As expected, Lokomotiv Kuban of Russia has not been the average Eurocup newcomer. Despite an initial loss against Gran Canaria 2014, Lokomotiv has won its last three games and is now in a very good position to make it to the Last 16.
Its next two games against Gran Canaria and Banvit BK will be decisive, as only two of those three powerhouses can survive their group. One of Lokomotiv's pillars so far has been center Ali Traore, who arrived in Krasnodar this summer and has immediately delivered in his second Eurocup season. In less than 23 minutes per night coming off the bench, Traore averages 12.8 points on 62.9% two-pointers and 7.8 rebounds. He ranks sixth in performance index ranking per minute (0.71) among all Eurocup players. He is also second in offensive rebounds (3.5 orpg.), trailing only teammate Jeremiah Massey. Traore and Lokomotiv want to go step by step, as he told us in this Eurocupbasketball.com interview. "I think we are in a good position to qualify to the next round," Traore said. "But we need to take one game at the time and only think about the next game against Gran Canaria."
Hello Ali. How was been the Eurocup season for Lokomotiv Kuban so far?
"We didn't have a good start, as we needed some time to adjust. This is a new team and we could not beat Gran Canaria in the first game. I think that after that we have been playing better and better, winning our last three games. I think we are in a good position to qualify to the next round but need to take one game at a time. We are only thinking now about the next game against Gran Canaria."
You just beat Fraport Skyliners, your first road win in the Eurocup this season. How difficult was that?
"It was very difficult to beat the Skyliners in Frankfurt because they were in a difficult situation and needed the win to stay alive. We didn't have a good start and were behind at halftime, but had a very good third quarter which allowed us to win the game. Like you said, getting a road win was very important for us."
Loko won its last three games after that first loss in Gran Canaria? Was it a wake-up call for your team?
"Well, Gran Canaria just played better than us and won, so I don't think it was a wake-up call. Like I said before, we needed to adjust a bit and have been playing better as the season goes on. Getting to the Last 16 was our initial goal in the Eurocup so we tried to prepare well for every game to be in a good situation to advance."
Knowing French basketball so well, are you surprised to see BCM Gravelines do so well in the Eurocup this season?
"I am not surprised to see Gravelines doing well because they have a good team. Andrew Albicy was with the French national team at EuroBasket 2011 and he is a very good player. They have many good French players and a good coach in Christian Monschau, so I expected them to do well."
Jeremiah Massey and you have been deadly in the paint until now. How do you get along with him, on and off the court?
"Oh, J and I get along pretty well! He has a really great personality. He is a good guy to be around of. On the court, he is a very good player that not only has good numbers, but tries to do everything possible to make us win games. I think we complement each other very well and are learning to play together better and better."
How is life in Krasnodar? Is it true that you are teaching French to your teammates?
"Yes, definitely! Life in Krasnodar is good. This is good city that has everything you need — restaurants, etc. The club takes care of us really well and I am enjoying life here."
One of the best-kept secrets in your club are fans. You have some of the most loyal, noisy fans in Europe. How do you like playing for them?
"It's amazing! The club has a great fan base and they keep coming to all of our games, supporting us no matter what. I love playing for them and they make sure they do everything we need to help us to play better."
You played the Eurocup with Asvel three years ago? Have you and the competition changed a lot since then?
"I don't think the Eurocup has changed a lot; it was a strong competition already when I played it with Asvel. I have improved a lot to play at the highest level in European basketball. My first Eurocup game was against Lietuvos Rytas and wow, that was a shock! I wasn't ready for that! (laughs) After so many games at this level in the last three years, I know what it is to play at this level. You have to play really smart because you will pay for every mistake you make. Now I feel like a high-level European player, in the Eurocup or the Euroleague."
What would be a good season for Lokomotiv Kuban?
"I think that a good results would be to make it to the Eurocup Finals. I think we have a good team that should challenge to get there. At the same time, if we want to be there, we have to go step by step. Right now, all we worry about is the game against Gran Canaria, nothing else."