Nikola Kalinic, who had significant contributions in numerous achievements, especially the EuroLeague title with Fenerbahce, between 2015-2020, talked to Osman Talha Sümer and Erdi Tiran from Salon Tribunu.
- You were born on November 8, 1991 in Subotica. Can you tell us about your childhood and how you started playing basketball?
Yes, Subotica is my hometown. It is a quiet place with around 100,000 people. I started basketball with all my friends. Those were the years of European Championship in Istanbul and olsa Indianapolis World Championship. Basketball was very popular in Serbia. Everybody wanted to be like Peja Stojakovic, Marko Jaric, Milan Gurovic and Vlade Divac. That’s how I started playing basketball.
- You started your professional career with Spartak Subotica, one of your country’s teams, in 2009-2010 season. You signed with Vojvodina Srbijagas in the summer of 2010 and played for this team for three years. Can you tell us about those years?
Yes, I started in Spartak. It is my hometown’s team. I think we played in third Serbian League. We won the title. I finished high school. Then I wanted to go to the USA to a college. However, some guy promised me some things that he didn’t fulfil. I also went to a try out for Crvena Zvezda, but I didn’t manage to be selected to the team. So, I went back to Vojvodina and played there for three years. Those were good years. I played in Serbian First League and first time in National Team.
- In July 2013, you signed a three-year contract with Radnički Kragujevac. In 2013-2014 season, you played in 25 ABA League games with averages of 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds. You also played in the Eurocup for the first time, with averages of 10.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Can you explain this process to us?
Yes, after Mediterranean Games in Mersin and University Games in Kazan they liked my performance. Then they made an offer to and I signed my first professional contract. I played in Adriatic League and EuroCup. Playing two or three games in a week was important for my self-development. It helped me a lot. We didn’t have any significant success this season, but it was a good season for me. Also, this experience helped me to live like a professional athlete.
- On 21 July, 2014, you signed a three-year contract with Crvena Zvezda, one of the two biggest Serbian clubs. You showed your best performance in EuroLeague with 21 points against Galatasaray, on November 21, 2014. In your first Euroleague season, you averaged 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 24 games. You also won the Serbian League, ABA League and Serbian Cup championships with Crvena Zvezda in 2014-2015 season. Can you tell us about your Crvena Zvezda career?
Signing with Crvena Zvezda was the next step of my career. It was a great season. I played in the EuroLeague first time. I had a lot of success there, such as winning titles in Adriatic League after 10 years. We won the Serbian League against Partizan after 13 years. It was a really historical season. Also, we played a game against Galatasaray. It was one of the best performances in my career so far. It was a great experience for me. It was a great life in Belgrade. Since we win, it is a season that I remember nice. That season made me play for Crvena Zvezda a couple more years and then I signed with Fenerbahçe.
- In 2015-2016 season, you signed with Fenerbahçe. That season we won the Turkish League and the Turkish Cup. In Euroleague, we lost in the final game against CSKA Moscow, unfortunately. How would you comment on that season?
We had a successful season. We won the Turkish League and Turkish Cup. We lost the final match in Berlin. Of course, we are going to remember the tipping of Khryapa. We didn’t manage to score the final shot and we lost in overtime. I think it was a great experience for us. It was the first season that all of us played together. There were a lot of new players like me, Ekpe Udoh, Bobby Dixon, Gigi Datome, Kostas Sloukas. We were all finding a way how to play with each other and learning about each other. Unfortunately, we lost that season, but we showed that we were better in the next year.
- Speaking of 2015-2016 season, we still remember your great performance against Real Madrid in play-offs. How did you feel when coach Obradovic put you in the center position in this series?
Yes, if I remember correctly, I think Jan Vesely was injured in a Turkish League game. And we didn’t have a sub for Ekpe Udoh. Then we figured out we should try to surprise Madrid and let’s try to do something new and something innovative. Željko Obradović, he is amazing coach that he can create a lot of things out of nothing. I mean, not out of nothing, but he can improve himself whichever situation he is put in. I played few times in my life on center position in. It was great as a surprise to us. We were all witnessing those years of Golden State Warriors playing with Draymond Green as a center that was probably the idea of everything and we figured out let’s try it and it will be good. At the end that was what brought us to the Final Four.
- In 2016-2017 season, we won the Euroleague title, and then we became the champion of the Turkish league. Could you tell us if there were any unforgettable memories in the process leading you up to the EuroLeague championship?
Yeah, 16-17 season, probably, one of the most successful seasons of my life. EuroLeague title also the Turkish league, I think, also it was the Real series in 2016. So, it’s also in that same ten or eleven months. So, amazing things were happening during that season. Probably, we will remember the celebrations most and all the things about that. I will also remember that during the season how we were thinking we were not good enough, how Zeljko was pushing us to the limit and at the end of the day, we played Final Four in İstanbul and it was great. Also, I will never forget the atmosphere after winning the title on the streets and how we couldn’t go anywhere without somebody saying hello to us or offering to buy a drink for us and also it was really great feeling to live and to be in Istanbul in that period.
- One of the most critical steps on the way to the EuroLeague championship was the play-off series against Panathinaikos. We still remember your great performance in this series. Is there any memory you can’t forget before this series and what you experienced especially in the first 2 games in Greece?
