Interview: Rolands Freimanis, Khimik Yuzhne

One of the most pleasant surprises in the 2013-14 Eurocup so far is Khimik Yuzhne, which is undefeated and tied for first place with PAOK Thessaloniki in Group F. Khimik opened the competition with a no-doubt-about-it 60-84 road win against Aykon TED Ankara Kolejliler in a battle of Eurocup newcomers. This week, Khimik confirmed its good moment by edging mighty Nizhny Novgorod 78-76 to raise its record to 2-0. In a team made up of Ukraine and U.S. players, Latvian big man Rolands Freimanis is an exception, although he has a countryman, Karlis Muiznieks, as head coach. Freimanis arrived right after EuroBasket 2013 and is playing a key role off the bench, averaging 6 points in 17 minutes. He last saw some playing time in the competition as a teenager with ASK Riga in 2006-07. Soon after that, he moved to Spain, where he developed as a player for three seasons. After a season in Italy playing for Montegranaro, Freimanis is still adjusting to a new country, a new club and to playing two games a week for the first time since age 19, as he told us in this interview. "It is really hard for me to play two games in one week. I have to adjust and be mentally ready for each game," Freimanis told "It is a big chance, especially since the competition is harder in the Eurocup."

Hello, Rolands. Congratulations for the big win against Nizhny Novgorod. Few expected Khimik to do so well so early but your team is still undefeated. Which were the keys to this win?

"The most important thing is that we stayed together and played as a team. We knew it would be a really difficult game for us against a really, really good team. We stayed together and played hard on defense. We had problems on offense but knew that if we played good defense, the offense would finally come to us. We were patient, stayed together and the main reason why we won is that we were the better team in the final minutes."

Before that, you beat Aykon TED Ankara Kolejliler by 24 points on the road. Do you think this has been your best game so far this season?

"We didn't expect to beat Ankara so easy, by 24 points. I don't know if it was our best game but it probably was because we played well on defense and offense, making shots. It depends, because in beating Nizhny Novgorod we managed to beat a better team. It is tough to say which one was a better game!"

You will now play back-to-back road games, against Alba Fehervar in Hungary and against PAOK Thessaloniki in Greece. How important are these two upcoming games for Khimik?

"Yes, these two games are really important because we have a tough schedule. We play two road games in the Ukrainian League and two more road games in the Eurocup. We have to be really, really focused in the next two weeks. If we are able to win both games, we will be able to look forward to reaching the next round. We have to forget about everything we did until now and be ready for every game."

You have a key role off the bench in Khimik. How do you like it?

"I talked with our coach a few weeks ago and he asked me if I wanted to start the games or come off the bench. I told him I preferred to come off the bench and help a lot more, especially on offense. I know I have not played my best basketball until now, but I am sure it will come. I arrived here after EuroBasket 2013 and everything is new for me."

This is the first time you play two competitions since 2006-07. Has it been difficult for you to practice less and play more?

"I was just telling that to my friends these days. It is really hard for me to play two games in one week. I have to adjust and be mentally ready for each game. This is what I am working on now. Like you said, I have been playing one game per week for many years. It is a big chance, especially since the competition is harder in the Eurocup."

You played many years in Spain - especially in key years for your development as a player. Has it helped you to become a better player?

Rolands Freimanis - Khimik Yuzhne"It was hard because I was really young and didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how the country and its basketball was when I got there. Spain is the one of best countries to develop as a basketball player, that's for sure. It helped a lot just to learn how to practice, how to approach the games, on and off the court. I had to learn a lot of things by myself, how to do everything, especially off the court. It helped me a lot, and now I think I am really mature."

Has it been difficult for you to adapt to a new team like Khimik and a new country like Ukraine?

"Well, some things are really different compared to Spain or Italy, the last two countries I lived in. Even with that, I don't think about it too much because I am focused on basketball and only think about that. I am happy to be here, Khimik is a great organization and everything is really, really good. We have everything we need after practice. It is a very good place to be."

Your head coach Karlis Muiznieks is also Latvian. Does that make things easier for you? How is he as a coach?

"He is a really good coach who always makes sure you understand everything that he says. He takes care of every detail, which is very important at this level. He is sure that everything counts, every small detail. Of course, him being Latvian makes thing easier. We can speak Latvian and we can talk about everything going on in our country."

Khimik is 2-0 and getting to the next round is definitely not out of reach. How important would it be for Khimik to reach the Last 32?

"If we finally go through, it would a really, really big thing for this club. It would be a huge thing for everybody in the club - players, coaches, staff, everyone. It would be a big step for us because we are a small team. We had a good start and hope we can get to the next round!"
Monday, October 28, 2013
Javier Gancedo,