Credit: AP – Scanpix
Credit AP – Scanpix

Anadolu Efes Istanbul's guard Vasilije Micic was EuroLeague's next guest in a series of interviews with the players that brought the Turkish team to the top for two straight seasons.

Vasilije Micic

Vasilije  Micic
Team: Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Position: PG, SG
Age: 28
Height: 195 cm
Weight: 92 kg
Birth place: Kraljevo, Serbia

Micic turned 28 in January and now is the ideal time to finally make that big step forward and try his hand at the NBA. In 2014, the Serbian national team player was selected as the 52nd pick of the second round of the NBA Draft by Philadelphia, and later ended up in Oklahoma in the exchange of picks, which still holds his rights.

Micic recently became the recipient of the 'Most Clutch Player' award handed out by ELPA (EuroLeague Players' Association), after taking home a back-to-back Final Four MVP trophy. 

"I never chase achievements, especially individual. Because especially growing up as a potentially big talent, you carry that pressure from an early age and all the additional information makes you feel more pressure. I'd like to be remembered by Efes fans and from the people of my generation," the Serbian guard told Javier Gancedo of Euroleague Basketball. 

"Winning back-to-back MVP Final Four trophies is really incredible, especially for a club like Efes. We all came here when the team struggled, trying the last hit at rebuilding. I felt like they were tired after so many changes of players and coaches. Each player came here very hungry and now, we feel like a family," he added.

Micic was the man of the match in the Final Four semi-final, where Efes needed his clutch three-point shot to overcome Olympiacos Piraeus at the buzzer. Talking about that last play, the 28-year-old guard remembers that he "felt like the game lasted for five hours."

"I was just into the game and struggled with some small injuries in the second half. So, my idea was just to maintain myself in the game," he explained.

Vasilije Micic

Vasilije  Micic
Vasilije  Micic
MIN: 30.18
PTS: 18.21 (56%)
REB: 2.71
As: 4.65
ST: 1.09
BL: 0.03
TO: 2.88
GM: 34

"I definitely didn't have the best performance but I felt good enough to finish the game. When I took the previous step back against Sloukas, I felt that my legs were strong enough. I knew that if I had an opportunity after that shot, I'd have to stay focused until the release."

Micic was confident that his final shot would be successful. That play has been the best moment in his career so far, the two-time EuroLeague champ confesses. 

"At the moment I provoked the switch with Vezenkov, I felt that I was focused all the way until the end. It was actually perfect because to make that three-point shot in my life, in Belgrade, in front of their crowd, is the best moment [in my career] so far."

If against Olympiacos, Micic had to shoot, in the championship game vs. Real Madrid, things were slightly different. Instead of going to the basket, Micic dished the ball out to an open Shane Larkin for a corner three-pointer that missed the target but gave the chance to Efes to buy some time.

Since the Turkish squad was already up by one point, nothing more was needed. Even if Real Madrid had gotten the defensive rebound, which they didn't, they would have had less than three seconds at their disposal for a desperation shot. 

"I generally don't plan things. Against Olympiacos, I only knew I had to shoot as late as possible. Against Real Madrid, it was similar. I wanted to attack in the last seconds because I realized they wouldn't foul. Maybe they did lack concentration for not making a foul," Micic says now. 

However, another important detail was that Efes' leader had no idea what the score was at that point.

"Honestly, I didn't know. In the last five years, I have never followed the results. I tried to stay calm by not looking at the scoreboard. When I attacked the basket, my goal was to shoot some floater or a layup, but I saw Shane was open and I think it was the best decision. When the game finished and I saw Shane celebrating, I realized that we'd won because I thought the game was tied."

Vasilije Micic made his first splash with Zalgiris Kaunas in a dream season for the perennial Lithuanian champs. He feels vindicated for his decision to join them in 2017, not only for all the success that the team enjoyed that season but also because of the role ascribed to him by coach Sarunas Jasikevicius. 

"I really made a great decision going to Zalgiris. Saras was very hungry to improve everyone and to prove himself. He's definitely the most dedicated person in basketball that I've ever seen, especially coaching-wise. He watches so many games, has amazing advice for his players. He pays attention to details that most people don't know how to explain.

He put me in the shape I needed so that I could be more mature and be visible without scoring. With him, I learned to be humble and be part of a big team who can have success."

Ergin Ataman was the man who brought Micic to Istanbul in 2018, as the Serb was coming off a promising season with Zalgiris. Still, he had been only a role player until that point. Talking about his relationship with Ataman, Micic says "everything is so special with him. In our relationship, we don't spend so much time talking. Our first conversation didn't last more than five minutes. I was in Lithuania and he offered me the role of the combo guard."

At the time, Efes were also negotiating with Malcolm Delaney, Scottie Wilbekin, and Rodrigue Beaubois.  Eventually, the Frenchman was the one to sign with them.

But Micic knew that he would be a perfect fit for Ataman way before the two joined forces at Efes.

"I felt that the year I played in Tofas (2016-17), I realized that all the players who know to play pick-and-roll in his system are very productive. He gives a lot of minutes, he likes talented players. Even if he told me that he wanted me as a role man, I felt like I could take that opportunity and use it to my advantage."

Micic recalls that Shane Larkin's inability to join the team on time in the summer of 2018 gave him the chance to show himself in the preseason. It worked out fine for him.

"I was lucky to join the team from day one. So, I was trying to get the coach's trust. And I played really well. After that, he started to trust me. I gave something different to the team, little by little. By the end of the season, he had realized that he could trust me. Then, I re-signed for another two years. Without talking so much, we fit each other well until now," he says. 

Playing alongside Shane Larkin and pairing with one of the most talented and athletic guards Europe has ever seen has certainly been a pleasure for Micic. However, the Serbian star is not amused by the narrative that has the two as the best duo in EuroLeague history. 

"This conversation is for people who watch and love basketball. I really respect all those previous generations. Maybe Shane isn't aware of all those players. But I'm happy that we're in that conversation."

Micic acknowledges that one of the main reasons why he and Larkin have worked so well together is related to them being unselfish and low-key. 

"I came from Zalgiris as a sixth-seventh option and he came back from the NBA trying to prove himself again. Both of us are really humble," he points out.

"He's the best teammate I've ever had. He's got both basketball quality and personal quality. He never behaved like he's the best. He's always ready to cooperate. As soon as he wants to be vocal, everything is precise and correct."

Micic thinks the main reason why the two cooperate so well is that both of them put their egos aside.

"We don't feel each other as threats. We take pressure off each other. All these things bring him even higher in my eyes and in my heart. We have something really unique as friends, although we never went for lunch or coffee," Micic concluded.

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2-pointers this season

Points made: 19,3
Accuracy: 56,8%
Place in standings: 11
Record max: 28
Record min: 12
Most made 2FGs: Vasilije Micic