Fesenko set on winning maiden European title for Sidigas Scandone Avellino
AVELLINO (FIBA Europe Cup) - Kyrylo Fesenko and Sidigas Scandone Avellino are determined to make the most of their opportunity in the FIBA Europe Cup after putting themselves in a great situation to contend for the club's first-ever international title.
The 31-year-old former NBA player from Ukraine played an integral role in defeating Tsmoki-Minsk and Juventus Utena in the previous rounds of the Play-Offs, averaging 11.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in the four games played so far.
Before the Semi-Finals against Bakken Bears, Fesenko sat down with FIBA.basketball to talk about his lofty expectations for the FIBA Europe Cup, the desire to once again suit up for the national team, life in Italy, his popular personal blog back in Ukraine and a few other topics.
It's that busy time of year for you guys – Italian championship Play-Offs approaching; FIBA Europe Cup Semi-Finals around the corner. How is the team feeling, what are your priorities right now?
We've had a…I can't say it was a losing streak, but it was a rough month and a half for us. But now we're bouncing back and we're trying to recover from all of our injuries. I think that we will be stronger than ever for the end of the season and the Play-Offs. It's very important for us to play well in the FIBA Europe Cup so we have laser focus on those games too.
You overcame Tsmoki in the Round 16, defeated Juventus in the Quarter-Finals. How would you evaluate the team's performances since transferring to the FIBA Europe Cup?
I think we showed a lot of potential, I think we played pretty solid defensively. [Against Juventus], we started with a tie in the away game and I think that was very important for our confidence to go into the second game at home with a home-court advantage. Even if we had won by one point, we would have advanced. We did not relax. It was a comfortable game. And I'm just proud of my team that we did not get too upset after the Basketball Champions League exit and we just got right into it because I think, personally, that our fans deserve the best performance that we can show.
"It doesn't matter who we play – if it's going to be the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan's era or any other team. We need to play like we are going to win, we have to believe it."Kyrylo Fesenko
That was a point I wanted to touch on as well. Does a so-far successful run in the FIBA Europe Cup and a very real chance of winning a European trophy make up for it in some ways, both for you and the fans?
Yes, of course. As I said before in all of my interviews, I personally approach every single game as the game that I want to win and I'm going to win. This is my mindset and I think that my team shares this goal for every single game. It doesn't matter who we play – if it's going to be the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan's era or any other team. We need to play like we are going to win, we have to believe it. We had some problems during the Basketball Champions League and right now we have to pick up the pieces. And we already did that. We need to give everything that we have, leave it all on the floor.
One quirky detail: a draw against Tsmoki-Minsk in the first game in Avellino; a draw against Juventus in the first game in Utena. Is there anything more behind that?
Not really, I think it just panned out that way. I think when we were playing in Utena in Lithuania, it was a great result because they were playing at home, and they were feeling confident. It was a great result for us. When we played against Tsmoki-Minsk at home, I was very disappointed. I think when we play at home we should use the love and support of our fans give us and transform it into energy that we need to put into the game and blow away any opponent.
Your next opponent, Bakken Bears, might not be at the level of the legendary Chicago Bulls teams but they have had a great season in the FIBA Europe Cup. Have you had a chance to look at their team yet and what do you know about your next opponents?
I know that they play fast-paced basketball, they are athletic and have very athletic players but…I don't want to sound cocky but their team is not my biggest concern. I think if we, as a team, approach this game at our best, I don't think there's anybody that can beat us. If we just focus on doing what the coach tells us to do, what we've been preparing for in practice, we can win at home and then advance to the next round.
In a survey of team captains before the Play-Offs, Avellino and Venezia were named as the main favorites to win the FIBA Europe Cup. We could potentially get this all-Italian matchup in the Finals…
I try not to look further than our next game. I don't want to think about Venice or anybody else. I just need to focus on the next game, on our next opponent – how the big men play, how the point guards play the pick and roll and that kind of stuff. I don't care who is going to be in our way, but I just feel we need to win the whole cup. We deserve this.
After a strong start of the season, Avellino had lost the last four of five in the Italian championship. Is it a bit of a rough patch for you or just some good opponents like Milano, Venezia, Varese, Cantu on the schedule?
