Turk Telekom excited about Turkish derby with Besiktas, says Johnson
ANKARA (Turkey) - If you were impressed by the way Basketball Champions League debutants Turk Telekom handled business in the Regular Season, you'd better hang on to your hats once the Play-Offs get underway.
We are hitting our stride at the right time, going into the business end of the season - Nick Johnson
Nick Johnson, who emerged as a key piece for the Group A winners on both ends of the floor and averaged 10.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists in the Regular Season, is convinced the Ankara team will showcase their best game starting next week.
"We are hitting our stride at the right time, going into the business end of the season," the 27-year-old guard told championsleague.basketball.
"We are very confident in ourselves, we finished 11-3 in the group and we've been playing really well especially as of late, the past few weeks.
"We felt really good with our performance in the Turkish Cup, we felt like we should have won against Fener and who knows what would have happened in the championship game (Turk Telekom fell 83-81 to Fenerbahce in a Turkish Cup semi-final clash that went down to the wire)."
Turk Telekom went 5-1 in the BCL and 6-3 in the Turkish BSL league since the start of December. They were 3-7 in their domestic league in the first 10 games through November.
I was really excited about our draw. We are not going to take Besiktas lightly just because they have made changes - Nick Johnson
"We had our ups and downs through the season partly because we are a new team. We had some guys returning from last year who steadied the ship a little bit for us early on. Now we know each other really well, we know what each one of us can do on the court," Johnson said.
"We've played at our best when we made the game hard for our opponents and figured out a way to win it at the end. If you look at our positioning with Moustapha [Fall] down low, myself, T.J. [Campbell] and Muhammed [Baygül] on the perimeter, and our forwards who are pretty athletic and move well, our defense is definitely the biggest thing for us. Confidence and continued trust in ourselves is the thing I want us to have the most."
Confidence will not be in short supply within the Turk Telekom ranks when they step out on the court next Wednesday, for the first game of their Round of 16 series with fellow Turkish side Besiktas Sompo Sigorta.
"I was really excited about our draw and I think we all were, firstly because we only have to go as far as Istanbul [for Game 2 of the series] so it's less travel for us. Secondly, we are very familiar with Besiktas, of course they are a different team now but they still have the same Turkish guys as when we played them at their place," Johnson said.
We like our draw and our goal is to make it to the Final Four, and once there anything can happen - Nick Johnson
Turk Telekom faced Besiktas on the road in BSL action in late December and the Istanbul side prevailed 78-74 behind 19 points from Shaquielle McKissic, who has since parted ways with Besiktas.
"When we lost that game I think maybe we were looking ahead a little bit. But this [BCL] series we are definitely focused on, we are not going to take them lightly just because they have made changes or whatever," the Turk Telekom guard said.
"It will definitely be a big thing for us to get past this round in the BCL. Our ultimate goal is to win it, obviously, but we know we have to take it one series and one step at a time, starting with Besiktas. We like our draw and our goal is to make it to the Final Four, and once there anything can happen."
If Turk Telekom were to reach the BCL Final Four, they would pull off the biggest accomplishment on the European stage in club history. It would also be Johnson's first such experience in a European competition.
European basketball and the NBA are obviously two different sides of basketball and the Rockets would be at the far end of the other side - Nick Johnson
The Arizona native had previous short stints at Bayern Munich in 2016-17 and at Nanterre last season, but this is his first full season on this side of the Atlantic. There is a reason he has acclimatized to European hoops remarkably well, despite having spent the largest part of his professional career back home, either on the Houston Rockets or in the NBA G League with the Austin Spurs and Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
"European basketball and the NBA are obviously two different sides of basketball and the Rockets would be at the far end of the other side, as far as James [Harden] is somebody who controls the ball the majority of the time he is on the court," Johnson said.
"There are of course teams in the NBA that are a little bit different than that, if you look at San Antonio or even the Warriors and the Denver Nuggets, teams that move the ball a little bit more and they are closer to European basketball.
"But I've always compared [European basketball] more to college, because college ball is more team-oriented in terms of sharing the ball, or playing defense etc. Maybe that's why it suits my game better, I've never been the one-on-one type of player.
"I really enjoy it here, I think it's going very well for me."
And, if he is proven right about Turk Telekom just hitting their stride, it is about to get even better.