By Luka Maselj
|KRKA bounced back from a shock home defeat in the first game, to win their quarter-final play-off series against Lukoil Akademic. The 31-year-old power forward scored 12 points in the deciding third game|
Jure Balazic is one of KK KRKA's most important players.
The captain of the Slovenian outfit has played in all of this year's EuroChallenge games, averaging 7.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 0.9 assists.
Now comes a Final Four that also includes Russian teams Spartak Saint-Petersburg and Lokomotiv Kuban, and hosts BC Oostende of Belgium.
KRKA have raised a lot of eyebrows with their gritty, determined play.
Balazic reflected on the season and looked ahead to Ostend in this interview with Basketball World News.
The EuroChallenge Final Four is coming up in less than three weeks. What are your expectations?
Jure Balazic: "We have already reached and exceeded the goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season. Our wish is to go on playing like we did and introduce ourselves to the European basketball audience in the best possible way. All the players, the coaches, we all want to go into the Final and win. It's a big challenge, this EuroChallenge."
Like you said, the expectations were not that high at the beginning of the season. When did you start to notice that you could do more than just participate?
Jure Balazic: "I think it became clear very soon that we had a very good team that could challenge every other team. We took the EuroChallenge as a ‘second' competition, behind the NLB (Adriatic) League, but with the progress we made, it has become very important in the last few weeks. During the season, we started to believe that we could make it to the Final Four - a few of us said that loudly to the press - and now we actually made it. We are very happy and now we want to make an even bigger step."
The Quarter-Final games against Lukoil Academic were very intense.
Jure Balazic: "That's true, but I think the better team went through. We were very happy that our crowd was very supportive - you could really say once again that Novo Mesto lived for our success. The people were very happy when we won. We got a lot of congratulations."
You will face Oostende in the first game. How much do you know about this team?
Jure Balazic: "A bit, but not a lot. We are not yet focused on them, as we have a few important games before that; first the national championship, than the NLB League Final Four. We are sure Oostende are a good team - they have to be to make it this far - and that they will have a big advantage because they will be playing at home. It will not be easy to beat them, but we will give it our best. I am confident that it is possible."
What do you know about the other two teams, Spartak and Lokomotiv?
Jure Balazic: "We have some information, but like I said - there will be more time for this later. Surely they are mighty teams, especially based on their budgets and rosters. But that is not always the decisive factor."
How would you introduce the KK KRKA team to the European audience?
Jure Balazic: "We are a very homogeneous team, which doesn't have big stars. Our advantage is that we are a real team - we breathe for each other. That is why we are a tough nut to crack for each and every team we face."