Days after Virtus Segafredo Bologna lifted the 7DAYS EuroCup trophy, Kyle Weems touches base to remember the experience and also look ahead to the future. A future in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
Kyle Weems, Virtus: 'It's been a crazy, crazy ride'
I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. For a looong time. My EuroCup blog has been going on for a long time, since my first son was born. And I remember I talked about it in one of our first blogs, so it's just crazy to see it kind of come full circle. I was disappointed that year as Strasbourg dropped out of the EuroLeague down to the EuroCup in the last year of that style of competition. I thought we had a real chance. We were up by 8 points against Galatasaray and we only ended up winning that game, that first leg, by 4. So we knew going to their place in front of a sold-out Abdi Ipecki Arena, it was going to be very difficult. To lose that game was very disappointing, but I knew one day hopefully I would be able to come back to this competition and be able to compete at a high level. I felt like I did that in Tofas, but obviously, we didn't make the Top 16. And then I came here to Virtus with a big club, big roster, with a lot of good names and great quality in the roster. The pandemic happened, and then obviously last year we brought back that same roster, plus a couple more pieces, but then lost after being up 1-0 against Kazan.
But this year we had a better finish and finally went all the way. We are EuroCup champions. I am really, really grateful and very humbled. I'm just glad that I was able to stick to it and keep going. And the feeling is great. I have to say I am especially happy for our fans. I'm not sure if I have told you, but I have told a lot of reporters in the past: Virtus fans have a special place in my heart. When I lost my father to lung cancer a couple of years ago, they were super supportive - signs, messages on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. They flooded my inbox, no matter how they could do it, and the support and the cheers are something that I can never pay them back. Playing in front of them, wearing a Virtus jersey, I always want to play to the best of my ability, play to the best of my energy, enthusiasm, because they are truly great fans.
They really love the game. They love Virtus and the city of Bologna. So I just try to reciprocate that and give them the same energy that they give us. And I think yesterday it was a huge factor for us in some key moments in the game. Bursaspor is a great team. There were a couple of times they fought back within 9. Then they fought back within 5, 6, 7, and each time we made a big play, the crowd was crazy and enormous. Belinelli hit a three to go up 11 and Milos hit another three to go up 14 at different points of the game. They deserved that and they were great. I'm glad that we were able to give them that type of game in front of a packed house.
Of course, we celebrated a lot in the locker room. It was great, honestly, and the reason why I feel like it was great is for guys that a lot of people might think I'm crazy. But it was great for guys like Michele Ruzzier, Marco Ceron, who come to practice every single day and they don't get a lot of action in time in the game, but each and every day they come and they are ready and prepared. The same with Nico Mannion, who has had a tough year. They practice hard and play hard whenever they come into the game. Their attitude is great. I have the utmost respect for those guys.
And then on the flip side, you've got guys like Ekpe Udoh, who has been at the top level in Europe and also in the NBA. Him going down with a season-ending injury was really tough for our team, but a lot of people also forget how tough it is for him as an individual. It hurt me to see him go down because I know the type of player and person he is, but whenever he came back from rehabbing in the States, his energy and his enthusiasm and his leadership have been felt every single day. And I'm just so happy that he and Awudu Abass, who also had a season-ending injury, were able to feel that energy, feel that passion, because they were important, even though they physically couldn't be out there with us, their talks, their leadership, the way that they communicate with us and communicate with the coaching staff, it was very, very pivotal in the way that we kind of turned our season around in mid-March.
We were one of the favorites since the start of the season and ended up going all the way. It is great, strictly because the city was expecting it, the club was expecting it. Our coaching staff was kind of expecting it, too, but you got to put it all together. You have to have a little bit of luck. You have to have good health - and when I say good health, I mean good health at the right time. You can't be healthy all year and then deal with injuries at the wrong time. You've got to be healthy at the right time. I think we all continued to buy into what Coach Sergio was selling and that was share the ball, be physical, play good defense and play for one another, be selfless. And I felt like we did that. It's good to kind of overcome that pressure, if you want to call it pressure, because a lot of people in this competition, especially in the do-or-die games, they failed, so I'm just happy that we were able to come out on top.
It's been a crazy, crazy ride. And now, I am going back to the EuroLeague. I have always felt like, in a sense, that I have kind of belonged, but I know that God has his own way of working things out. And also I believe in the basketball gods. I know I might sound crazy, but the basketball gods reward you in a weird and mysterious way when you put the work in and you just keep going and keep going, hitting the nail on the head. That's what I have been trying to do these last few years, ever since I left Strasbourg - and it's a blessing.
But it's not about me. I'm excited about the future of our club because they deserve to be there, in the EuroLeague. They have wanted to be there since I have been here. Now that we finally kind of punched that ticket and made it official, I'm really excited for them and I'm excited for our coaching staff and our teammates for all the hard work that has been put in.