Petr Cornelie shares with BasketNews his impressions from Real Madrid's loss to Olympiacos, his takeaway from the NBA season with the Nuggets, and explains why he wouldn't like to see a Play-In tournament in the EuroLeague.

Credit: Irina R. Hipolito/AFP7 via ZUMA Press Wire
Credit Irina R. Hipolito/AFP7 via ZUMA Press Wire

Last Friday's EuroLeague game between hosts Olympiacos Piraeus and Real Madrid had just finished, and the door to the visiting team's locker room was hermetically shut.

Player of the Game
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
EFF
14
Aleksandr Vezenkov
Points 15
Accuracy 6-15
Rebounds 5
Assists 1

Under normal circumstances, the Spanish powerhouse allows the media in attendance to sneak into their private area for some quotes. But not this time. Not after a game where Olympiacos held Los Blancos down to 60 points, a new season scoring low for the team coached by Chus Mateo.

A defeat in Piraeus wouldn't be a bitter pill to swallow but wasting 22 3-point attempts (making 3 of their 25 shots) and the chance to get a two-win advantage over one of their main rivals were reasons that justified the silence.

However, there was plenty of time until Real Madrid's bus would reach the stadium's parking area to pick up players and staff as they began to leave the locker room and head towards the exit door.

Petr Cornelie was one of the first players to appear, and he immediately spotted a familiar face. It was Sylvain Francisco, currently playing in Greece with Vassilis Spanoulis' Peristeri. In a game where the French players were the majority, that visit was to be expected. 

Moustapha Fall started the contest for Olympiacos, while Cornelie, Guerschon Yabusele, Vincent Poirier, and Fabien Causeur entered the court for Real Madrid. Despite their numerical superiority, the four Madrid players saw Fall's squad take its 13th win of the season and catch up with them at the top of the standings. 

"It's hard to win when you miss so many shots. I feel like we did a pretty good job on defense and that our shooting percentage doesn't tell the truth," Petr Cornelie argued in a quick chat with BasketNews after the game.

3-pointers this season

36%
8,9
Points made: 8,9
Accuracy: 35,5%
Place in standings: 10
Record max: 18
Record min: 3
Most made 3FGs: Dzanan Musa

"We didn't play well offensively. Even though we shared the ball, we couldn't find a solution. It's hard to win a game when the scoring is so low," he admitted. 

If Real Madrid weren't accustomed to not scoring over 60, the same goes for Olympiacos' home games. The Reds had never produced less than 76 points at the Peace and Friendship Stadium, a contributing factor to their claim as the EuroLeague's top offensive team.

But winning a game 73-60 brings to mind the days when Giannis Sfairopoulos was coaching the Greek powerhouse and opponent teams struggled to find open looks. 

Looking at the standings and the four-way tie (13-7) consisting of Olympiacos, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, Cornelie admits he didn't expect it before the season started.

"But it didn't shock me either," he adds. "I knew it was going to be competitive. That's the way the league is played, and it's great for everyone. We all want to compete every day."

So far, Real Madrid have been beaten twice by two teams. Olympiacos did it in the EuroLeague, taking down the ten-time EuroLeague champs both in Madrid (89-87) and Piraeus (73-60). However, Cornelie thinks there's another team that has caused his team the most trouble so far.

"We didn't beat Baskonia in the ACB or the EuroLeague," he notes.

"I think they've got some strengths that we haven't been able to match."

That's not to say that the 27-year-old big man underestimates his side's potential.

"We know that we can beat pretty much everyone if we play the way we want, offensively and defensively," he declares. "We have a crazy roster. I wouldn't say I'm impressed by any other team. Some of them are really great, but we're up there with them."

Cornelie, hailing from Calais, concedes that Madrid lost their two games to Olympiacos in a completely different fashion but doesn't think the Reds are a bad match-up for his team.

"We didn't play our basketball tonight. I don't think we're going to play like this in every game, missing that many shots. So, I'm not too worried," he explains. 

