heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Drew Nicholas, guard with the Greek basketball club and freshly-crowned Euroleague champions Panathinaikos. They discussed an all-Greek Euroleague semifinal, making NCAA and Euroleague history, the decisions made by Brandon Jennings, Josh Childress and Jeremy Tyler, and winning the Euroleague title.
heinnews: Hi Drew, this (semifinal against Olympiacos) game is receiving unbelievable hype in Greece, what do you think about the feelings going on in Greece?
Nicholas: I think the Greek guys feel it a little bit more because there is so much more Greek media here. But once the game starts, it’s a game. All of those things will kind of sort themselves out.
heinnews: What are your thoughts about the game against Olympiacos – a big derby not always known to have gone peacefully off the court – coinciding with May 1 in Germany?
Nicholas: For me, this isn’t something very, very new to me. At university, I played in two Final Fours. It kind of reminds me of that on a similar kind of scale – a lot of media, a lot of hype surrounding the games. And we know a whole country will be watching. We’re just going to go about our business.
heinnews: You won the NCAA title in 2002 with Maryland. And if Panathinaikos you’d become the fourth person after Tyus Edney Tyus Edney and Jiri Zidek (both UCLA 1995, Zalgiris 1999) and Tony Delk (Kentucky 1996, Panathinaikos 2007) to capture both titles. What would that mean for you?
Nicholas: It would be pretty special. Obviously it’s two totally different scenarios. But as long as we come out here and play concentrated basketball for 40 minutes on Friday and then hopefully again on Sunday, I think we have a possibility to get it done.
heinnews: Do you think it’s an advantage of playing against a team that you know so well?
Nicholas: I think so. We’ve played them three times already. They know what we’re gonna do and we know what they’re gonna do. So now, it’s just a matter of who executes and who plays harder and does the little things like offensive rebounds, cutting down turnovers and free throws. Those small intangibles will be what makes the difference.
heinnews: In Prague 2006, you were at the Final Four to accept the trophy as the top scorer. I asked you back then what you thought it would take for an American to go from high school to Europe, bypassing college. We have since seen Brandon Jennings pass up Arizona to go to Lottomatica Roma. And now Jeremy Tyler will forgo his senior season in high school to play professionally in Europe – supposedly in Spain. What do you think of what these kids – and that is what they are, or at least very young men – are doing and trying to do?
Nicholas: First of all for Brandon, I found it to be very courageous for an 18-year-old to just up and leave. To be the first one to do something I find it pretty special. And now the other kid, Tyler, now he’s leaving high school a year early. In some senses there’s been a lot of debate in America as to if that’s a good idea or not. But to be honest, I think it’s great. He’s going to come over here and he’s only going to have to focus on basketball. I think he’s really going to benefit from it, as long as he’s able to get past the other things like the culture and other things outside basketball. But him coming here and being willing to work, European coaches are great at teaching individual, fundamental skills – something that I think is lacking a little bit in America because kids are so advanced athletically that they don’t learn the game as well. But I definitely wish them all the best.
heinnews: He already averages some crazy numbers in high school and he’s not going to improve his game that much in his senior season. I could imagine he could really help his game by coming out here.
Nicholas: It will help his game and he will be able to provide for his family. I know a lot of people look at it like he’s not going to school – maybe that’s something that he’s not going to be able to fall back on. I read some articles on it and the kid made a very good point: as bad as it sounds, you can always go back to school. You don’t always have the opportunity to go and makes hundreds of thousands, or in his case millions of dollars playing the game of basketball.
heinnews: What do you think in general about the two trends of Josh Childress leaving the NBA to come to Europe and Jennings and Tyler skipping college to play in Europe?
Nicholas: It’s interesting. For such a long period of time it seemed like the NBA was the big boy and nobody would ever decide to leave the NBA and come to Europe. But obviously over the last 10, 15 years, the game of basketball is just evolving and evolving. And it’s being played a such a level – obviously as you can see. You take a look at these Final Four teams and I don’t know how many NBA players or players who could play in the NBA are gonna be on the floor this weekend. So, it’s very interesting.
heinnews: (After the final) Man, what a game. What can you say?
Nicholas: It’s a great feeling. It’s something special when you work all the year with a great group of guys to arrive at this point, it’s something special. And that is the exact reason I came to Panathinaikos. It was defense throughout the whole 40 minutes for us. CSKA played great in the second half. They really tightened their defense and were able to get some scores. I think the 20-point cushion was just enough for us.