Tyler Kalinoski (Ohio, 1992) was one of the least “media” bets that Unicaja made last summer. However, he is now a fundamental piece without which the path traveled so far by the team this season would not have been understood. The American player attends La Opinión in Malaga a few hours after traveling to Tenerife to play against Lenovo in the first match of the quarterfinals for the league title.
Good victories against Tenerife and Bilbao. It’s not a bad cover letter for the playoffs…
We feel very good after a good match against Tenerife and a good win against Bilbao. It has been very important to be able to come back and beat Tenerife at home, against Bilbao there and accumulate very good feelings after the Final Four.
A serious team has once again been seen in defense and almost unstoppable in attack, as if the hallmark was back.
I think we have forgotten a bit in recent months about our identity in defense. As soon as this week we have activated the chip again, we have been able to play with a much more aggressive defense and from there the attack has been better.
Have you learned from the Basketball Champions League Final Four how to handle pressure?
Yes. Also so as not to put more pressure on ourselves now than is really necessary. I think we surpassed ourselves there in the Final Four. I don’t think we needed to do that. We have learned it and it has shown us that we should not put extra pressure on ourselves. All we have to do is what we have done all season and everything will be fine.
Unicaja and Tenerife have achieved 24 victories in one of the most competitive editions of the league. A nice quarterfinal is expected.
We have won two games in our crossing, they another two. We know each other very well and we know that we have to do our best. It will be very hard for both teams. Doing what we know how to do best and doing it the easiest way could be the key in both defense and attack. It’s going to be fun, also very physical, very hard, but it’s going to be fun to watch.
But it is Unicaja that is going to play only one game at home. Does it take pressure off?
Being fifth may put us in a bit of an underdog role. I like to think that we are capable of going to Tenerife and winning. We would return to Carpena without pressure and with the people at home it would be easier to judge.
How important is the first meeting?
It’s key. If we are able to go and beat them, it takes a lot of pressure off of us and it goes all to them. They will have to come to Malaga and do it here.
How is Unicaja better?
Our best weapon is defense. If we are able to stay focused and maintain that work, we have much more ability to run in attack. Doing well in attack will be the next step, but first we have to stop a team with as much talent as Tenerife.
And the Lenovo?
I prefer not to think about what they can do. We have to focus only on our work, do our best and put all our attention there.
After 4 games, what can be different now?
The team that is capable of being alert for 40 minutes will take the tie. In other games we have played very well, but only for 35 minutes and we have had another 5 in which it was not us, where we were very bad. So whoever can carry out their plan during those 40 minutes is going to win.
Has there been talk in the locker room that the team hasn’t played a playoff game in four years?
We know that Unicaja has been far from the struggle in recent years. Now we’ve had a great season, but the job isn’t done yet. We face this play off without pressure.
Is it a real objective to play the semifinal?
This team has suffered a lot in recent years. Now we know what we are capable of doing and how far we can go. We have talked about it, but all our efforts are put into the first two games against Tenerife
So do you think the fans can dream again?
Absolutely. We are also very excited. Hopefully we can do something important.
Go back to preseason for a moment. Imagine if someone had told you that the team, in its first year as a project, was going to finish fifth in the League, with the same record as fourth, and with five more victories than sixth. What would he have thought?
After landing and training with the guys, I felt something special. I told my family and friends very early on, we have a very good team, it is a very special group. This season proves it. Now we have to finish it in the best possible way.