Ambition and hunger are words that define him. But humility, friendship and hard work could be too. Nikola Mirotic is improving. He is doing so in leaps and bounds. This summer his confidence has taken a step forward, something that makes him believe that 2013 should be his year. He no longer feels like the 12th player. Now he knows that he is an "important" piece within his team. The way has achieved that is very important: "Being hungry and always wanting to be the best." Although, as the power forward tells the program “6.75”, there are other factors which have influenced the development of his personality to becoming that of a leader.
Nikola, the pre-season is over with six from six ... six games, six wins.
Yes, it was a very good pre-season. The truth is that we have not spent much time training together because there have been players who have been at the European qualifiers and others at the Olympic Games. But in the end, in the short time we've been together we've done some good things. We were undefeated in the pre-season and now comes the best thing, the Super Cup.
If people had to pick an MVP of the pre-season, many say that it would be you.
I always say one thing, which is that I always try to do my best for the team. It is true that one day you score more points and the days you don’t do, you play well in defence or give positive energy ... the truth is that I came to into the pre-season quite well prepared, I have worked a lot over the summer with my coach. Eventually the work I've done is showing, although it is true that my teammates are helping me too. In the end, the points that I score are always thanks to my team and my teammates.
You say you've been working with your coach, but what on exactly?
I've been working hard on individual technique, I have worked hard on my one-on-one, I’ve worked on my shooting and on playing off the shoulder. I've been working a bit on everything, that's what I do every summer when I have free time. This summer I had more time and I took advantage of the month that I've had with the coach and in the end, the work we have done is showing I think and it has given me more confidence. When I got here and it was time to play, things have been going well and now I have to keep working, learn more and be more consistent in the league this year.
What do you think you have to keep improving? Also, the consistency, what aspect of your game do you think you have to improve?
I think I need to improve my defence. I'm getting better, but there are still a few things to work on so I can become a good defender. I lack strength and have been working quite well with John Trapero. I have done a lot of fitness work and I think rebounds will also be important for me, and for the team. Those are some things that I should improve, they are things that I do well but I think I should do better because they are skills that I have and that I can improve.
Last week your coach said in an interview that your ambition is never ending. In the same vein, John Trapero said you set targets each year and always end up beating them. Where does that ambition come from?
That is the hunger that I have. I always had the hunger to be the best. Every year I set myself targets, every year I want to be better and I think that's key for a young player who wants to become an important in player in their club and someone very important in competitions such as the Euroleague and the Liga Endesa. I think I'm doing that job well and I always want more and more and I show that. That is the most important path that has led me to where I am now. Also I have to thank my coach. He has always pushed me and keeps pushing me, because I do not lose contact with him. I have to thank the club, which is the best in the world, a club where you can improve as a player and as a person. Being surrounded by so many good players makes you better because you compete every day with them in the end you come out better than you were before.
Speaking of competing, Niko, the first title of the year is up for grabs this week, the Endesa Super Cup. On Saturday you play against CAI Zaragoza.
Yes, we will face a team that we know quite well. What can I say? We expect a very difficult game and that CAI will be very excited like us. We will be playing on their court and they will have the crowd on their side, but I think the game depends a lot on us. If we play our game, if we impose our rhythm, as we always try to, I think we'll win the game. But we must be careful, be prepared and remember the things that we need to improve on. We have to go game by game. We want to get the first game played, do well and for all of us to finish fit and well, and that we compete at a very good level whilst giving a good account of ourselves.
Finally, Niko, the feeling from watching the pre-season games is that you feel more important in the team and that you've taken a step forward and that you want to show how what you’ve got to offer. Is this your year?
I think this year will be my year. That is what I've working on and hopefully I’ll get what I want. I feel more important in the team and I feel more confident than I was before and I know that the season has not yet started. The best yet to come: the Super Cup, the Liga Endesa, the Euroleague ... and I want to be there ready for them, start well in those competitions and help my team. I think this could be my year.