Among the benefits of such intense early-season competition in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds is to see newcomers put to the test right away. One of the players passing his test with flying colors is A.D. Vassallo of Asvel Basket, who is averaging 22.5 points through three games so far. His 29-point breakout Tuesday on the road wasn't enough to keep Asvel from losing Game 1 of the second round to Le Mans, however. On Friday, Asvel will have to win by 11 or more points at home or lose its bid to play in the Euroleague. Vassallo may be young, 24, and from far way, Puerto Rico, but he is not about to let such an opportunity go without a fight. " That's the number one goal right now, for me, my teammates, the staff and the organization," Vassallo said during Asvel's train ride home to Lyon on Wednesday. "Personally, I'd love to say I play in the Euroleague, and to play well, too."
Angel, first of all, how is your introduction to European competition going so far in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds?
"It's been alright. It's certainly a different level of basketball. That's part of the adjustment that we've got to make as a team. But at the same time, it's been fun. We beat an interesting team like Buducnost to keep going and it was a chance to visit a place like Podgorica for the first time, too."
You are certainly handling yourself well, with 22 points a game so far. Were you confident coming into these games or have you surprised yourself?
"I wouldn't say I am surprised, not really. I've been working on my game enough that I feel confident that I can do everything on court. Some of that carried over from the World Championships, where I learned a lot playing for Puerto Rico. Playing with the best players from your country against the best teams and players in the world, you learn different things that help your game out. I'm still 24 and I've got a lot of time left to learn, but I am confident, too."
After one year in the French League, how motivated are you to reach the Euroleague?
"That's the number one goal right now, for me, my teammates, the staff and the organization. I would just like to have a chance to play in the best league in Europe and I know my teammates, as well, would love it. Personally, I'd love to say I play in the Euroleague, and to play well, too, not just go in and get beat a lot and say I was there."
Have guys on your Puerto Rico national team like Carlos Arroyo and Daniel Santiago have told you about the Euroleague?
"Yes, I definitely asked them about it when I knew I'd have the chance with Asvel of playing the Euroleague. They explained that it's a different game, not as fast as the NBA, but more systematic and with a lot of smart players. The players also have great ability and athleticism, but they play a smart game and use team basketball to their advantage, rather than going one-on-one to beat someone."
Is it true you guarded Arroyo in practice this summer, before the World Championships, to work on your quickness?
"I was doing that just to help myself develop, guarding him and J.J. Barea, because they are both such quick guys. One of the reasons to do it was to improve my concentration. That's one of the things that hurts me most, that on defense sometimes I lose focus on where my guy is and get back late. I figured if I can guard those guys, who are so fast, I can guard a lot of people. I did it to help me get better and help the national team get better, since I was playing a lot of shooting guard in the World Championships."
In Game 1 of the second qualifying round on Tuesday, Asvel lost to Le Mans by 10 points despite shooting well. What's the team's mood after that letdown?
"Everybody is all right. We know what happened and why we lost. It's important to know what you did wrong. Now, we just have to go out and execute. It's similar to the first round. In Podgorica, we fell behind 19-2 in the first game. But after that we didn't let any big runs happen again. This time, we need to rebound better and stop turnovers. Plus we'll be on our homecourt, so that should give us a boost."
What went wrong in Game 1?
"Turnovers and rebounding killed us in that game. Every time we got a stop defensively, they seemed to get the rebound or the ball ended up in their hands. Then they got easy layups and second-chance points. When you play defense well and pumped to get the stop, but then the other team scores easily on the second chance, it hurts your morale. We need to get out there Friday and limit those mistakes in rebounding and turning the ball over."
Does playing another French team, and both teams knowing each other well, make the 10-point difference heading to Game 2 harder or easier to deal with?
"I guess it's both. At same time, 10 points, as bad as it sounds, is not that much. It just depends on us limiting their offensive rebounds. I think they scored at least 20 points off offensive rebounds. If we limit that and keep turnovers low, that's more than the difference in the last game. We need to just go out and play and not worry about the 10 points. You can't hit a 10-point shot. It doesn't exist. We need to stay close or keep a small lead until the fourth quarter and then make our move for the 10-point mark."
Does your scoring role give you more responsibility for making up those 10 points or does the load have to be shared?
"Obviously, we've got to share it. I'll try to do my part as much as I can, same as yesterday, but we'll need a couple more guys to step up. We have the guys to do it, and I know it can't happen every night, that's part of the game. But I am confident they'll come up to their level Friday and make it easier for us."
Not many people in Europe know you or your background, that your father was a big scorer, too, at home in Puerto Rico. Did you get the scoring genes from him?
"Yeah, I think he ranks in the top 20 all-time in scoring in Puerto Rico. And he has a crazy record, 87 points in a college game back home. So yeah, I guess got some of my scoring ability from him. He definitely was the person who taught me the fundamentals, how to take advantage of defenses, the basics. He is still the person who influences me the most. I call him almost every day to talk about what I'm doing and what I need to do to improve. He's the one person who helps me most now, psychologically more than anything."