Credit: KK Crvena Zvezda
Credit KK Crvena Zvezda

After victory in Magenta Cup with the wins against Panathinaikos and Bayern, we had a chat with Crvena Zvezda's player Nikola Kalinic. In two games, Serbian forward has been the most valuable player on his team by averaging 13.5 points and 19.5 PIR.

Nikola Kalinic

Nikola  Kalinic
Team: Crvena Zvezda Belgrade
Position: SF
Age: 29
Height: 202 cm
Weight: 101 kg
Birth place: Subotica, Serbia

Kalinic has been a EuroLeague player since 2014. Following his debut in Crvena Zvezda, he played with Fenerbahce for five seasons and last in Valencia. Serbian player chose to come back to Belgrade to play for Crvena Zvezda once again. 

Let's start with your first pre-season tournament. How did it go?

Magenta Cup went well. Especially in the Bayern game, we showed that we would try to play tough and play with character this season. Obviously, we are not the most talented team in the world. But we are going to be competitive every game and see if we can win.

Aaron White's and Dejan Davidovac's injuries are sad, but this is part of the sport. Injuries remind us of the thin line between being alright and having something terrible happen. He dunked the ball but one centimeter too far or a push too much, and you get badly injured. I'm hoping he will get well soon. In the few weeks we've spent together, I've seen that he is a good guy, a hard worker. I believe he will come back stronger than he was. 

You've played against Aaron White many times. How is he as an opponent?

He is a tough opponent, especially in the mismatches. I like his game; he is an athletic player, has great energy. I think Red Star is a great fit for him; with all the fans in the arena, he could do great things. 

After several years abroad, you are back home. What brought you back?

A mix of lots of things. First of all, I wanted to come back home. With all the corona situation in the world, I realized that I'm too far from my home, my parents, my sister, my friends. So, I realized that I needed to be closer. If anything happens, I need to be more available to them. That was the main idea. 

Also, Red Star and Partizan are building nice projects. Dejan Radonjic came back; he was one of the first coaches who gave me a bigger chance and tried me on a bigger stage. Of course, I'm hoping that I can fulfill myself in a new role here as a leader of the team. I will try to do that as best as I can this season. 

What are your personal goals for this season?

I try to be a team leader: by being the most hardworking or staying in the gym to put extra effort. But I think this year I will have a bigger role in deciding the games. I'm now 29-30 years old. I had a slower start; I came to a bigger stage when I was 23-24 years old. I think that now I have enough experience to do that. I will try to be the leader, not only in basketball. I will also set an example in the locker room, on the court, in every way possible. As I said earlier, we are not the most talented team in Europe or the world, but we are going to play tough in every game. 

You said that you wanted to be a good example in other areas and recently joined the management of ELPA. What is the importance of this association for players? What do you want to achieve in the management?

I think it is important to be part of such organizations in your own profession. Many people are saying players are just complaining. But when you look at it from another perspective, we are still far away from the conditions NBA players have. Especially with all the things aside from basketball: injuries, traveling, etc. I think it is going in a good direction. 

By now, also the EuroLeague management recognized the association; it is important for players to be heard. I see that all of us together can achieve good things, not only for us but also for the future generations to have better conditions. Therefore, I'm trying to be a part of it. I think it is important for anyone to be in the syndicate in their own profession if possible.  

This summer, you played for the Serbian national team after a few years of break. How did you feel, although the team did not achieve its goal?

The national team is about pride. It is a great feeling to play for your country. I had a few years of break. We didn't achieve the goal, but this is part of the sport. We had some injuries like Jovic, me, and some other guys were missing. We didn't have the full roster. But maybe we thought that we'd win against everybody easily. Anyway, these things happen, so we shouldn't take it so hard. We had some years of successful summers recently, winning medals, playing semi-finals and finals all the time. If we were winning all the time, it wouldn't be that interesting. We also need to have the losses. 

I remember Rio when the camera showed, you were extremely excited! I believe it would have been such an amazing feeling for you to taste the Olympic atmosphere once again.

