Neilson to suit up for Boomers in FIBA Oceania Champs

Neilson to suit up for Boomers in FIBA Oceania Champs

ATHENS (FIBA Oceania Championship) – Matt Nielsen doesn’t hesitate when he’s asked about his plans this summer.

The 33-year-old will join the Boomers and prepare for the FIBA Oceania Championship, the three-game series in September against New Zealand that determines which of the two sides will advance to the Olympics.

“Yes, this is a big off-season, a big summer,” Nielsen said to FIBA.com.

“Obviously we want to have a good preparation, get a few games under our belt and then play New Zealand and do our job and aim for London.”

The older players are, the more likely it becomes that they skip the summer with the national team.

That’s not how Nielsen thinks.

"I feel good and probably right now, I need to keep working (to stay in shape) and believe that playing with the national team is good for me," he said.

If he makes it to London, it would be the third straight Olympics for Nielsen, who competed at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens and the Beijing Games four years later.

He and the Boomers, without injured star Andrew Bogut, did well at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey and reached the last 16.


The Greek adventure

Nielsen is now focused on Olympiacos.

This time last year, he was busy leading Power Electronics Valencia to victory in the Eurocup.

At that Final Four in Vitoria, Nielsen was named MVP.

It must have been a strange feeling for him, then, to run onto the floor last week at La Fonteta wearing the red and white of Olympiacos in the Euroleague and facing his former team.

"Obviously there are mixed emotions," Nielsen said.

"It's nice coming back to see the people you spent a lot of good times with.

"It was good we came out with a victory.”

Olympiacos trailed in the fourth quarter but made the big plays down the stretch and won 85-79 to improve to 3-1.

“I didn't have a very good game but these things happen,” he said.

“I probably tried a little bit too hard.

"It was a big win for us, especially the win on the road.”

Nielsen couldn’t help but pay attention to Valencia at the start of the season, when they had an horrendous start but rebounded and advanced to the Top 16 of the Euroleague before reaching the Copa del Rey.

"To turn around things like they did, even the way they did in the ACB,” Nielsen said.

“They went from big trouble to winning 11 out of their next 12 games. That's phenomenal.

"To win 11 out of 12 games in the ACB when you're rolling is difficult so it was a pretty amazing story. Good luck to them.”

Return to Istanbul

The last time Nielsen played in Istanbul's Sinan Erdem Dome was on September 5, and it was not a happy occasion because Slovenia thrashed Australia 87-58 in the Eight-Finals of the FIBA World Championship.

On Thursday, Nielsen returns to the venue with Olympiacos for a crunch game against Fenerbahce.

The winner is a certainty to play in the Euroleague last eight.

The first game between the two sides on January 20 was an 84-70 blowout win for Fener, who dominated in the fourth quarter in Athens.

Nielsen admitted that defeat was a wake-up call for the Reds.

"It would be nice to have that first win, but the defeat showed us where we were at,” he said.

“We've dug in, had a couple of good road wins, which are very important in these kinds of competitions.

“Now we have another game at home. We've put ourselves in a good position.”

Just as Nielsen went up against familiar faces last week against Valencia, he will play against his old Valencia coach on Thursday because Neven Spahija is now the coach of Fenerbahce.

Spahija was very good, but so is Nielsen’s current boss, Dusan Ivkovic.

"He's (Ivkovic) very talented,” Nielsen said.

“He's done everything.

“He's calm in the right situations, but also knows exactly what he wants.

“He gets over exactly what he wants to the players.

“I've enjoyed that aspect of playing for him.

"I think he understands how everything works so he is pretty relaxed when it comes to other things.

“Nobody can pull the wool over his eyes.”