’s a pretty close game and a pretty tough game so it will be a very good game for us to play against them in London as well.
I understand you’re a Chelsea fan, are you going to try and watch Chelsea when you come over and why Chelsea?
I would like to watch a game when I go, hopefully, I think they do play while we’re there so hopefully I’ll have time go watch a game or I can at least see a practice or meet up with the players. One of my favourite players, Eden Hazard, is there. He’s great. When I was little I just picked them. In Europe football is a massive sport so you have to pick a team in every country. Sadly this season is not so great, I know Chelsea isn’t where all the fans want it to be but I’m sure they’ll make progress by the end of the season and hopefully in the Champions League they can do some more damage.
How do you plan on taking on Jonas Valunciunas on both sides of the court when you come to London?
We’ve played quite a few times now since we’ve been in the NBA, and also we’ve played against each other in our international teams so he’s a guy I know very well. He’s a very good player, somebody that has improved a lot since he came to the NBA. He’s a huge guy, he takes up a lot of space [and is a] tough match-up. We always have good match-ups against each other and good games so it’ll be fun to go up against him.