With the arrivals of stars like Dzanan Musa, Mario Hezonja, and Sergio Rodriguez, the Frenchman's signing went somewhat unnoticed. But after almost four months into the season, it can be said that Cornelie has fit in with the squad like a glove.

Anthony Randolph's injury gave him the opportunity to show that he is worth more than a limited G-League role.

Credit AP/Scanpix

Over Real Madrid's last five EuroLeague contests, the former Denver Nuggets big man has averaged 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. His playing time has also increased, as well as his overall contribution. 

Cornelie says the season is going well for him as long as Real Madrid are mostly winning.

"We're first in ACB and the EuroLeague. I feel like I've been playing more minutes, and that's good. If we win, that's a good season for me," he points out. 

With the signing of Cornelie, Los Blancos not only have a player capable of hitting corner threes but also an athletic rebounder who complements Edy Tavares and Vincent Poirier perfectly.

In fact, Poirier and Cornelie were teammates at the Tokyo Olympic Games, where France won the silver medal.

Nevertheless, playing in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers remains an almost impossible task for any EuroLeague player. Cornelie admits that his goal is to be able to join France when the next opportunity comes, but he is also aware of the limitations caused by the conflicting schedules.

"I know there's a FIBA window in February, but I also know that for us EuroLeague players, it's out of the question," he stresses.

For Cornelie, who played in his native country for 8 years before moving to Denver, the EuroLeague had always been one of his primary goals. 

"It's so competitive, a great league," he marvels.

"I've been watching it for so many years. I love that I can actually play at this level and with some of the players I was watching on TV. I want to keep progressing. Playing at the highest level with the best team in Europe is the best thing that has happened to me," he says. 

Credit Sonia Canada/Getty Images

Actually, the former NBA forward thinks the EuroLeague is so perfect that it hardly requires any amendments in its format. Take the recent debate on potentially introducing a Play-In system in the near future so that more teams are given a chance to compete for a playoff spot.

"I don't know," Cornelie replies with a tone of hesitation.

"I think the season is long enough, and you have so many games. I don't know if you want to add some more. It's a system that works pretty well in the NBA, but I'm not sure if that could work in Europe as well."

The Frenchman was selected in the same NBA Draft as Juancho Hernangomez (2016) but decided to continue playing in his native country, at Elan Bearnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez for five more years.

When he was ready, he turned down all offers and headed for Denver. After appearing in only 13 games with the Nuggets in 2021-22, he spent the rest of the season with their G League affiliate. 

"It was a great experience. It showed me what it is to play in the NBA. It was great to be able to see those guys, like Nikola Jokic, practicing and being able to perform at the highest level," Cornelie maintains.

"I'm grateful I was there and had the chance to learn from them."

Another thing that Cornelie was able to learn was the different ways NBA and European teams are built. 

"Obviously, it's way different," he comments.

"It's the way of playing. In the NBA, you're building a team around two or three players, and all the others are playing for them. In Europe, especially at Real Madrid, the team is so big, and you got so many great players that can be the starting five in any other team."

That said, Cornelie has also come to terms with the fact that certain players are in short supply. That's why you can't find a guy like his former teammate in Europe. 

"There's only one Nikola Jokic worldwide, after all."

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Olympiacos Piraeus
Real Madrid
44%
30/68
Field goals
38%
23/61
43
Rebounds
36
15
Assists
16
4
Steals
8
23%
6/26
3-pointers
12%
3/25
12
Turnovers
14

Best players

Thomas  Walkup
18 PTS
7/11 FG
1/2 FT
Walter  Tavares
12 PTS
6/8 FG
0/0 FT
Tarik  Black
9 REB
4 DREB
5 OREB
Vincent  Poirier
8 REB
5 DREB
3 OREB
Kostas  Sloukas
6 As
5 TO
25 MIN
Real Madrid
Few players
3 As
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
14 EFF
67% 2P%
0% 3P%
Vincent  Poirier
12 EFF
50% 2P%
- 3P%