Nikola Milutinov was one of the shining stars of Olympiacos in their on-the-road win over Khimki. The Serbian center remains a cornerstone in the Reds’ attempt to return to the Euroleague Final Four after an uneventful turn last season.
TalkBasket.net had the chance to meet and discuss with him during his team’s Media Day, a few days before the start of another demanding campaign for coach David Blatt and his players.
Q: What’s the level of readiness of Olympiacos right now?
A: We have developed good chemistry and great atmosphere. I believe that we will have a good season this year. The team is completely different than last year. The coaching staff and some players have changed. From what I’ve seen until now, everything is going the right way.
Q: Do you consider yourself an Olympiacos veteran, since you are ready for your fourth season in wite and red?
A: No, no, I want to be young (laughs). I mean I love to be here. It’s amazing because it feels like home. I will try to learn Greek this year and intend to take classes. I feel bad that after so many years I didn’t manage to learn the language. I think it’s time that I got started because I need it.
Q: I guess that David Blatt as a coach is a wholly new experience for you.
A: Yes, it’s something completely new. We are trying to play much faster on offense, to press and push the ball and find open shots. We will do our best to adapt. Everyone loves this style until now. The results will show if it works or not.
Q: What’s the reason for you to be optimistic about this version of the team?
A: In Olympiacos, we always had amazing chemistry because we are one of those teams that operate as a family. Beside that, I really like how we play and move the ball. It is true that the team’s schedule with up to four games a week is really tough. There’s nothing we can do about it, but put our bodies to rest as much as we can and prepare for every game as if it were the last one.
Q: Looking at the roster’s age, I noticed you have only two players (Spanoulis and Printezis) over 30. Do you consider it a plus or a minus?
A: If you have guys like them on your team, you know that they are experienced and have won everything in their career. The important thing is that they’re also eager to share this experience with the newcomers and the young players. However, the lack of experience could also be a minus.
Q: Are you bothered by the fact that in modern basketball undersized centers are usually preferred to low-post players?
A: Basketball is becoming faster and faster. We need to go with the style. It’s not always easy to adapt to the athleticism, but it’s our job and we need to do it.
Q: Are you happy with Serbia’s performances in the FIBA windows?
A: We had some difficult moments, especially when we lost to Germany in July. We have only ourselves to blame because we had the game in our hands, but couldn’t avoid some stupid mistakes in the end. We are optimistic that we can make it to the World Cup, as we have a really good team and players. If we manage to go to China, we will compete.
Q: Did you discuss with your teammates how hard it has become to be able or even allowed to play those games?
A: It’s not up to us. It depends on whether your team will let you play. Especially for Euroleague players, it’s impossible to join the national team. We cannot choose; we can only play when we’re told that we’re allowed to do so.
Q: The NBA is waiting for you, but when do you intend to leave Europe?
A: Honestly, I don’t try to think about it. If it happens, it will be something positive. If not, I’m happy here and as long as I stay at Olympiacos, I’ll do my best to help my team win. I’m focused on Olympiacos because I love everyone in the club and everything about it. It’s nice to be here. Athens is a special city and it will be very difficult to leave when the time comes.
I have even grown accustomed to Greek coffee, especially freddo espresso black. I count each and every calory and that’s why I don’t even think about adding sugar. Andreas Gatzoulis (i.e. the team’s gymnast) will kill me if he finds out (laughs)!