Dave Hein and Sofia gialleli did an interview with Nikola Peković from Panathinaikos Athens, who was selected 31st overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Nikola, you played three seasons with Partizan in the Euroleague and faced top teams like Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow on a regular basis. And this off-season you moved from Partizan to Panathinaikos. What were your expectations coming to the highly respected Athens club, which always has extremely high hopes for the season?
“My expectations are getting three titles. I think it’s the same for every player that comes to Panathinaikos: Two titles in Greece and at least the presence in the Final Four of Euroleague. The three titles is our goal. We shall try to do our best to win all three titles”.
How difficult was it for you leaving Serbia and coming down to Athens?
“Ιt’s not so far. Everybody says that it’s like we are the same people. But it was the first time out of my country and I am 22 years old. It was first time in a different culture, a different language. It was very, very difficult. Now, I know these guys (his team mates) and it’s better. But I still have a really big wish to go to Serbia, to Montenegro to see my family, my friends”.
What are some of your favorite things to do in the Greek capital? And how is your Greek language coming along?
“I changed my life getting here. In Serbia I was going for coffee every day with my friends. The guys in the team are really,-really good but it’s always different with your friends. I go to practice, I watch TV and I go out for dinner with some of the guys here. The Greek language is not easy. I know only a couple of words so far”.
Back onto the court, you have worked yourself more and more into the regular rotation at Panathinaikos. What is the strongest part of your game and how do you help most this team?
“My strongest part is to play in the paint. I am trying to help this team as much as I can, because we are all here to play for the team and Panathinaikos in this point is like Partizan. There is not one guy who can do whatever he wants. It’s like we are everybody there for the team. Sometimes it’s happening during the season, in different games, different guys are going to score points, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s just the team getting wins. That’s why we are all here in this team”.
You have a number of team-mates with loads of experience. Which players have you talked to most about the game or have helped you improve your skills?
“I talk with everybody. I got a lot of help from Mike (Batiste), but also from all the other players. Everybody is trying to help and I try to help them if I can”.
Saras Jasikevicius is known as a very vocal character while Dimitris Diamantidis is not quite as brash. What is it like playing with those two players – two really different personalities?
“Yes… It’s OK. Vassilis (Spanoulis) is also a completely different character. There are a lot of different characters here. In the beginning you notice everything, but a couple of games, a couple of weeks later, you are getting used to it. He is talking, he is not… Everything is… normal (laughing)”.
Coach Zeljko Obradovic is one of the legends of European coaching history and has been at Panathinaikos for nearly a decade, winning three Euroleague titles. What is it like playing for a coach like him? And how has he helped you improve your game?
“He is one of the reasons I came here. He is a legend in European basketball but he is also a legend of our basketball. He was the coach of our national teams, he won everything and when we were kids we were looking up to him like if he is the god. He is still one of the best coaches in Europe and it was, it is, my pleasure to play for him. Every single day I learn something new and he is trying to help me, he talks to me. He tries to improve everybody’s game! I am very happy to play for him. ”
Panathinaikos is a regular in the Euroleague Final Four. You helped Partizan reach the quarterfinals last season. What would it be like playing in the Final Four?
“I was talking with these guys here about it. All the guys and especially Mike has told me that there is nothing like it. That it’s the best feeling when you get to the final four, when you get to the Euroleague title. Last year we had some hopes, but we didn’t get there. I hope that this year we’ll make it. We have an excellent team. We are still not playing in the level we want, but we can improve our game even more and manage to travel to Berlin!”
This year you were drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the first pick of the second round. What do you think about getting drafted and what did the management at Minnesota tell you about your future with the team?
“I don’t think now about NBA. It’s something I tell to everybody. I really don’t like to speak about it. There is no pressure from their side. They tell me “come in two years”. I don’t know what will happen in two years. I am such a kind of player. Even when I signed for Panathinaikos they were asking me about it and I was giving the same answer. “I don’t know. Let’s get there first”. I am very happy in Panathinaikos right now and I don’t think about the NBA”.
And this summer you played for Montenegro in the first phase of the EuroBasket 2009, winning all four games against Netherlands, Austria, Iceland and Denmark. What did it mean for you to play for Montenegro? Do you think that you can be in Eurobasket 2011 and where do you see yourself in five years?
“It’s OK. I don’t like why we split, because we had a good team, we have won the world championship with Serbia and Montenegro. I decided to play for Montenegro because of my family. It’s good fan because there are a lot of good persons, like Drobnjak, Scepanovic… It’s very good guys. This year was OK. We had fan, we traveled to nice cities, we got good results. I don’t know what will happen in the future, in 2011… I don’t think what will happen in two years or in five years… I think about today, about this year…”