Ponitka goes for European glory with Iberostar Tenerife
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA LAGUNA (Basketball Champions League) - Iberostar Tenerife are once again among the favorites to win the Basketball Champions League. It's helped that Mateusz Ponitka is logging big minutes in the team.
With some important holdovers from last season's title run playing a vital role, the Canary Islanders also added a lot of quality to the roster, including Poland international Ponitka, who's pouring in the points, crashing the boards, diving for loose balls and playing mean defense.
The 24-year-old has spoken to the Basketball Champions League website.
How's life at Iberostar Tenerife?
I feel very good here in this team. The first day I came here with my family, we fell in love with the place, the fans, the organization. My job is just to go on the court and give my maximum every game. This season is a lot of fun. I'm really enjoying it.
What about living in the Canary Islands?
Its' really important where you live. Most of the time when you finish the games, you have to come back home and when the weather is terrible, you feel depressed. Here in Tenerife, it's amazing. Twenty degrees every day, the sun is shining. Even if you have bad days, you still have the weather. You go outside to have a coffee, the sun is shining and it's totally different to a place where it's snowing, windy, raining, whatever.
Then again, you also had a nice place to call home last season with Pinar Karsiyaka in Izmir, right?
It's very nice. I loved it, also. It was perfect. The organization was also very good. The fans were fanatical, crazy. When I look back, the gym was crowded and the fans screaming. Most of my family felt very good there. All of the surroundings, it's very nice.
You've been able to play in two of Europe's top domestic leagues, in Turkey and now Spain.
Spain and Turkey are the top, the most teams in European competitions. It's very competitive especially here in Spain. It's good for me to try and improve my game, to develop when you can play against the best players in Europe. Some of them are even NBA players, we can say. Both of these leagues are on a high level.
And the players in those leagues, both your teammates and opponents?
Some I have known for many years. I can see my age-group players coming more and more into these teams. You have the veterans, too. I knew it was going to be fun. I didn't expect anything. The only thing I knew was that I was going to go onto the court and work hard and (figured) whatever happens, happens. I've learned a lot of lessons the past five years at different teams at different levels in different countries and different cultures. I've learned that you just have to take care of yourself with a 100% attitude and whatever is supposed to come will come. That's my attitude right now.
Ponitka played for Poland in February's World Cup Qualifiers
Other than working hard in practice, what do you do to get better?
I watch a lot of basketball, a lot of different players to learn from, especially from our games when we are losing or playing bad. Those are the hardest games to watch but the most things you can learn from them. I'm 24 but I've been around for many years. I've been in all the European competitions and have played in the national team at three EuroBaskets. I know the reality and it's probably, for me, easier than it is for rookies from other countries.
The coaching change from Nenad Markovic to Fotis Katsikaris at Iberostar Tenerife early in the season, how difficult was that for you?
It's not the first time that has happened in my career. I already know how to handle that stuff. The changing of the coach, you don't know what to expect. I had never worked with Fotis but I had known Nenad from the year before, so I knew what I could expect, all the good things and all the bad things. When the new coach comes, every player has a clean card, an empty card. It was also good for us at this moment because were we were playing bad. It was good for us to have a clean card to compete in practices and to try to build your position in the new reality. I think both coaches are good. Nenad, I like as a person very much. I've known him for one and a half years. Fotis is a great coach, open minded, a lot of experience and big knowledge about basketball. I like working with him, he's very professional and we can achieve something big with him for sure.
Katsikaris now coaches Ponitka at Iberostar Tenerife
How important is it for Iberostar Tenerife to win the Basketball Champions League again?
Everybody wants to win. Right now, the real games start. When you play in the Regular Season, you can lose one game, two games. At the end of the day, it's what starts now, the Round of 16, the Quarter-Finals, the Final Four. I think all the top teams know that they are capable of fighting with everyone. This year, the Champions League is even more competitive and also, when you're the champion, everyone wants to beat the champion, they are doubly motivated. For us, it's about lessons. We learned some things after losing a couple of games and now, we have to be smart. We have to play our basketball. We can beat anyone but if we don't play our basketball, we can lose to any team.
One of the challenges for Katsikaris is to get players minutes because you have so many good ones.
The big teams, they have a lot of good players. At the beginning, it's harder to build a good rotation that gives you success but step by step, the season is very long. We play many games, 34 in the ACB (Liga Endesa), at least 14 in the Basketball Champions League, plus Copa del Rey, plus some other rounds in the ACB or the Basketball Champions League and in the end, you finish with 50 games. The intensity here with Tenerife, where you have to travel a lot, it's high. Right now, we have a couple of injuries so other guys have to step up and build their position. I think it's a privilege to have 12 great players that can step up, go onto the court and do something positive for the team.