That’s also one of the great series. I think they were in the 4th position and we were in the 5th. They had an advantage of home court. We went there and we just balled out. We figured out that we can play good and improve our game. Bogdan had amazing games in that series. Bobby Dixon and I also made great contribution. We showed that we are ready to go all the way. There is one thing that I will never forget. We were playing against Gaziantep before Panathinaikos series. The Greek coach of Gaziantep was saying some bad things to us. He was doing trash talk like “It is easy to win against Gaziantep but you are going to Athens, you are going to lose there” and such things like that. That was also a motivation for us.
- How was the atmosphere and the fans in the games against Real Madrid and Olympiakos in the Final Four that was played in Istanbul?
It was great. It was one of the best atmospheres I have ever experienced. I think it was the beginning of final game. Everybody started dancing and singing and the game started with Jan Vesely dunking. That’s the moment I realized, okay we are winning this. There is no way that we are going to finish this game without the trophy. Full arena, the atmosphere and adrenalin was amazing. We played amazing, everything was working out. Set plays, all the shots, defence… At the end everything was really great.
- Unfortunately, we lost 85-80 against Real Madrid in the Final Four played in Belgrade the following season. What do you think went wrong in that game? Also, what would you like to tell about the Turkish League championship we won that season?
That’s the season I had a back problem. I couldn’t play the first half of the season probably. I think that’s maybe the year that we had the best team in terms of roster. In the final, we lacked some experience and leadership. We didn’t have defined roles. We didn’t know who is doing what and who is the guy that is going to solve the game. We also made some mistakes in defence. Tavares and Causeur played incredible. We put a lot of attention to Doncic. So, other guys made some extra shots. It was very sad. Especially for me, losing in Belgrade was so sad. If we celebrated in Istanbul imagine what would happen in Belgrade. Even five times bigger party…
- In 2018-2019 season, we finished the Euroleague regular season as the leader, but due to the injuries towards the end of the season, we lost the EuroLeague semi final game and Turkish League title against Anadolu Efes, and we finished the season by winning only the Turkish Cup. How would you evaluate this season?
Yes, next season was maybe our best chemistry and best overall play of the team. Everybody knew what they were doing, we were really functioning incredible, but then we saw how it is in sports when we lose couple of pieces, everything changes. I think Luigi Datome got hurt, Jan Vesely got hurt also I got hurt. So, without two or three players in their full shape we couldn’t do more. And that’s I think the moment when everything turned against that was until then we were winning against them in the finals, in the regular season games.
And also, I think that’s the season when everybody realized that it is not important if you finish in the first position or in the eight position because all the teams, from first to eight, they’re really great. The most important thing is to finish healthy. And, unfortunately, we were the one who realized that first.
- We can say that 2019-2020 season was quite bad for us, but we took the Turkish Cup to our museum again. What do you think went wrong in EuroLeague overall?
I don’t think it was bad. It started bad, but we were improving as the season is played. At the moment of the season was stopped, we were on seventh place and we had three more games against the teams that compete for a play-off ticket. I think we would probably finish fourth and even take the home court advantage. As I said, if you are in first eight, you are a good team whoever you are. We were bringing some pieces during the season. James Nunnally and Malcolm Thomas came. I think everything was going well. I don’t know if we could be champions, but everybody marking that season as bad I don’t agree with it. We just started playing good basketball late.
- You left Fenerbahçe after that season. Valencia was your next stop and then last season you played for Crvena Zvezda again. How did these two seasons go for you and what are your expectations with Crvena Zvezda for the next season?
Yes. I think it was time to leave Fenerbahce for both ways. I think we fulfilled this one. Those five years we went to the top of our abilities. I am sad that we didn’t bring one more EuroLeague title either the one in Berlin or Belgrade. But, it is okay. We are the first Turkish team to win the title. That’s what is always going to be remembered. Yes, I wanted to go to somewhere not as stressful as Fenerbahce to chase the championship title. I just wanted to play basketball and enjoy the game. I think Valencia was a great stop for that. I really enjoyed it and I also improved as a player. I got used to different roles. Also, in Crvena Zvezda, we didn’t manage to go to final eight, but okay. At the beginning of the season everybody was saying we were going to be last or one above the last in EuroLeague. So, we showed that we can play good basketball. For something bigger, we suffered from injuries and lacked of some players. However, we finished the season with three titles such as Adriatic League, Adriatic Cup and Serbian League. It was one more good season for me and my career.
- In the last 2 seasons, you played as an opponent against Fenerbahçe. How did you feel in these games, especially in Istanbul?
Yeah, well, it felt strange. I am only sad that the first game, when I returned, was played without fans or some smaller amount of fans. So, I couldn’t feel the emotional moment so much, but it was strange. In that arena, I played the most, I practice the most, who knows how many shots and how many practices we worked there. Also to see familiar faces in the stands or the court seat was strange. We were sad, but after that first moment, of course, I wanted to beat them. You always want to beat your ex-team.
- Can you tell us about Zeljko Obradovic?
There is not much to say that’s not already said about him. I think he is an amazing coach and amazing person. He helped me to lift my game and my whole view of basketball and professional life to a higher level. I am grateful for that to him. He is very talented and intelligent person. He is a really hard-working person. He is motivated to do his job all the time. He is also a hard person to work with, but when you realize he only wants the best for you, you start learning a lot. I wish all the best to him.
- After leaving Fenerbahçe, how would you evaluate the current status of our team, as a former athlete?
I think, in those seasons, maybe Fenerbahçe lost the identity with changing coaches and players a lot. So probably, now with the coming of new coach and he’s going to built his own system and I think Fenerbahçe is again going to be a title contender.
Dear Nikola Kalinic, thank you very much for participating in our interview. We are grateful to you for your contributions to Fenerbahce, on behalf of our fans.