It's just the scheduling. The same thing happened in the first half of the season. The same thing. In our schedule, we had all the strong teams in the first part of the round and the other teams in the second part. We will see how this is going to play out now.
We didn't have a game last Wednesday, I had a little bit more time to work on myself to recover my old injuries, to get the problems resolved about my body. We have Shane Lawal back so right now we have a pretty good boost of energy. Everybody is starving for the next game, as this is probably the first week since the beginning of the season when we did not have a mid-week game, not taking into account the national team breaks.
We are going to play tomorrow [editor note: interview was conducted on Saturday; Avellino beat Cremona 95-72 on Sunday] and then we're going to play on Wednesday. I feel good about it. Let's just leave it at that.
"There are going to be important games in June and July. I hope that I will be able to help the national team if the coach needs me."Kyrylo Fesenko
As you mentioned, you were trying to get your body right. How are you feeling right now, how is that situation with your knees health-wise?
I'm managing it. I can't really go further into details right now. I just need to work out a little more but because of the tight schedule, I could not go completely into my workout mode and not think about games. This week, I actually did it and right now I feel pretty good.
You couldn't help the national team at FIBA EuroBasket 2017 due to an injury, you also sat out the last two international windows. Did you follow how Ukraine has played in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers? They had a quite successful window in February. What are your thoughts about it?
I think we had one of the strongest rosters right now. I'm not taking into account Alex Len or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk because they were involved in the NBA and NCAA, respectively. Finally, Pooh Jeter came back, Sergiy Gladyr came back to the national team this year and it's looking pretty strong right now. Our national team is looking like it should be looking, performing like I expect our team to perform every time.
There are going to be important games in June and July. I hope that I will be able to help the national team if the coach needs me. If not, I would completely understand. I was out for quite a while and I'm completely out of the cycle. What I mean by this is that there's no time to practice, no time to really prepare in those little windows. So you would probably want to depend on the players who know your system, your plays and what you want from them. That's why I'm saying that I'm out of the cycle.
Plus, our team's centers, Viacheslav Kravtsov and Artem Pustovyi, are doing a great job. I feel like at this moment the national team does not need me as much as I would want to deep inside (laughs). They don't need me as bad as it used to be.
To change the topic a little bit, you have a personal blog in Ukrainian media. How did that come about and what does having a direct line of communication with the fans mean to you?
This is an interesting and complicated question. Maybe not complicated, but it's difficult to tell you how I feel about it (pauses). I feel so happy that players finally have a voice on social media. I just think that for every single player, if he has something to say to the fans or wants to share his opinion on some matters, this is the time to do it.
Every time I do this blog, I'm trying to open up and tell the people who are interested in basketball or my career what they are missing in all the interviews, what am I not saying in all the interviews. I've done a lot of interviews in my life and I have pretty much said everything I have to say about basketball but they don't know me as a human being, they don't know me just as a neighbor or just as a co-worker. So I'm trying to let them inside and introduce them to the real Fes. I think it's a great opportunity and platform to do it.
After bouncing around teams on a yearly basis, you're in Avellino for the second year in a row. Has it become a home for you now? How are you, your wife and your cat enjoying it in Italy?
We are loved here, let's just say that. Even my cat. Even my cat has a small fan base among my followers on Instagram or Facebook. Yes, the people are very open here. Great support, great team. I'm not sure I can say that this is my home, but Avellino has taken a really, really huge space in my heart and it will permanently be there. It doesn't matter what's going to happen next season or the next 10 years but Avellino will forever be imprinted in my soul and, up to this point, I have only pleasant memories and only pleasant feelings and I want to keep doing it.
Finally, for you – what would constitute a successful end of the season in FIBA Europe Cup and the Italian championship?
Winning both championships. That would be really successful. I would not settle for anything less. This is my approach, I know that maybe not everyone agrees with it but this is how I'm wired. I want to win every single game. Sometimes, it's actually an issue when I play with kids or amateurs just outside (laughs). I can go easy for one, two, three possessions and then I'm like 'OK, you scored too much' and start backing them down (laughs).