by Semih Tuna / firstname.lastname@example.org
Frutti Extra Bursaspor realized one of the biggest upsets in European basketball by beating Partizan Belgrade of Zeljko Obradovic in front of 20,000 fans in Stark Arena.
The 7DAYS EuroCup favorites Partizan was not able to deliver its fans what was widely expected, as the Turkish team’s efforts prevailed over what the home team presented on the court. However, it would be a huge understatement of what the young coach Dusan Alimpijevic, his staff and his players have been doing since the beginning of the season to call this win a one-time surprise thanks to EuroCup’s one-game format in the further phases.
Bursaspor has been proving its point by improving at every step since Alimpijevic took over the control of the Basketbol Süper Ligi team, and yet, not many people expected them to win against a star-studded Partizan team with the goal of winning the EuroCup this year. Moreover, even Bursaspor fans and the team were proud of what they had achieved that far.
“I like to watch the players before the game a bit just to see their feeling. I also take in some concentration by feeling the atmosphere before the game,” says Coach Alimpijevic to Eurohoops, while explaining his feelings prior to the game. “Before the game, I was thinking how proud I am of them. I was just watching them and saying ‘This is amazing’ to myself. Two months ago, we were nowhere and we didn’t really have some great chances for the playoffs. And then we made this huge change in our game and mentality.”
Speaking of the adjustment that took place in the team, Alimpijevic believes that the roles are clearer in his team now:
“System finally is settled down, and everybody knows their roles. We came in this point, to this gym to play against Partizan and Zeljko Obradovic and 20,000 people. For us, it was something that is really amazing, and I was really proud before and after the game. But after the game, not more than before. Believe me. What we are doing right now and this season is something special.”
The adjusted team structure and the established system helped Bursaspor keep their composure during the overtime, when they were missing Kevarrius Hayes and Derek Needham, two of the most important players in the rotation, due to fouling problems. Dusan Alimpijevic explains how they overcame such a challenge by showing how proud he is of his players:
“Now we have more players in the rotation thanks to some of our guys showing a huge improvement by putting in a lot of hard work within the last 2-3 months. Because they also didn’t want to give up and they are really working hard. Right now, the rotation is not short. Now we have 8-9 players in the rotation that found their spots and roles. Because of the foul trouble, we needed to try something at that point. We played small ball. We had four guards and Metin Turen or Dave Dudzinski at 5 position. On top of it, we had some problems with Dave, who had cramps in his leg during the game 3-4 times. Can you imagine how much energy he spent to be ready for this kind of a game, where he competed like an animal to have this many cramps.
It is not about him, Derek (Needham), Onuralp (Bitim) or Hayes. It is about everyone. It is about Metin, John Holland, Ömer, who came into the game and scored four free throws in a row in a full arena. I mean I have to mention this, he came into the game and he scored four free throws in front of 20,000 fans. You need balls for this.”
The team had already provided pride material for their coach, but Bursaspor still managed to make its fans prouder by getting the win. So, how did the win come for Bursaspor, and how did coach Alimpijevic prepare his team mentally for such a tough game in front of a tough crowd?
“Actually I think that the game was more special for them than for us,” says the 36-year-old coach, speaking of the pressure on the Partizan team with the goal of reaching the ultimate point. “Every day you read things like ‘There’ll be 15,000 people on the stands…’ Then the day after ‘It will be not 15, but 18 thousand now… Few tickets left…’ I was following this news, as it is my country and I speak the language. I thought that there could be more pressure on them than on us. But also one more advantage for us was that I come from this country and the city. Who could prepare them better than me and explain to them what they could expect in the gym and how to present good behavior, concentrate solely on basketball and nothing else? In that way, I really think we had a good game preparation.”
Expectations could lead a team to complete failure or ultimate success. Partizan was still not so far away from realizing the dreams of its fans, as the team was up by 3 points with three minutes left in the game. However, giving up was obviously not an option for Bursaspor, as it has never been since the beginning.
“This is different, this is not something you can say about my team. We cannot give up,” explains coach Alimpijevic, and adds about the game:
“But really never! So far, this team refused to give up so many times. We had this. We had some tight games, we were down by 16 against Pinar Karsiyaka two rounds ago. Again, we showed some character and got back into the game. The main thing is the fact that we believe in the system, we believe in mentality, and we believe in ourselves. I believe them. They believe us, they believe me. We have a great atmosphere, and even when the result is going bad, we have great support from everybody. So should I be mad when we are down by 2-3 points against Partizan? No way. I can only applaud them.“
Bursaspor still managed to come back with a huge triple from John Holland in the decisive seconds of the game. What made the shot even more special was the fact that Andrew Andrews was burning hot at that point in the game, and many were expecting him to have the ball in his hands for that shot.
