Roko Ukić: “I Did Not Want To Leave Fenerbahçe”

Our former player Roko Ukić, who played for Fenerbahçe between 2010 and 2012 and who won two Turkish League championships and two Turkish Cup championships, told Mehmet Can Yaman and Erdi Tiran from Salon Tribünü crew about his years in Istanbul.

Dear Roko Ukić, first of all, we would like to thank you on behalf of the Salon Tribünü crew for accepting our interview request. We are happy to feature an important player like you on our page. You were born on December 5, 1984 in Split, Croatia. How did you get into basketball?

At the end of the 90s when I was six-seven years old lots of kids were playing basketball. I started at eight years old in 1992. That’s how I started and fell in love with basketball. I never stopped until today.

• In Europe, ahead of Fenerbahçe, Split, Baskonia, Barcelona and Roma; In the NBA, you wore the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks jerseys. How would you rate your performance in these teams?

I could talk two days to answer this question. To rate one season is not easy. I am satisfied with my career. Every player thinks he could do more, but I believe that what you have at the end of the day is what you deserve. Maybe I wasn’t passionate enough or didn’t find enough chance in NBA. In my second year in NBA I couldn’t play much so I decided to get back to Europe. In my first season at Toronto I had some great games and I am proud of it, but as I said if I was more passionate maybe I could have found enough time. I have nine years of EuroLeague career. It is a pretty long career. In my early 30s I was labelled as a guy who got lots of injuries and didn’t find enough opportunities to play in EuroLeague. That’s the way it is. Younger ones come and take your spot. Maybe by talent and by experience I could last two-three years more, but your value is not how you think it is, it is more like how the teams, general managers and coaches think. 

• In the middle of the 2009-10 season, you transferred from Bucks to Fenerbahçe. What was your story about signing a contract with our team and coming to Istanbul?

The story of signing with Fenerbahçe was very simple. First year in Toronto I played 72 games and 15 minutes per game. In the next year they traded me to Milwaukee. I didn’t play there. I was the third point guard in the team. I couldn’t stand that situation and I was looking for some options where I can play in Europe. Bogdan Tanjević called me and he offered me a nice contract. I saw Fenerbahçe as a perfect option for me because it was a club going way up with a big society and lots of fans. Also, Istanbul was a great city. I didn’t think one second and accepted the offer. So I came back to Europe. I never regretted that.

Nancy Basket – Fenerbahçe, December 07, 2011. Photo: Herve Bellenger

• In the season you joined the team, Fenerbahçe became the champion of the Turkish League under the management of Ertuğrul Erdoğan during Bogdan Tanjević’s illness. What does this success, which came in a difficult period, mean to you?

My first season at Fenerbahce was very successful. I came right after the team got out of the EuroLeague very early. What we played for was the Turkish Cup and Turkish League championship. We won both trophies against Efes, who was very strong at that time. I played very good basketball. I was one of the main players of the team. I am very proud of that season. Coach Bogdan Tanjević got sick and it meant a lot, too. We managed to win the championship with coach Ertuğrul Erdoğan. It was a great season with great fans. I am very happy about it. 

• In the fourth game of the 2009-10 Turkish League final series, we had a great 85-79 victory against Efes Pilsen. What would you like to tell us about our comeback and the fans atmosphere in that match?

Yes, it was a very special game. I remember my floater over Ender Arslan and one more tough shot over Charles Smith. It made us win the game. As I told you before, I am very proud of that moments. The whole final series was on a very high quality with full gym every time. People in Fenerbahçe really wanted the championship after losing the previous year’s championship. So the season meant a lot for me and the club.

Bilbao Basket – Fenerbahçe, November 09, 2011. Photo: Aitor Arrizabalaga

• In the 2010-11 season, Fenerbahçe won another championship by beating its arch-rival Galatasaray 4-2 in the Turkish League play-off. What do you remember about the final series played with Galatasaray?

2010-11 was one of the best seasons of my career. I played very good basketball. We had a terrific season in Turkish League. We lost only three games the whole season. After that we were the huge favourite in the finals against Galatasaray. We were up 3-0 in the series, but I still don’t know how we lost the fifth game at our home. We make it up in the sixth game at Abdi İpekçi. It was not easy. I remember I missed two free throws in the clutch time. After that I was supposed to shoot two more. I remember if I missed those too, it could have been a big tragedy for me and for everybody, but I made it. I have so many great memories about that final series.

• This season, our team could not get out of the Top 16 in EuroLeague with an average and lost its chance to play-off. What do you think went wrong at this stage?

I am really sorry about how we lost Top 16 in the EuroLeague. We won the first three games and we only had to win one more game, but we lost the last three games and couldn’t qualify. We should have made it to the next stage. I am really sorry.

In the 2011-12 season, Fenerbahçe had a very unsuccessful season by being eliminated in the play-off quarter-finals of the Turkish League and finishing the EuroLeague Top 16 stage in the last place. What would you say about this season and the famous Unics Kazan match?

