The 2014-15 Eurocup will be full of stars and some of them shined in European club competitions last season. Nobody did better, however, than Khimki Moscow Region playmaker Tyrese Rice, who led Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague title, earning Final Four MVP honors.
Rice hit the game-winning shot in his team's semifinal victory against CSKA Moscow and went on to lead Maccabi with 26 points in a crowning 86-98 overtime victory against Real Madrid in the championship game. Looking for new challenges and a fresh start, Rice joined Khimki last summer, completing a very talented backcourt that also features Eurocup winner Marko Popovic and Petteri Koponen. Khimki broke the all-time Eurocup record with 15 consecutive wins last season and finished the season 16-2, despite behing knocked out in the eighthfinals by eventual champion Valencia Basket Club. Rice, who reached the Eurocup semifinals with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in the 2011-12 season, is fully aware that there will be some very good teams out there. "Not only does the Euroleague have great teams, but also the Eurocup," Rice told Eurocupbasketball.com. "It has a lot of teams that you could play and compete very well in the Euroleague. We accept the challenge."
Hello, Tyrese, welcome back to the Eurocup. How excited are you to start a new season with Khimki Moscow Region?
"I am very excited. It is always good to start fresh, start new and try to build something which you want to be a part of. The team chemistry is good and getting better. The more than we learn about each other, the easier it is going to be for everybody but as far as the chemistry, we have no problems, everything is good. Everybody has one mindset, and that is try to go out there and win."
How is Khimki feeling just days away from the start of the Eurocup?
"We are feeling good and getting better. We have started to learn each other more and to get more familiar with the coach. We have guys that were here before, so they are already familiar with everyone. We are just trying to adjust and adapt as quick as possible. We will take one game at a time. We won't set expectations, goals or things like that."
You played the Eurocup before, with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in the 2011-12 season. What do you remember about that experience?
"It was a great experience. We had a good season, went to the Ffnals here in Khimki and lost in the semifinals against Valencia. I got hurt in the game but we had some success that year. You know what it takes to get here."
Which were the main reasons for you to switch powerhouses and go from Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv to Khimki?
"A fresh start and build something new. We are in the Eurocup right now and want to be successful — and hopefully make it into the Euroleague. It is a chance to start fresh and build a new mountain."
A lot of the players that shined in last season's Euroleague — Malcolm Delaney, Joffrey Lauvergne, Derrick Brown, Darjus Lavrinovic and of course you — are in the Eurocup this season, making the competition even stronger. How much of a challenge will it be to play the 2014-15 Eurocup?
"It is going to be a big challenge. Any high-level competition is going to be a big challenge for us. Not only does the Euroleague have great teams, but also the Eurocup. It has a lot of teams that you could play and compete very well in the Euroleague. We accept the challenge and understand that there is a difference between the Euroleague and the Eurocup, but it is not a big one."
The Eurocup is competitive from Day 1 and more restrictive than the Euroleague. Five bad minutes in an elimination rounds game can be enough for a team to step down. How do you like the competition system, knowing that you have to be focused at all times?
"It might be a little bit tougher. The Last 32 is tough and then you have two-way series all the way through. You cannot afford to put your guard down because you have an extra game. You have to be ready at all times."
There are very good teams in your group — VEF Riga, Szolnoki Olaj, Zenit, Besiktas and Union Olimpija. What do you think about the group and how important will it be to be ready since Game 1?
"The group is tough, man, very tough. We are just going to have to take it one game at a time. We can't look past any opponents, which is something that you are not supposed to do as a basketball player, anyway. You have to respect your opponent any time you play against them. We will take it one game at a time and go ahead like that."
How much are you looking forward to share your backcourt duties with Petteri Koponen and Marko Popovic? What do you like about these two players?
"These two guys are great players in Europe. Marko has proven it for years and years in the Euroleague and national team games. Kop is the same — he really emerged a couple of years ago and people are talking about him a lot. He is a great scorer, a great player and the most important thing about these two guys is that they are great people and want to win."
How have you and your son adjusted to a new life in Russia? How do you like to live close to such a fascinating city as Moscow?
"My son isn't here right now. He is actually finishing up his football season in America and then he will come. We were busy, very busy for two months. It was really no point in me having him here. Moscow is nice, it has great restaurants and there are a lot of things to do. The only bad things is that it is very expensive, there is a lot of traffic and the weather is not so great, but when you go out there and do things, you don't worry about those things and just have a lot of fun."
You left Maccabi to play for Khimki. Is yellow now your lucky color?
"(laughs) Actually, my favourite color is red! Red has always been the color that I played in for many years until last season. But right now, yellow is the lucky color and I will stick with it!"