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Pokusevski: «A huge thank you to Olympiacos»

Destiny? Dream? The sure thing is that the first hours of November 19, 2020 present to Aleksej Pokusevski a reality he had dreamt of and according to what he said to, was destined for!

Our Poku was selected at number 17 of the NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who then gave his rights to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who, in order to acquire him, had to trade Ricky Rubio plus two more of their picks!

“First of all, I would like to wholeheartedly thank the Presidents, Mr. Giorgos and Mr. Panagiotis Angelopoulos, as well as Mr. Giorgos Skindilias, for believing in me, brought me to Olympiacos at a very young age and gave me the opportunity to realize my dream. Also, I would like to sincerely thank coach David Blatt, who helped me so much during his tenure with Olympiacos”, he said talking to the official web page of our team.

Oklahoma is going to be the next station in his career, however, the journey in-between has its own unique significance for the tall (2.14m) guard, who in just a little over a month (more specifically, on December 26) is going to turn 19. “I was born in Belgrade, however, we moved to Novi Sad when I was really young. There, at about the age of six, I took up basketball with a very small team, Vojvodina. I don’t remember exactly when my love for basketball was born. What I do know is that my dad has a video showing me dribbling a ball at the age of two”.  

His father’s habit of videotaping him even during practices, was what helped him stand out before he was even 14! “Since I began playing basketball, my father would be recording everything I was doing on the floor and he would then upload it on YouTube. That’s how a few teams got to know about me and showed an interest in me… Olympiacos had been one of them”.

When the ‘reds’ took an interest in him, Aleksej Pokusevski knew very well what Olympiacos meant! “I used to watch European basketball in general and I was well aware of who Vassilis Spanoulis and Giorgos Printezis were. I happen to clearly remember the three Printezis made against Barcelona that gave Olympiacos the ticket to the Madrid Final Four in 2015! I was really happy for them at the time!. So, when I initially heard that Olympiacos wanted to sign me, I was excited. If I remember well, the first contact came through email. To be honest, I didn’t believe it at first! At the same time however, it meant that they saw something in me and that I was doing something right. It was a truly great moment! I was very confident in myself since the start, however, Olympiacos got to also believe in me as well and I sincerely thank them for it”.

In the summer of 2015, Poku traveled to Greece for a try-out with the ‘reds’. “There was a summer camp. I came to Greece and stayed in a hotel that ‘sees’ towards Piraeus. I remember being on the top floors of the hotel and looking from the window, I told my dad: “I want to live there’. I was pointing with my finger, however, I hadn’t known how the area was called at the time. A few months later, I got live in Piraeus…”.

Every beginning is hard, the saying goes. All the more for a 14 year old kid who only speaks Serbian and moves from another country – initially at least – without half his family. “I was by myself for a little while, then with my mother… It wasn’t a steady situation. We weren’t all together. That’s why, and it’s only logical I think, it was tough for me at first, but Olympiacos was there for me! All the team’s people were there for me 24/7 and made me feel very comfortable, as if I were home. This never changed during these five years… It’s the same now. They are always there for me”.  

The ‘reds’ Academies played an important role in his development. “The Olympiacos Academies helped me to evolve as a player a lot. When I came here, my coach had been Mr. Kerameas and I owe him a big thanks as well. He also believed in me, but, he also helped me grow properly and learn another language. I remember him speaking to me in Greek for hours, so that I could learn how to speak it as well, although I wouldn’t understand a word in the beginning. And of course he helped me a lot with basketball too and I thank him for that. I learned both Greek and English here”.

Apart from the Academies however, he also got important opportunities with the professional team, with its ‘stars’ embracing him from day one! “I looked up to Kostas Papanikolaou, both then and now. I really love his energy, I like him as a player a lot, but I also like him as a human being. All the players helped me. Spanoulis, Papanikolaou, Printezis, they took me in from the beginning and I got to feel really comfortable around them. Actually, everyone one the team made me one of their own, I never got to face any problems”.  

Last season, Pokusevski – who has celebrated two Greek Championships with the U18 team – made  a strong impression with his performances for the developmental team, while during the 2018-19 season, he got to debut with the Euroleague. “This is something I’m going to remember for ever…”. So, he gradually began attracting interest by the NBA scouts, who came to the SEF on a multitude of occasions to watch him. In view of this summer’s draft, he got to cross the Atlantic and got a taste of what he can expect in the future… “I stayed in the States for two months, I saw how different things are compared to Europe. All this helped me a lot. I will definitely need time to adjust to a new situation, however, it’s something I have experienced before in the past, when I left Novi Sad to take up residence in Piraeus”.  

H returned to Greece last month and was anxious about the draft. “It wasn’t only the night of the draft… It was many nights before that neither I, nor my family, were able to sleep. We had been so excited! To tell you the truth, I hadn’t expected to be seeded that high. In reality, I wasn’t expecting anything in particular. So, when I heard my name that early on, it was kind of a shock for me. I was so happy! Also, trading to Oklahoma was an even greater shock, because they are a really good team. I wasn’t thinking too much during the event. However, when all of this was over, I felt exhilarated and I thank God I got to live it!”.

His physical stature was what made him stand out, but his work ethic is something that everyone who has worked with him talks about. For him, though, being drafted is more than personal vindication. “I have certainly worked hard, however, nothing of all of this would have happened, if not for the support of my family. They were by my side during all the difficult moments to support me, but also to ‘push’ me to bring the best in me forward. Also, they helped me remain grounded and that’s really important”.   

Like all kids, he would also make a lot of dreams. Dreams that are now materializing or, more correctly, adjusting… “I had a dream since I were a kid to play for the NBA. Since the age of 8 or 9, I can’t say that I had been 100% sure, but I had been determined to fight and I deep inside, I believed I could make it. But now, I don’t have NBA dreams. I have NBA goals and I want to fulfill them”.

Aleksej Pokusevski chose to “close” his interview, just like he started it: With thanks! “I really want to sincerely thank everyone, because without them, I don’t think it would have been easy to be were I am right now. I want to thank everyone on the team… The players of the professional team, the ones with the academies, the developmental team, the coaches, the physical therapists, Christos Bafes, I just want to thank everyone with the Olympiacos organization”.