Yes, 2011-2012 was not a good season for us and for me personally, too. I came into the season with a broken foot. I missed all the preseason workouts. I started to work out late October. I wasn’t at my %100 until April. I played the whole season pretty bad. The team was changed. We also missed the intensity of Marko Tomas, who was hurt, and Terence Kinsey, who left. We missed the experience of Mirsad and Lavrinovic, who also left. The team really changed and it didn’t go in a good direction. That game against Unics Kazan was unbelievable. If you remember good, we needed to win by 7 points, but we were down the whole game. At the end of the game we were down by 4 points. The only way to win by 7 points was to take the game to overtime. Somehow we forced the game to overtime with my last second shot. We won the game in the overtime and gave ourself a chance to qualify in the last game against Milano, but as I told you before, the team wasn’t in a good shape and we lost against Milano. We were not good enough to defeat them. We couldn’t qualify for the Top 8. 

Fenerbahçe – Valencia, January 27, 2011. Photo: Uğraş Özyurt

• This season, our club was going through hard times due to the unfair arrest of the president, Aziz Yıldırım, and club managers. How much have you been affected by this process as our team and players?

It was a hard time for the team because Mr. Aziz Yıldırım was in jail. It affected us. All the stories going around during that period took our focus away from basketball and the atmosphere was not right. 

• In the summer of 2012, you left our club and transferred to Panathinaikos. What was the reason you left Fenerbahçe?

The reason why I left Fenerbahçe was because the new coach Simone Pianigiani wanted to change the team. After an unsuccessful season they wanted to have a new point guard and brought Bo McCalebb. They didn’t want me to stay and I had a great offer from Panathinaikos, they were also a great club at that time. I had two great years with them. I didn’t want to leave Fenerbahçe. I liked the club, but it wasn’t my decision, it was the club’s decision to not to continue with me.

During your two seasons at Fenerbahçe, you played with names such as Mirsad Türkcan, Šarūnas Jasikevičius, Ömer Onan, Tarence Kinsey, Damir Mršič, Marko Tomas, Bojan Bogdanović, Thabo Sefolosha. Which name did you enjoy playing and being a teammate with the most and which you could not forget the most?

It is very difficult to pick one name and say this was my favourite teammate. Obviously I got special connection with Marko Tomas and Bojan Bogdanović because we are from the same country and they are my friends. However, I learned a lot from Šaras Jasikevičius. I had a great pleasure to play with Mirsad, too. He was a unique person and a unique player. Ömer Onan was also a great character. Also, Damir Mršič was a legend. I was blessed and happy enough to play together with all those players and being the leader of that team. 

Šarūnas Jasikevičius and Roko Ukić, Lietuvos Rytas – Fenerbahçe, November 24, 2011. Photo: Robertas Dackus

Can you tell us about the most memorable game you played in Fenerbahçe and the most interesting moment you had outside of the field?

I had lots of games stuck in my mind, but probably I would say game six of the Turkish League finals at my first year in which we defeated Efes by 25 points at Abdi İpekçi Arena. The atmosphere was amazing. You had the feeling that after first two minutes the game was over. We destroyed them on the court. This was something special for me. 

• Our team played its games in Sinan Erdem Sports Hall, Abdi İpekçi Sports Hall and Ülker Sports Arena during your period. What do you remember about the atmosphere in these halls, especially the derby matches, and the support of the fans?

Fenerbahçe fans were always amazing. They were our sixth player all the time, especially in the big games. I remember that in my second season every EuroLeague game at Sinan Erdem Arena was full. The only bad thing about Sinan Erdem and Abdi İpekçi was the distance. We had to drive to there every game, but everything else about the home games were amazing. 

Roko Ukić, during the 2011-12 EuroLeague Media Day. Photo: Salih Zeki Sayar

As a player who spent two and a half seasons in Turkey, what would you say to the Turkish people, our country, Istanbul and your relations with the fans?

I had just good memories about my three seasons in Turkey. I had great experience with Turkish people. I played all over the world and I don’t lie or tell bullshit about anything. I can tell that Turkish people are really honest and straightforward. They try to make you feel at home. Even though I didn’t understand or speak the language we understood each other with feelings. Obviously, Istanbul is a great city. You have everything what you need there. I had great relations with fans. They were very passionate. They appreciate you. They stand by you whatever happens. I really appreciate it, too. It is not easy to find these kind of fans because usually fans are with you when you win, but in Istanbul even in the tough moments they were there.  

As a player who lived the last years of his active sports career and returned to his home Split, have you made any plans for the future?

As I player I don’t have many plans. I am 37 years old. Probably, I have one last year in my career. My only goal is to win a trophy with my home team Split. I played twenty-two professional seasons. From my point of view, I have a long and a successful career. I won twenty trophies all over the world. I played for the biggest clubs in the biggest competitions. I play two Olympic games. The only thing missing in my career is a medal with my national team, but I did everything else and I am very happy about it.

• Fenerbahçe became one of the biggest clubs in Europe by lifting the EuroLeague trophy in 2017, after you. How would you interpret this process and, if you are following it, the current status of the team?

It is natural that Fenerbahçe won the EuroLeague trophy in 2017 because as I told you, the team was on a way up since they merged with Ülker. Sometimes it takes three years, sometimes twenty years, but at the end of the day the club is good and ambitious. They make great investment on the players and coaches. They did a great job by signing with Željko Obradović. He is the best coach in Europe for sure. Again, I am very happy to see them lift the trophy.

• Finally, what is your message to Fenerbahçe fans and basketball fans reading this interview?

I just want to say big hi and send my love to all Fenerbahçe fans. It is a big family. I was part of it actively almost three seasons. I felt their love every time and everywhere. I hope I will be in Istanbul soon because every time I am there it feels like home. So I am still happy that I was part of the Fenerbahçe family.

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