After a blow-out defeat to Olympiacos Pireaus, ABA League champion Buducnost VOLI Podgorica receives Barcelona Lassa tonight, hoping to get another win at home this season. In those two wins, Buducnost has averaged 96.0 points on 61.4% three-point shooting. More than half of the points scored in those games came from behind the arc.
Earl Clark, a court veteran but a Euroleague rookie, started out really slow with one of the poorest performances in ages, totalling a disappointing -13 in the Performance Index Rating system at his team’s first game vs Real Madrid. From then onwards, the American forward has managed to live up to the expectations of the Montenegrin fans. He was one of the best players when Buducnost beat Baskonia and CSKA and also one of the “survivors” of another away defeat at the Peace and Friendship Stadium.
After all, six years in the NBA, a total of 261 games with Phoenix, Orlando, Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland, New York and Brooklyn, should be more than enough to keep him going.
“It’s a wonderful experience coming to these historical gyms and playing against great teams with tradition”, Clark remarks. “Since I’ve been coming to different places, I am hearing a lot of stories about all teams and how long they have been on top. It’s very interesting!”.
Q: Were you looking forward to this particular season?
A: Definitely. Playing in Europe and Besiktas for two years, in the Turkish League and the Champions League, many people told me that I’m a Euroleague player. I wanted to come here and enjoy the experience with my teammates.
Q: Do you consider this one a break-through year for you, as it is for your team?
A: Not yet. I mean I’ve played some good games so far and showed I can play at this level. For myself, it’s definitely a great experience and a lot of my teammates are new to the Euroleague as well. So, we are just trying to enjoy it and win as many games as we can. First and foremost, the team’s goal is to get the other teams to respect us. We’ve proven that our games will not be our opponents’day-off. I think that we’ve gained a certain amount of respect already. The second half against Olympiacos hurt us because we were blown out. We have a lot of new guys who play in the Euroleague for the first time in their careers. We have to work with what we’ve got.
Q: What has impressed you the most in the competition?
A: Just the quality of the teams: each one of them has some players with great elements in their game. It’s like any other great league. Any given night you can lose to any team if you’re not ready.
Q: What went wrong against Olympiacos?
A: We have mainly our defense to blame. After not making any shots in the second half, we struggled a lot. Our defense was supposed to carry us, but we let Olympiacos run. They are a great team and we can’t let them do that.
Q: How can you account for the different faces that your team shows at home and away?
A: Everybody feels more relaxed at home. We have our home crowd and feel super comfortable, but away it’s difficult to beat teams like Olympiacos who rarely loses games here. Sometimes we shoot the ball well, sometimes we don’t. But against Olympiacos, our defense was lacking and that hurt us.
Q: Zach LeDay had a career and Olympiacos-best performance against Buducnost. How do you explain that?
A: He played great tonight. He had a lot of energy and good shots. I just told him to keep pushing and try to build on his night. I know this is his rookie year and I think he’ll try to get better.
Q: Were you ever close to becoming an Olympiacos player?
A: No, not that I know of. I had no serious talks. I heard some things that maybe they were interested in me. Nothing like my agent calling me on the phone, saying there is a deal on the table. Nothing like that.
Q: What do you think of them?
A: They are a great team with some veteran guys that have been together for a while. Every year they are at the top and obviously they’re good.
Q: Who are you rooting for in the NBA?
A: Now, I have no particular team. When I was a kid, I was a Sixers fan. So, I hope they win the championship this year. They have Jimmy Butler and some good young guys. If they manage to win the Eastern Conference finals, they can go all the way.
Q: How would you rank the Euroleague?
A: The Euroleague has better organisation and players compared to other leagues I’ve played in. I’m not sure they’re getting close to the NBA which is the best league in the world, but basketball-wise the Euroleague has many players who could play overseas. There are only 400 jobs in the NBA and it’s difficult, but some of them definitely deserve a chance.
Q: So far, the three-point line has been the best ally of Buducnost. Apart from it, what gave you the wins against Baskonia and CSKA?
A: I think we’ve got some great shooters on the team. Once we started making a lot of threes, we started winning games. We don’t have many guys who can do a lot of different things. So, yes, if the three-pointers keep falling, we will be a dangerous team.