Few Eurocup newcomers have entered the competition with more experience than Zoran Planinic of BC Khimki. A well-rounded veteran in his fourth season in Russia, Planinic had eight Euroleague seasons under his belt before making his debut in the 2011-12 Eurocup. Planinic has been one of the pillars that have taken Khimki to the quarterfinals after a near-perfect season in which the team has only lost once. He is averaging 10.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and is third in the competition with 5.3 assists over 11 games. Planinic has scored 12 points or more in each of his last six games, which shows how he steps up when the games are most important. A young veteran at age 29, Planinic could be four games away from winning his first continental title and everyone at Khimki is aware of this great opportunity, as he told us in this Eurocupbasketball.com interview. "It is a big thing for us and we have talked about it all year long. We cannot just get to the Eurocup Finals; we need to win it" Planinic told Eurocupbasketball.com. "This club has put together a very good team and for us, getting back to the Euroleague is the only thing on our minds. Players, coaches, fans, everyone is aware of that and that is the goal."
Hello Zoran. How has the Eurocup season been so far for you and Khimki?
"It's been good. I think we have had a little bit of ups and downs. We only had one loss against Donetsk which cost us first place in our Last 16 group. We are going to try to correct that with two wins against Lokomotiv."
Being a Russian team, you must know Lokomotiv very well. How important is that?
"As a matter of fact, we played against them and won in the Russian League this week. It was kind of a test before the big games. But I am sure both coaches hid something for the Eurocup Quarterfinals."
There are three Russian teams in the Eurocup Quarterfinals — not to mention CSKA and Unics in the Euroleague Playoffs. Does this show how strong Russian basketball has become?
"I think that the Russian League is one of the strongest in Europe, probably the strongest one after the Spanish League. A lot of people underestimate the Russian League, but it is full of good teams and like you said, the good results Russian teams are getting proves it. It has been pretty strong so far."
You played in the Euroleague for eight years before your Eurocup debut this season. How do you like the Eurocup?
"It's not bad at all! There are a lot of good teams with equal levels and anybody can beat anybody, which is, of course, very interesting. Of course, the competition level is not the same as in the Euroleague, but still it is very, very competitive. It is a good competition."
You have been playing some of your best basketball. Do you think it is one of your best seasons, if not the best?
"Well, we will see about that once I finish my career; we can look back and see if it was one of my best seasons. I am playing pretty well, am healthy and fit. I am happy with how things are going for me this season. It comes with the age and experience. I have been through a lot of tough games and even to the Euroleague Final Four. It is a natural thing."
How different is to have a basketball legend like Rimas Kurtiniatis as head coach?
"I talk to him a lot about basketball. He has really influenced me a lot. Who knows? If I had him as a coach when I was younger, I could have been a better player! He has helped a lot and given me the freedom to let me be who I am on the court. It is one of the reasons why I am playing well this season. He is a player's coach that understands us — what we like or not. I think that is the key to his success as a coach."
How important can the home-court advantage be in a two-game series?
"To tell you the truth, I don't think it is an advantage at all, because all we have to do is to win two games by 1 point. I mean, if it was a three-game series in which one of the teams plays twice at home, that would be a more important home-court advantage. In a two-game series, any game can go to any side. I don't think it is very important to play the second game at home or on the road. Everybody has a 50/50 chance to advance."
This is your fourth year in Russia and your second with Khimki. How do you like living in Russia and playing for this club?
"After four years in Russia, I feel like I am a local player. I don't feel like a foreigner in Russia anymore. I have a lot of friends here and like it here. It is kind of boring to see the snow in winter every day, but you get used you it. As for the traffic, you have to know when to go out and when to stay home! At certain times, you don't even think about going to the city; it is part of being here!"
Last but not least, is hosting the final a unique chance for Khimki to finally win the Eurocup?
"It is a big thing for us and we have talked about it all year long. We cannot just get to the Eurocup Finals; we need to win it. This club has put together a very good team and for us, getting back to the Euroleague is the only thing on our minds. Players, coaches, fans, everyone is aware of that and that is the goal — winning the Eurocup to get back to the Euroleague next year."