What made Bursaspor’s staff decide on Holland to take that shot?
“Of course, we had a plan, but our job as a coach is to predict some different things such as what we could play, how they could guard us,” says Alimpijevic. “I think we are really successful in terms of how we catch these things. We had a plan and we knew that all the eyes would be on Andrew Andrews. When it comes to him, you don’t need to explain too much to this guy with this kind of qualities as a person and a player. It was enough just to tell him ‘Andrew, Zeljko and Partizan are already paying a lot of attention to you. So prepare yourself to share the ball.’ He finished the game with like 24 points and 10 assists. But the thing is he was ready to share the ball and he enjoyed this. This showed his greatness.”
The win over Partizan in an away game was a culmination of all of these efforts if anything, but obviously, neither Alimpijevic, nor his team are willing to stop after tasting the delicious feeling of a huge upset against the most achieved coach of the European basketball.
Having always looked up to Zeljko Obradovic and calling the great Zoc “the greatest ever”, Alimpijevic mentions the importance of getting such a win with a reference to their dreams:
“This is really a huge sign for us that we are on a good way and we are one of the good teams this season. But of course, we will not go up or down with our emotions. What was our goal? Our goal was to go into the playoffs, and that’s it. Of course, we have our dreams. In sports, it is your life to dream about that. You are not going to lose anything in your dreams even if it is against Partizan, Zeljko Obradovic and 20,000 people. You are going to win something. But the reality is totally another thing. We just crossed that line and took a huge step in front. Now, we don’t want to stop. Who knows?”
However, the established coach is not ready to lower his guard and his players’ confidence in this team yet. He is eager to get even more with the same dedication that brought his team till here.
“To me, Cedevita is an unbelievable team. They won twice against Partizan in ABA Liga” says Alimpijevic. “I don’t want to lose some energy for Turkish League either, because we want to be in the playoffs in the Turkish League. We are playing against Afyon on Saturday. I told them in the locker room after the game, they started laughing. But I am serious. Zeljko said really good things about us. We really appreciate it, and I cannot describe how much it means to me as one of the youngest coaches in the EuroCup. For sure, this is something really big for me as a coach and for us as a team and club. This is a really big thing for the club, also.”
Taking into consideration all his achievements in the last 30 years of European basketball, it is pretty easy to look up to coach Zeljko Obradovic. Yet, it must not be as easy to talk to him after such a big disappointment in an elimination game.
Asked if he had a talk with the Great Zoc after the game, Alimpijevic stresses the importance of what Obradovic had to say for him:
“It was really a bad time to talk with him. Because they have their goals, and I can understand how disappointed he was. It is not really a good time to talk. But as always, for me, he is one of the biggest gentlemen in all the sports, not only in basketball. He is a guy that says always nice things about the opponent and the coach. With nine titles, as the greatest, it is not his obligation or duty to say anything about them, but he is using that opportunity to say only good things about the coach and the team. This is really a huge thing, and it is not something that is seen so often in our job, unfortunately. We are taking much more care about ourselves and no one else. So he is showing also in that way how big he is.
When Zeljko Obradovic said really good things about some Dusan Alimpijevic, he didn’t need to tell this. I am really grateful for his words. Respect to him, he is the biggest in history.”
With the EuroCup champions getting a Wild Card for the next season’s EuroLeague and Bursaspor having already beaten one of the heavy favorites, the talk is now centered around the possibility of taking this great surprise to a further step, but Alimpijevic is determined to keep their feet on the ground, and he is focusing on what they have now instead of thinking of the greater possibilities.
“Yeah, but we will not go crazy” speaking of the talk around making all the way to the championship game. “We want to be stable and we came in this position because we’re stable and focused, not going up and down with emotions. You know what our goal is, and we are focusing on that. This win is a sign that we are doing a good job from the beginning. We don’t know the situation with the EuroLeague obviously, but the thing is that we already have something special. It was already special to go to the playoffs in only the second year in any European competition. Can you imagine what the marketing value for the club could be to play against Partizan and Zeljko Obradovic? But now we even made one more step ahead. It is something really amazing.”