On the 25 of April, AEK BC announced the signing of Trevor Mbakwe (30 years, 2.03m) until the end of the season. The experienced American center made his debut in the Queen’s first play-off game against Holargos BC posting 6 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
With AEK Athens finishing first in the regular season of the Greek Basket League, mainly because of Olympiacos and Panathinaikos OPAP forfeiting games as a protest to the referees’ selection process by the federation-controlled committee, the path to the league finals seems wide open for Luca Banchi’s team. In fact, the Greek play-offs had to be postponed for a week because of Olympiacos’s appeal to the Greek Court of Arbitration for sport.
TalkBasket.net met Mbakwe after a comfortable (84-62) win for AEK over Holargos and conversed with him about his career goals and the crazy (to say the least) things that have been going on in Greek basketball in the last weeks.
Q: How did you experience your first official home game with AEK?
A: It was fun to play. It felt good to play a game after three weeks that I’ve been here. We had the chance to start the play-offs and we did it at home. We’ve been practising a lot lately and I’m pretty familiar with a lot of guys. Obviously, it’s not the same with playing games but I think today we showed how good we can be at times. Overall, I feel excited for where the team’s at.
Q: Do you believe that AEK has a shot at the title?
A: Yeah, ofcourse. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t think so. I just want to win. We have a deep team and the chance to do something special. We have a great coach and great coaching staff and as long as we keep following the game plan, things will be alright.
Q: You also know that you have to get past Panathinaikos OPAP in order to do that.
A: Yes, but we take it one game at a time. We know that most likely it’s going to be us against them on the final. Once the time comes, we’ll be ready.
Q: How did you experience this period of inertia?
A: It was an interesting period (laughs)! Especially the background, for a guy who had never played here. So far, the country is great, but the staff that’s going on is kind of annoying for us because we want to play. As far as Athens goes, I’ve only seen the beach and some good restaurants. I haven’t done much sightseeing yet. In the next couple of weeks I will.
Q: It seems that after your ex-team Torino and Siena in Italy, Olympiacos will also be relegated in Greece, albeit for different reasons. How is that for a piece of news?
A: The stuff at Torino is sad. I was there last year and the fans are great. Unfortunately, things in the organisation weren’t so good. It’s out of my control, but hopefully all the stuff works out. It’s tough to see situations like that.
Q: Were you aware of the recent developments in the Greek League before you signed with AEK?
A: I wasn’t … I knew about the forfeit of Olympiacos in the Cup game, but I didn’t expect all this.
Q: Your 11-year-old son has picked up some German and Italian, while you were playing there. Is he learning Greek as well?
A: Yes, he’s been around a lot of places, but he didn’t come to Greece for such a short period of time. My family has stayed in the States.
Q: You’ve played in the Summer League in the past. Are you still chasing an NBA call?
A: My Summer League days are over. I would say I’ve given up on my NBA dream, but Euroleague is still a goal of mine and hopefully I’ll get another chance to play on the biggest stage in Europe.
Q: How was Japan for you?
A: It was good. I just wanted something different. I had the opportunity to go to a good team and city (Osaka). It was a change of pace for me compared to Europe and I enjoyed myself there. I was glad to be back in Europe, though.
Q: How did you react when Luca Banchi approached you in order to sign with AEK?
A: We had direct contact. He called me and then we texted and call-talked for a week or so. He explained the situation with AEK and the Greek League to see if I was interested. I couldn’t turn it down.
Q: The fact that you had a serious injury, when you tore your ACL muscle back in 2012, was the main reason why you weren’t drafted in 2013?
A: It was a long time ago. It happened in the past, but obviously it didn’t help me. I was at a good point in my career. Who knows if that was the main reason I didn’t get drafted … I don’t dwell on it too much. I’ve had a successful career in Europe and I’m not bitter at all.
Q: Last question. Who will win the 2019 Euroleague?
A: I would bet my money on Efes. They’re not afraid to lose.