Lokomotiv Kuban have been the immovable object in the EuroCup this season, going an incredible 20 games unbeaten and with just Darussfaka Istanbul standing between them and a perfect season, the odds are looking in their favour.
But Lokomotiv’s veteran Mardy Collins is expecting a fight from the Turkish side and admits that in the series, the Russian side does not care if they drop one game. As long as they win the finals, then the goal is achieved.
Collins sat down with EuroCup Basketball to discuss the final and the unbeaten streak that has basketball fans talking.
Lokomotiv is undefeated in the EuroCup this season, which is unprecedented. Does it motivate you, even more, to try to win the EuroCup as the best team ever in the competition?
“Not really. I mean, being the first team to do it and winning 20 straight games would be great because no-one had ever done it, but if we lose one and still win the championship, that wouldn’t matter to us at all. It would be great to be able to do it, but if not, we will still take it.”
You lost Ryan Broekhoff before the playoffs due to injury but kept winning and playing well anyway. What has allowed you to stay so consistent in the most important games of the season?
“I think it was our depth. We have a team that has a lot of players who are able to come in and play. We go about 10 deep. We were worried without Ryan because he shot the ball and played so well all year. It was kind of the next man up. I had to go on the floor more than I would like to, but the team is really deep.”
How much credit does head coach Sasa Obradovic get for staying undefeated until now? What is the best thing about him as a coach?
“He gets some of the credit for that, because of his ability to keep us focused. We won 20 in a row, but if you came to practice, you wouldn’t know that. You would think that we lost 20 in a row! He has a great ability to keep us focused, keep us engaged with the opponent and not take any nights off. I think that really helped us and is the main reason why we went 20-0 because we don’t take any games for granted.”
You will play against Darussafaka, which also had a strong season. Is it fair to say that the best two teams in the EuroCup this season made it to the Finals?
“Yes, I would definitely say so. Coming in, I think were four teams that could have possibly made it to the championship, and we could have anticipated that Darussafaka or us would be in the final. It is the toughest opponent that we are going to play. We are preparing now for the next days to be ready.”
Lokomotiv has nine players averaging 6 points or better. Is that a key factor in this series, knowing that anyone can score on any given night?
“Yes, I mean, I was just talking about this with Joe [Ragland]. Any given night, somebody else may step up and have a big game. That is the great thing about our team. This is not about one guy. One guy could get hurt, one guy could have a bad game. Somebody else steps up – we have at least four to six guys averaging between 8 to 12 points. It is good to have that balance, and coach loves that balance. You could go to a different guy each night, or even during the course of the game. One guy has it going and then someone steps up and makes a play. Nobody has to put the whole weight on his shoulder and that is good for us.”
This series features two of the best defensive teams in the EuroCup. Can we expect a physical, tough series?
“Yes, definitely. I think it is going to be a tough, physical series, especially because of the magnitude of it. Finals are kind of always like that. Players are a little nervous and they have to get those nerves out and that kind of causes guys to miss shots that they usually don’t miss. Plus these are two really good defensive teams, that is going to play another part. I think it is going to be a tough, competitive, defensive matchup that comes down to who makes the best plays towards the end of the game.”
I am sure you had a look at Darussafaka and its leader, Scottie Wilbekin. What do you like about them as a team?
“I haven’t really watched them much yet. I always check the scores, check the box scores and see who wins, but I hadn’t really watched them until this past week. From what I’ve seen, they are a confident team, they push the tempo on offence and guys take their shots. They have freedom on offence where if guys are open, they shoot it. When you are playing against a defence like ours and guys have the freedom to do that, it kind of makes it harder on our defence because they have so much freedom. That is the one thing I noticed. I know Michael Eric and Will Cummings, I always follow Temple guys and check on them. Micheal is playing really well. He is a big body down there, a defensive presence. Somehow, we have to keep him off the glass and try to get him into foul trouble. That is one of the keys for us.”
You lost a EuroCup Finals against another Turkish team, Galatasaray, playing for Strasbourg. What is the biggest lesson you learned that you can use this time around?
“It is kind of different because now it is a series. It is funny because I was just saying this, too, it is kind of going the same way. Last time, I played against Trento, an Italian team, in the semis and then a Turkish team in the finals. So in that aspect it is kind of going the same way, but it is totally different now with it being a three-game series instead of two, because when it was a two-game series, we had a good lead in Strasbourg by, I think, 8 points with a minute and something left and we made some mistakes and ended up winning by 4 and I thought that really hurt us going into Istanbul. My biggest thing I learned from this is that I don’t put any extra pressure on myself because it is the Finals. I have to play as it is any other game, try to be comfortable and help my team. From my perspective, what I learned is ‘don’t let the moment be too big for you’. That is the only advice I could give to my teammates.”
How important would be it be for you and the club to win the EuroCup title – and earn the right to play in the EuroLeague next season?
“That has been the goal since last year, getting back to the EuroLeague. As far as the team goes, that is definitely our goal since we started the training camp in August, to win this and get back to the EuroLeague, so that’s the team goal. And personally, I am 33 years old and since I have been a professional, I am 0 and 4 in the finals, in different countries and stuff like that. For me, I just finally want to win one. I would say it is the motivation to finally win one.”
Quotes courtesy of Javier Gancedo.