|"To come fourth out of four was for sure not nice but if you look at the games we played against teams of that level, it was a great success for us." - Marton Bader on the EuroChallenge Final Four 2012|
The paths of Szolnoki Olaj and Triumph Lyubertsy cross on Friday evening for the second time in their history, in the first EuroChallenge semi-final in Bologna.
The first clash between the two sides took place two years ago, again in a EuroChallenge Final Four, albeit on that occasion it was the game for third place in the 2012 edition of the competition, which Besiktas won.
Triumph prevailed 94-87 in that game in Debrecen and prevented the Hungarian side, who were hosting the event, to taste the consolation prize.
Only two players survive today from that Szolnok side of 2012 and will step out on the floor of PalaDozza on Friday.
One is point guard Obie Trotter, who however had departed the club at the end of the 2012 season and returned only last winter.
The other is big man Marton Bader, who has been a linchpin of the Hungarian champions since arriving at Szolnok in 2010.
Fibaeurope.com caught up with the veteran Hungarian center and found out that he still remembers the 2012 encounter vividly.
Have you thought back at that game recently? Can any parallels be drawn between that clash and Friday's semi-final?
We were leading throughout the game (in 2012), I think there were three minutes left and we were leading by five points but in the end we broke down. I think it was mental more than physical and the Russians were more experienced and they had a fantastic performance by Jerry Jefferson, who scored 37 points. To come fourth out of four was for sure not nice but if you look at the games we played against teams of that level, it was a great success for us.
What has changed in Szolnok in the meantime?
I think that year we made a bigger surprise than this year by making it to the Final Four. We were definitely the most inexperienced team of the four that year, the level of the other teams was very high. Elan Chalon was first in France, Besiktas won everything in Turkey, Triumph was also very good. While us, we were coming straight out of the Hungarian league. Since then, we have played two years in the Adriatic league and we have stayed at the top level of the EuroChallenge. Last year we needed one more win to make it to the quarter-finals, this year we returned to the Final Four. So I think that Szolnok's program is constant, it's aiming high and our fans are proud of us and that we are here. But that doesn't mean we just came here for the presence, we want to win.
And on the court, what are the main differences between Szolnok of April 2014 and Szolnok of April 2012?
Now we are a more complete team, we have more key players, our rotation is very deep. None of our players is playing over 30 minutes and we are used to it, there is not so much pressure because everybody gets his minutes. I think this team is better and we showed we can play at high level.
Do you consider yourselves unlucky to be playing Triumph in the semi-final, who some consider the strongest team in this Final Four?
On paper, maybe Triumph is the best team, but we are not unlucky to be playing them. I think the biggest pressure is on Reggio Emilia now, because they are the organisers. It's great to have the support of your fans but the problem is that everybody expects you to win. In Debrecen (in 2012) nobody expected us to win. Our fans are coming to Bologna too, around 300 people, they are very happy that we are here and they want to support us. Szolnok is well known for the support of our fans, they always follow us everywhere and their support means a lot to us.
What makes Szolnok so confident this time around?
You can never guarantee that you will reach the Final Four and this right now is a great opportunity for us and we have to take our chances. We have to be confident, we have to feel proud to be here, because we deserve it, we have earned it.
What do you like about today's Triumph?
In today's basketball there are no secrets, the assistant coaches can scout anyone and we have scouted Triumph and we know them by now. I think this part of modern basketball is awesome. I think the VTB is a very physical league and they are a very physical team, they are used to this kind of hard game. They have very good individual players, they play a lot of transition because they are fast and try to finish as quickly as possible. We have played a couple of teams like them in the Adriatic league, which I think is also a high-level competition in Europe. I like them as a team, I don't want to name individual players but I think they have a very strong starting five.
|"Szolnok is well known for the support of our fans, they always follow us everywhere and their support means a lot to us."|
As the captain and the most experienced player of this Szolnok side, do you see a potential success in Bologna as a landmark moment late in your career?
My career is very interesting I think, because before coming to Szolnok I made it to the Top 16 of the Euroleague, played the Eurocup finals with Krka, I also played in the EuroCup semi-finals with Hemofarm. So those were some big success moments, but you cannot compare that to playing for a club from your home country. As the captain of Szolnok and a player who's been here for four years, I feel a much bigger responsibility. The feeling is different because it's a Hungarian team. Of course you have feelings when you play for a club abroad but there you are a legionnaire, a foreigner. Here, the improvement we have made in the last four years is remarkable. As a Hungarian team, from playing in the EuroChallenge qualifiers, we made it to the first round, then the second round, then the Final Four. I am in the middle of this and have been living it since I am 29 and I like it so much that even though Szolnok is not my hometown, I feel like I have arrived home.
You are turning 34 in September and other players at this age plan their retirement, yet you sound rejuvenated.
Actually, whenever I think about ending my career I always tell myself that I will stop playing when I am no longer mentally up for it. When you have goals and motivation you are still going and your body follows. I had a couple of injuries this year that were very hard to go through, but at the end of the competition I am healthy and I want to help my team, I am very happy. I don't want to just sit on the bench and cheer on the other players, people saying 'he used to be a good player but not anymore', I want to be competitive and help out.
How will you keep on motivating yourself and stay competitive?
This year I had a smaller role but it's normal, I think last year I played too much, I had a lot of pressure on me and I got exhausted. For me, it's no longer about individual achievements, I just want my team to win everything impossible. Motivation can be individual or it can come from the challenges of the team. Our team is always ready to take steps forward and the management is looking forward all the time. They are investing a lot, not just financially, and the fans are giving us a lot and these factors together are enough motivation to keep you going as a player. I am 33 now and until I enjoy basketball I am not thinking about retiring, but you never know what's it going to be.