Despite being a Eurocup newcomer, Nizhny Novgorod has exceeded everyone's expectations by storming into the Eurocup quarterfinals. Nizhny has been rock-solid at home, losing just one game in the entire Eurocup season, and showed great character and determination in the eighthfinals. Down by 17 points in the series against Besiktas Integral Forex Istanbul in Game 1 and despite having to play Game 2 in Moscow, 400 Km away from Nizhny Novgorod, the club managed to rally and grab a historical 95-71 win.
One of its main players, forward Vadim Panin, stepped up big in Game 2 with 23 points on 4-of-5 three-point shots and 9 rebounds — both Eurocup career-highs — in less then 24 minutes. In his third season with the club, Panin has been really solid, averaging 11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 18 games, hitting 44.4% of his three-point shots (32-of-72). Panin is excited about the upcoming quarterfinals against Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem — and has big hopes, too, as he told us in this Eurocupbasketball.com interview. ""It is always great to play in a European championship in addition to domestic tournaments. And it feels even greater when you manage to move forward in one of them, as we are doing now," Panin told Eurocupbasketball.com. "So far winning the Eurocup is a dream but we are working hard to make it come true."
Hello, Vadim, congratulations on a great season. It is Nizhny Novgorod's first Eurocup season but the team is doing really well. What's the secret for such a solid performance?
"Thanks a lot. It is our first year in the Eurocup, but we played in the EuroChallenge two years ago — even we didn't do very well then. I think the reason why we didn't play well was that many of us had just arrived in Nizhny that season and were not simply playing together, as a team. The core of our team has been really stable for the last two years so so we now know and understand each other well — as well as our coach. Although we do have new players in our roster, they just made us stronger."
The team has been particularly solid at home, losing just one game against Aykon TED Ankara. Has that been one of the keys to your success — being so strong at home?
"Well, it is said that at home even the walls help. And of course we have our fans who support us, so there's nothing left for us other than winning. Unfortunately, we don't win all the time, like the game against Ankara. We also try our best on the road, losing only against Khimik, Bilbao — facing a strong Spanish team added to a long, tough road trip — and Besiktas."
Nizhny Novgorod lost by 17 in Istanbul but managed to turn the situation around in Game 2. What did you talk before the game to allow you to make such an incredible comeback? How difficult was for the team to stay positive after such a tough loss against Besiktas?
"Oh yes, losing by 17 points was too much — Besiktas had such a huge advantage before Game 2. Moreover, we had to play in Moscow, but I would like to mention that we only lost it in the last quarter of Game 1 — most of the game was balanced and we even took the lead late in the third quarter. So before this 'home' game we actually believed that we could do it. We also knew that if we wanted to overcome those 17 points, we have to put an incredible effort into the game. We knew that Besiktas would be playing slow basketball, while we would have to start to rally quickly, from the very beginning. So playing in Moscow was lucky for us. I'm from Moscow myself, so I literally played at home. My wife and our daughter, my parents, relatives and many friends came to watch us play. And the rest of the guys' families and friends were also there. Plus there were our fans who came to Moscow all the way by bus so we couldn't let them all down. We had to win!"
Nizhny Novgorod is now ready to face Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem, one of the deepest teams in the Eurocup. How difficult will it be to play against them and which will be the biggest keys to this series?
"Well I can't say anything about Hapoel so far except for I know several experienced players there. And of course there are no easy opponents at this point, so we will be preparing thoroughly. The key is not to make the same mistake as with Besiktas — not giving them such an advantage before the home game. And it would be great if we could win."
This is your third Eurocup season after previous experiences with Unics Kazan and Triumph Lyubertsy. How do you like to play this competition and how has it improved over the years?
"It is always great to play in a European championship in addition to domestic tournaments. And it feels even greater when you manage to move forward in one of them, as we are doing now. So far winning the Eurocup is a dream but we are working hard to make it come true."
Your team brought back Primoz Brezec, who missed some time with an injury. How important is Primoz for you and how is he helping you this season?
"Primoz is an essential part of the team. He is the only pure center on the roster. He is dangerous for any opponent under the rim but is also got a good shooter. He had few injuries and could not help us in the end of last season. Maybe he was the player that we missed in the VTB League quarterfinal playoffs against Zalgiris: he could have stopped the Lithuanian centers. And then we can only imagine how that series would have ended. He is playing very well this season and I hope he won't have any injuries to help us move further."
This is your third season with Nizhny Novgorod — what do you like about the club and especially about the city, which was closed to foreign visitors for so many years?
"Nizhny is not that big comparing to Moscow and that's what I like about it. You can quite easily get whenever you want. It is also not far from Moscow and I can fly home during free days. It has been open for more than 20 years and has grown and developed greatly since then, plus basketball is promoted very actively here. Our club is known to be focused on Russian players and if you work hard you will be given a chance here.
Other than Nizhny Novgorod, which teams do you consider as your biggest opponents to win the Eurocup title — and why?
"I guess now that Khimki is gone, Unics is the one with the most chances. Why? Well, you just take a look at their roster. And with coach Trinchieri they have started playing new smart basketball and getting good results. That's why they are currently holding the first place in our VTB League group."
Your club has made history by reaching the Eurocup Quarterfinals, with a chance to win the title. How does it feel to be part of this historical run and what would it mean for Nizhny Novgorod to win the title?
"It is too early to say what's it going to be if we win. It is just the quarterfinals so far with only the strongest teams to compete. But it is obvious that for a team which is in its fourth year at this level it would be a fantastic and much desirable result. And it would be an honor to be part of that! We have to put an incredible effort and also wish that luck would be on our side in order to make it."