There might be no more valuable basketball player in the world averaging 6 points per game right now than the man in the middle for one of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague's two undefeated teams through four weeks of the Top 16.
If Real Madrid is on the brink of earning homecourt advantage in the Quarterfinal Playoffs, big man D'or Fischer has a lot to do with it. And Fischer is very much conscious of making the most of this opportunity. Two years ago next week, on March 1, 2009, his spectacular rookie Euroleague season for Maccabi was cut short when he was slashed across the face with a broken bottle outside a Tel Aviv nightclub. Without him, Maccabi missed the playoffs for the first time, and last year they were ambushed by Partizan, the team Real Madrid visits this week trying to clinch first place in Group G. His scary injury kept hom off the court for just two months, and since then, Fischer has continued to block shots at a faster rate than almost any other Euroleague player this century. The only stat Fischer is concerned with now, however, is ending a negative streak: he's never been in a Final Four and Real Madrid hasn't done so in 15 years. "What I really want is to be able to win a Euroleague title," Fischer told Euroleague.net. "That's my goal. Besides that, I just want to get better each year playing in the Euroleague. Being the top shot blocker or top rebounder or whatever are great things to have, but I want them to lead to titles. I need to win one first, before I can say that I've done anything."
D'or, you and Real Madrid are headed to the playoffs, 4-0 in the Top 16. Is everything coming together for the team?
"Mainly, we were able to get some good wins on the road. First, we came back in Siena, which was unbelievable at the time. And then we got a big win last week against Efes Pilsen in Istanbul. So yes, I would say no that things are going in right direction for us."
Would you agree that this team is finding its identity — a defensive identity — under head coach Ettore Messina?
"Defense is the key for us. When we stop teams and clog up the paint and defend well on the perimeter, it gives us a little more confidence and allows us to play better. The credit for that identity goes to Coach Messina and the coaching staff. They do a great job preparing us before every game. We watch a lot of film and the coaching staff does a great job setting us up with the game play, so we know what to do on the court."
With that emphasis on defense, is quite different from when you played for Maccabi?
"With our team being so deep and having a ton of players who can play, I just pretty much take care of my role, although I am there to do whatever it is I can offer at any moment. If you look at our games, there is always someone different showing up in every game. I think that's because all the guys on this team know they can help us win. We can all do things in different areas, whether it be rebounding, scoring, whatever. Coming from Maccabi, where there was always a whole lot of offense, it's different, yes. Here, there's a whole lot of guy on the bench who can play, and at the end of the day it doesn't matter who, as long as the job gets done."
What has the change to Real Madrid been like for you otherwise?
"It has been a big adjustment, honestly. I was coming from another team with a whole lot of guys who speak English or are Americans like me. Moving from Israel, the weather is a lot different here, too. So it was a big adjustment for me, but my teammates and coaches and the people at the club have made the transition a lot easier."
Your first Euroleague season was ended by a scary incident in Tel Aviv. How did you come back from that?
"The motivation was basketball, something I love to do, and I was really trying get back out there on the court as soon as I could. The doctors said I would miss a couple months, but I was back within a few weeks. You know, things happen, and unfortunately that happened to me, but now that's in the past. I learned from the incident. The doctors said that if I would have been cut a little higher or lower, I would have lost vision in my eye. If that had happened, I wouldn't be able to play basketball. I used that to tell myself, 'Hey, you almost lost something you love to do'. I used that as motivation to get back as soon as possible and not let that happen again."
Your role in Maccabi, the first year, included a lot of scoring. Now you have less of an offensive role. How do you adjust to that?
"When you get to the level of the Euroleague and you come to a very, very deep team like this, there are a whole bunch of guys to play. Someone has to sacrifice something and all have to do so for the team. It's about winning. That's the whole thing. All the guys on our team have a winning mentality, and that's why I am in the same position of doing different things and sacrificing other stuff for the good of the team. It's all about our goal, which is to get to the Final Four, and I think we are headed in the right direction."
The team's identity was less clear before, as illustrated by the regular season games against Spirou, a record loss followed by a record win. Was going through those ups and downs difficult?
"Yes, it was. But that's the good thing about the Euroleague, that any team can beat any other team. It's kind of tough when you go into a place like Charleroi and they kick your butt. But we came back here, learned from those mistake and proved later that we can overcome certain obstacles. Ups and downs happen to every team, but we have a whole lot of young guys and this team was just put together this season. We're not like Barcelona, with a core that's been together for a while. We were still learning about each other at that time, figuring out what's best out there on the floor. It was a storm that we weathered, and now we're back on the path to our goal."
Your tip-in against Brose Baskets in the regular season and block against Efes Pilsen in the Top 16 saved victories. Which way to win was better?
"They were both special, but especially the tip-in in the last second. You always imagine that as you're coming up, 'Three, two, one...' and you win the game. To do that was great and to get that win was important. It could have sent us in a whole different direction if we had lost. As for the block, like I said, defense is one of my passions. Stepping up to play good defense against Efes put us in an even better position now. But that's all I am trying to do: play the best I can and leave it on the court."
In Belgrade this week, a win over Partizan would mean homecourt advantage in the playoffs. Your ex-Maccabi teammates got revenge there early in the season. Is that what you're looking for now?
"That's a spectacular and amazing place to play. The fans are incredible, like a sixth man. They boost the confidence of their players so much. It would just be really, really great to get a win there, but I know firsthand that it's going to be really tough. For sure, it will be nice to play there again, because I love that atmosphere."
No one in your locker room would say mission accomplished for making the playoffs. What would be mission accomplished for this team?
"It's the next step, the Final Four, because there's no other goal right now. But it won't be only to make it there, either. For us, it's about each and every game getting better and challenging ourselves in that game. We don't think now that because we're 4-0 in the Top 16 we will make the Final Four. No one on the team or staff things that way. All we think about today is Partizan. That's on Thursday and that's what concerns us. That's how everyone thinks and has to think right now."
In just your third Euroleague season, you rank among the all-time best in blocks and rebounds, per minute. What are your long-term goals in this competition?
"That's pretty cool, but I didn't know it because I don't keep up with the stats. What I really want is to be able to win a Euroleague title. That's my goal. Besides that, I just want to get better each year playing in the Euroleague. Being the top shot blocker or top rebounder or whatever are great things to have, but I want them to lead to titles. I need to win one first, before I can say that I've done anything."