Of course! I've got goosebumps right now. It's one of the things that every athlete dream about being in the opening ceremony, on the podium, receiving the medal. You are there with all the other incredible athletes from all over the world. You watch Usain Bolt, you see Rafael Nadal eating the same food as you. You hang out with Novak Djokovic in your building. Olympics are the things at the highest level for an athlete, I think. It was an honor to be there.  

In some of your interviews, you've said that Barcelona was your favorite city, and you'd love to live there. Maybe this hasn't happened yet, but you were so close, and you lived in Valencia for a season. Would you like to go back one day to Barcelona?

This summer there were some talks with Barcelona, but we couldn't have a mutual agreement. For me, Barcelona is a magical city. I enjoy every time I go there: the architecture, the vibe in the city. Maybe it won't happen with basketball, but I would like to live in Barcelona one day, even for a few months. 

Valencia, in some ways, is even better than Barcelona because it is less populated, they have fewer tourists compared to Barcelona and Madrid. But it has amazing parks, beaches, galleries, museums, restaurants, cafes. And, of course, you have the sun. The sun is shining almost all the time. 

In Valencia, you had a non-Yugoslavian head coach, maybe for the first time in your career. Can you tell a few differences?

It was a different—different way of thinking about basketball. I enjoyed Valencia; I think we had a good season. I saw basketball from a different perspective. I saw the Spanish way of playing basketball. It is obviously different than Serbian. I think I had a good connection with coach Jaume Ponsarnau. 

I think we didn't find the chemistry between the players; there were injuries. I feel like we are talking about injuries for half of the interview. But I think these are important things. Coronavirus took away 2-3 players, and everything changed. I am sad that we didn't achieve some bigger goals, especially that we were ninth in the EuroLeague. We were missing one win to play in the playoffs. It would have been a great thing for the club. I must say that we had some stupid, unmotivated losses. In the last three games, we lost against Olympiacos. It would have been different if we won. I'm sad about that. Otherwise, Valencia has great people in the organization. It is a great city to live in. 

One thing I regret is that I didn't have the chance to feel the atmosphere in front of a full crowd in La Fonteta. But ok. I am young, I have a few more years to play, who knows what will happen in the future. 

You've mentioned in the beginning that coach Radonjic gave you the first bigger chance on the court. But back in those days, you were a young player, and your role was different. Since then, you've got experienced and a EuroLeague title with Fenerbahce. Now you are back home with all the experience you've gained. What about your relationship with coach Radonjic?

I really like him as a coach and as a person. You must ask him as well, but I think we have a great relationship. He believes me, and I believe him. I like his principles. He likes his team playing tough; he knows what each player can do. He is one of the first that trusted me, gave me a chance to show myself. I also want to give it back to him. We won many games together; we won the first Adriatic League title after many years, also the first Serbian League title when Partizan was winning it year after year. Those are important things in Serbia. We have great memories, and I hope that we will be making many more great memories together. 

Your former coach Zeljko Obradovic is back with Partizan. It will be the first time you play against him, right?

One time I played against him, but that was a friendly game. His return is also incredible that we have one of the biggest names in the history of basketball coming back to his country, sharing his knowledge, experience. I can't wait to play against him. I know that when I was under him, I kept improving myself as a player, as a person in every meeting, every practice. It will be fun to play against him, and we'll be competing at the highest level. I can't promise to win every time, but I can promise that the games will be very interesting. 

Going back to your Fenerbahce days, what do you miss most from Istanbul?

"Ezogelin corbasi" (Ezogelin soup – a traditional Turkish soup made with red lentils, bulgur, and rice).

Really?

Obviously, the food was incredible in Istanbul. I can't say one thing, wherever I go, I try to enjoy life. Istanbul is a great city to live in. It is incredible just to be there. Maybe ferryboat rides between Asian and European sides while you drink "cay" (tea), seeing how big and powerful the city is. You see all those historical buildings: Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace. You think about the people who lived there and the events that took place since it was Constantinople. Many events that took place in this city are important for world history. You are just sitting on the ferry and feeling that atmosphere. Aside from basketball, those are the things I enjoyed most there.

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