Joffrey Lauvergne has no hesitation in delivering a straightforward answer when asked why he has returned to European basketball after nearly four years in the United States: "I want to win the EuroLeague."
The French big man first tasted EuroLeague action with Elan Chalon in 2012, and later had spells with Valencia Basket, Partizan Belgrade and Khimki Moscow Region before heading stateside in February 2014. Not many clubs could have enticed him back to Europe this summer, but Fenerbahce was one of them – perhaps the only one – so now he has returned with the quest of fulfilling a burning ambition he has cherished for many years.
"I’m glad to be back in Europe," he said. "I want to win at least one EuroLeague title before the end of my career, so I always knew I'd return to Europe at some time. And I really wanted to play for Fener ever since I was at Partizan."
"I’ve always been a big fan of EuroLeague since I was young."
The main reason for Lauvergne’s long-held wish to appear in Fenerbahce colors is simple to identify: Zeljko Obradovic. The legendary Serbian coach is, of course, an iconic figure in Belgrade after winning European titles with Partizan both as a player and a coach, and Lauvergne heard nothing but awestruck praise for Obradovic during the two seasons he spent with Partizan between 2012 and 2014. In fact, he was already an Obradovic convert long before then, having become a long-distance Partizan fan during his teenage years.
"When I was 14 or 15, I wanted to play for Partizan," he recalled. "I heard about this team who didn’t have much money, but they had great fans and a lot of history, so I started to find old videos of Partizan on the internet.
"In 2010, when I was 18, Partizan reached the Final Four in Paris and I went to watch the games with Leo Westermann. We started to talk about how one day we’d like to play for Partizan, and a couple of years later we both did!"
Having heard so much about Obradovic over the last few years, Lauvergne admitted there have been no surprises from his new coach during their brief time together so far.
"I know how he is and what he expects," said Lauvergne. "I know a lot of his friends from Serbia and a lot of players who played for him, and they have told me everything about his mindset and what he asks from his players.
"I need the kind of atmosphere that he brings to the team. He's very demanding, but also very fair. You know what to expect from him. He wants to win everything and has high expectations, but what he asks of his players is always very clear and he talks in the same way to everyone, it doesn’t matter who you are. Basically, he's an honest guy, he'll be fair with you and he makes sure you know exactly what you have to do."
The presence of Obradovic wasn’t the only factor behind Lauvergne’s desire to play for Fenerbahce, as the 27-year-old revealed that the wider opportunity to experience life in Istanbul also played a big part in his decision to join the club.
"I love that Fenerbahce is an ambitious multi-sports club and plays for the EuroLeague title every year, and of course I know the fans are great," he stated. "And I’m also excited about living in Istanbul. I am interested in a lot of things away from basketball, and I enjoy learning about different cultures. I know there is a lot of history in Istanbul so I am looking forward to learning more about the city. So far we’ve had a lot of practice and also a two-week trip away during preseason, but soon I will definitely go and explore Istanbul."
For a man with such an open mind, it's no surprise to learn that Lauvergne is also attracted by the cosmopolitan nature of the EuroLeague.
"I’ve always been a big fan of EuroLeague since I was young. I like the fact you play one week against a Spanish team, the next week against a Russian team, the next week against a Greek team," he explained. "You have the chance to travel around Europe and see lots of different places, and the basketball is a little bit different in every place. It's smart basketball with smart players."
Indeed, Lauvergne is such a fan of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague that he made sure to stay in close touch with the competition even during his time in the United States, partly through regular conversations with his best friend Westermann – who this summer re-joined Zalgiris Kaunas – and also by keeping up with the latest action right here on EuroLeague.net.
"I really wanted to play for Fener ever since I was at Partizan."
"I always followed the results and watched the video recaps on the league website," he revealed. "And Leo [Westermann] is my best friend, so we talk to each other nearly every day... The last few years have been tough for him with injuries, so I always tried to support him. Every time he's had to take two steps forward and one step back, but he really enjoyed playing in Zalgiris two years ago, he was very happy with the coach and his teammates, so I'm glad for him that he's back there now. I hope he'll have another great season like he did then."
Aside from his generous concern for his best friend, however, Lauvergne has some of his own business to take care of. And after already achieving many personal goals – playing for Partizan, playing in the NBA, playing under Obradovic at Fenerbahce – now he has his sights set on another objective and insists he is ready to deliver from day one.
"I’ve moved clubs many times in the last few years, so it’s not a problem for me to adapt to a new team," he said. "I just want to enjoy the atmosphere here at Fenerbahce and win the EuroLeague. That’s the most important thing."
Would you bet against him?