25 May, 2024
01 June
9 Elmedin Kikanovic (RIY)
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Elmedin Kikanovic: Being a winner and pride of playing for passionate fans

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Elmedin Kikanovic is enjoying a productive season with Al Riyadi in FIBA West Asia Super League (WASL) - West Asia.

He's among the top ten in both points and rebounds with 21.0 points and 8.6 boards per game while also shooting an uber-efficient rate of 65.0 percent from the field.

"Playing for Riyadi is a big honor, but also a big responsibility. We have a huge fan base who deliver us amazing support and we are very grateful to have such loyal and passionate fans."

More importantly, his production has helped Al Riyadi defend their title as WASL - West Asia champions after defeating Iranian rivals Gorgan. It was a tough Semi-Finals series against Lebanese archnemesis Sagesse SC, which is why Kikanovic was happy that the team came out of the clash on top.

"The Semi-Finals series against Sagesse was long and demanding but in the end, I think our win was well deserved," said Kikanovic. "Our defensive performance in the decisive Game 3 was outstanding and brought us the win.

"I want to thank our fans for their amazing support during the entire playoff series. We had a full house twice, and the 9000 fans created a unique atmosphere at each game. We are pleased that we could bring them the joy of winning the Beirut derby.

Before the Finals, Kikanovic mentioned that they were happy to reach the stage "but at the same time, our job is not done yet."

"Riyadi always has the highest possible ambitions and the bar is set very high."

At 35 years of age and having played at a high level in many countries throughout his career, Kikanovic knows well the weight on his shoulders, playing for such a storied club. And that's why he's been one of their best performers all season long.

"Playing for Riyadi is a big honor, but also a big responsibility," he admitted. "We have a huge fan base who deliver us amazing support and we are very grateful to have such loyal and passionate fans.

"I feel their support every day, on the street, in the restaurants, through social media, etc. They are there for us in good and in bad times. I really appreciate it. At the same time, I'm aware of big expectations and I know that in this club, only trophies count. Pressure is a privilege for us and we are trying to bring happiness and joy to our fans because they really deserve it."

To repay the support of the fans, the mission is not too hard to comprehend: Become the best club in Asia. They've made great progress in earning a spot in the WASL Final 8. From there, if they make it to the championship round of the Final 8, they can then ascend to Asia's flagship club competition - Basketball Champions League Asia (BCL Asia).

"Making it all the way to BCL Asia would be huge for our club and we will give everything to create the chance to win," Kikanovic committed. "Of course, we need to go step by step and take it game by game."

The setting is not unfamiliar to Kikanovic. But he certainly would like the results to be different from his past experience.

"Last year [at the Final 8], we had an unfortunate situation with injuries and we made it only to the Semi-Finals. This year we want to go two steps further and win it."

If Al Riyadi are going to do it - as in making it to BCL Asia and winning WASL Final 8 outright - Kikanovic is more than a great option to give them the best chance they can get. There's no denying what he brings to the floor and his résumé speaks volumes in that regard.

After all, this is a player who has already been to a BCL Final, albeit in Europe when he played for Monaco in 2018.

"⁠Playing in the BCL was a great experience overall," said the center who averaged 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for Monaco that season. "There were many competitive teams in the league and my team managed to qualify for Final Four in Athens after having a great regular season.

"Of course, playing in the Final Four was the highlight of the season, and my team managed to qualify to the Final where we lost to AEK Athens. They had huge support of 19000 fans in OAKA arena and used their home court advantage. It was also a great season on personal level since I was selected for the BCL Star Lineup."

Being a key part of success as he was with Monaco and has been with Riyadi is not something new to Kikanovic. The 2.10M (6'11") center has experienced plenty of success everywhere he goes, to a point where it should be safe to label him as a certified "winner". Whether it was in Germany with Alba Berlin, winning the BBL-Pokal in 2016, or eventually winning the French League Cup in 2018 with Monaco, Kikanovic knows how to win.

