By Arma Kaynar/ [email protected]
During the recent Media Day hosted by Fenerbahce Beko, Achille Polonara discussed with Eurohoops his decision to join the Turkish side after a solid 2020-21 campaign at Baskonia and his participation in the Olympic Games.
“It’s an honor for me,” he replied to a question regarding the move to Fener, “Many fans embraced me before they knew I would sign here. They sent ‘Come to Fenerbahce’ messages. The fans helped me get here, but I was sure this was the best team for me. Fenerbahce is one of the biggest and most important teams in the EuroLeague. I am very happy to be here. This is a historic club with the goal of winning trophies every year. The team also has the best supporters in Europe. They are great for us players.”
Polonara plus Henry
Besides the Italian forward, Pierria Henry moved from Baskonia to the Turkish powerhouse as well.
“We talked a lot this summer,” said Polonara, “I think I signed before him. Learning I signed, he was sure it was the best option for him too. We are very good friends. We played together for two years at Baskonia, so we know each other very well. I am very happy he is also here.”
“We did play together for two years, but it will still take us some time to adapt to our new situation,” he added, “Our previous stint together helps us in the preseason games. It will also help us get to know our teammates together. I think we have a certain chemistry, but we can develop it further.”
Sehmus Hazer, Metecan Birsen, Marial Shayok, Ismet Akpinar, and Devin Booker were also added during the offseason. In addition, Sasha Djordjevic came in to replace Igor Kokoskov at the head coaching position.
“We have new players and new staff. We started joint practices three weeks ago. We have a lot of work to do,” he pointed out, “We are improving every day. Everyone is experienced. The added players came to Fenerbahce because they want to win. We will do our best to follow the instructions of the coaching staff.”
“The practices are very competitive because everyone wants to show what he can offer,” he mentioned diving into the preparations for the 2021-22 season, “We have a deep roster, a very good team. I believe we can fit well with each other. Our first goal will be to win as a team, not individually. This is what we want. We will work towards that goal.”
Sasha Djordjevic effect
Djordjevic, inked a three-year contract in late July to take over the head coaching duties at Fener.
“I think he is a great coach,” noted Polonara, “He was a great player. It hasn’t been long since he retired as a player. He knows how to relate to the players. He does his best to help us and make us play better. This will help us during the season. He is a very experienced coach and was one of the best players in Europe. He knows basketball. I am very happy to have such a coach.”
In a couple of weeks, Fenerbahce will host Crvena Zvezda mts in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season Round 1. The opener is scheduled for October 1.
“Yes, I am very excited,” Polonara told Eurohoops describing the chance to compete in front the loyals of his new team, “There were fans last weekend too. Not many, but after two years it was kind of strange to play with people on the stands. It seemed very crowded with 2,000 people. As I said, Fenerbahce has great fans. They create a great atmosphere. This is very important for us. I hope they support us in such a manner during the season.”
“They also sent me many messages in Turkish,” he said reverting to early interactions with Fener fans, “I did not understand much. But they sent many ‘Welcome to our family’, ‘Welcome to Turkey’, ‘We can’t wait to see you on the court’ messages. That’s very nice for a player. After signing with an amazing team, you feel so good reading these messages.”
“I came here to win”
Recapping his 2020-21 campaign, he was considered among the most improved players. He posted 12.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.2 steals per EuroLeague contest with Baskonia.
“Last season, I had a larger role and more playing time. With more time on the court, you get more opportunities to display your talents and help your team,” he mentioned, “You can do whatever the coach wants. This helps the player make better stats. Even though I am coming off a great season, I hope to improve even more this year. And I hope we win titles.”
“I came here to win. I don’t know what my role will be. If I play for two minutes, I want to do my best to help the team and the coach. If we win and I don’t score at all, I will be happier compared to a situation where I score 20 points and the team is defeated. I think a player should have that mentality. Because above all, we need to win, respect our jersey and the team. Individual performances are not as important,” he furthered.
The coronavirus pandemic heavily impacted the previous seasons. However, Polonara stayed focused with some help from his family.
“It was difficult and awkward to play behind closed doors. But we must focus on basketball and our own roles,” he explained, “I had a daughter last year. That also helped me play better and take on more responsibilities. That’s why I had my best season.”
Olympic Games experience
Before landing in Istanbul, he helped Italy rank fifth in the 2020 Olympic Games after clinching a last-minute berth in Belgrade, Serbia. He averaged 10.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per appearance in Tokyo.
“It was a beautiful experience,” he claimed, “It has been a long summer. One week after the season ended, we started preparing with the national team for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Everyone ended up playing in the Olympic Games for the first time. So, everyone was happy. Nobody expected us to go through in Belgrade with Serbia, a very strong team, among our opponents. We won in Belgrade in front of their supporters. It was an amazing experience.”
“I think it is the highlight of my career so far,” he added on participating in the Olympic Games, “Many people believe competing in the Olympics is above the EuroLeague or the NBA, especially if you win a medal. That’s because you represent your own country. Millions of people are watching. Playing at the club level is very different. Maybe a lot of people are watching, but they don’t care how you play. Your family and loved ones care. But the entire country is not watching. It was an incredible experience despite not winning a medal.”
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