"Winning the trophies in Germany and France were really special moments and I will always remember it with great joy," he said. "If we talk about qualities of being a winner, I think it's a mixture of many different aspects, but the first and most important thing is working hard. If you want to be consistent at the high level, you need to work on yourself. Not only every game, every practice counts, and this is the kind of mentality I have had since young age.

"When it comes to final battles, team chemistry and mental aspects play huge roles as well. Being able to produce under the pressure, sacrificing for the team, putting egos on the side are some points that can make a difference at a team level in most important moments. Coaches always say: 'The team who wants it more will win'. So character, passion, desire and commitment of the players brings the championships."

As the Bosnian mentioned, this is a mentality that he has had at a young age. Even though he started playing basketball relatively later than most, he has always had a hungry passion to play to win.

"When you start to practice some sport, you always dream big," says Kikanovic.

"When you close your eyes in the night, you dream about lifting trophies, making decisive plays etc. We are all living for those moments from the early beginning of our careers. Once you lift trophy you feel like on the top of the world and you don't want to trade that feeling for anything in the world. Knowing how great it is to win the titles, you want to do it again and again, and I believe that hunger for trophies, hunger to be better every day is something that drives me."

Considering how far Kikanovic has come, that hunger to succeed should be considered a highly effective fuel. Not only has he achieved so much throughout his professional career, which started when he played for his home city club Sloboda Dita Tulza and first scored at the age of 16 to signing with Serbian powerhouse Red Star Belgrade all the way through to winning trophies and titles in Europe and Asia, Kikanovic has also proudly been a part of the Bosnia & Herzegovina national team for over a decade.

"Things were happening really fast for me, since I started to practice basketball a bit late, when I was 13. Afterwards, I joined the senior national team when I was 17, playing at the same time for U18 and senior national team."

"I played for U16, U18, and senior national team of Bosnia and Herzegovina for a total 15 years," said Kikanovic. "It was really amazing journey. Playing for the national team is something us players do with special emotions.

"Being able to represent your country on the big stage is a huge honor and to be a complete player, in my opinion, you need to represent your country and play for your people. I played 12 years for the senior national team before retiring in 2018. It was demanding since I played every summer 12 years in a row, but still brought me so much joy and lifetime memories.

"Most of the top players from [Bosnia and Herzegovina] are used to play abroad for their clubs, and we don't have often opportunity to play in front of our home fans in our country. So each game in national team jersey was different because you have opportunity to perform in front of your family, friends, and represent your country on international level. Bringing the joy to whole nation was something special and those games and celebrations will stay in my heart forever. We managed to play three EuroBaskets during my national team career and we always had our fans supporting us all over the Europe."

Even though It's been six years since Kikanovic has retired from national team duties, his sentiments on representing the flag still remains the same.

"They love basketball a lot and it's unbelievable for them to watch games against Russia, against France, big teams coming to our country. They're hungry and want to support us," said Kikanovic back in the first window of the World Cup Qualifiers in 2018.

"Our fans really like basketball and other sports. The whole country waits for those games for months. They love sports and it's not surprising to me that gyms are packed. They're crazy for basketball."

After having played in front of and for those Bosian fans for over a decade, Kikanovic knows a passionate fanbase when he sees one - and that's what he sees here playing with Riyadi.

"⁠Lebanon is one of the few countries in the world where you can say that basketball is national sport number one," Kikanovic claims. "It's really impressive to see how people watch basketball with passion, but also they have knowledge about the game.

"My country also has very passionate fans, and they are similar to Lebanese basketball fans. Playing in packed and loud gyms is something I've experienced from young age and I enjoy it.

"Lebanon and Bosnia have also many other things in common like cultural diversity for example, which also helped me to adapt fast and understand the culture. Also, if we talk about the region, I would say fans in Syria are also special. We played in Damascus against Al Wahda and arena was packed and loud, but at the same time they were very respectful."

Now, Kikanovic has a chance to prove it all - once again. He can add on to his resume with more success at the professional level. He can show how much it means to him to play for something bigger than himself, in this case Al Riyadi, as he has done with many other big clubs and the national team.

Moreover, he can continue to show everyone that he is certainly a certified winner.