By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Gearing up for the 2022 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, Turkish tactician Ergin Ataman talked to Eurohoops’ Semih Tuna about Anadolu Efes recovering from a disappointing start to the season, the Playoffs series versus AX Armani Exchange Milan, and the remaining step toward defending the title in Belgrade’s Stark Arena.
“Of course, I had a team that got the top success. I believed that the team would go through a breaking point and come back on the top level because I had seen it before. It was not like where I had a new team or new players. It was impossible for us to go downhill all season long all of a sudden,” he described the early stages of the 2021-22 campaign for the reigning EuroLeague champions, “So, we went downhill for a while at the beginning of the season, but as soon as we got ourselves back, I never doubted my team.”
“Of course, I was pretty disappointed, as the failure of the team that has dominated the last three years of the EuroLeague at the beginning of the season led to a disappointment, but I never lost my confidence in the team. Especially in the second half of the season and during the playoffs, I was always sure that we were going to make it all the way here.”
“The game at Barcelona was a breaking point for us,” he then recalled the Regular Season Round 21 game at Palau Blaugrana on 13 January, “We lost the game, I got ejected, but we felt that we were still powerful and we could still come back to this level. Maybe we had already been planning and thinking about it, but the unfair treatment I received there caused a feeling of rebellion and I felt that I was motivated even more to come back to this level and compete at the highest level as a team. It might be a different timeline for the players, but it was that Barcelona game where the breaking point was for me.”
“The first game in Istanbul was not really a breaking point. It was just the beginning of the season, and we could still win in the overtime. We competed close, and we could win but that was the first time. Then, the same thing happened for the second time in Barcelona, and it led to a feeling of rebellion, an awakening for me. I think this was reflected on the team, as well.”
Ending up in sixth place in the Regular Season, his side matched up with third-seeded Olimpia Milano in the Playoffs.
“I didn’t really think that Milano was a team to prefer compared to the others because they are one of the top teams of the season,” Ataman pointed out to Eurohoops, “They had a pretty good season. They had injuries at the end, but these happen to every team. We also had our fair share of injuries, and we had to play against a team that we lost both games against during the regular season, which happened only with Zenit St. Petersburg other than Milano. Therefore, it was not a choice of ours. It just happened that we played against them along with the results of the other games. Our goal was actually to take the 4th spot, but we could not. Milano finished the 3rd, while we got the 6th spot.”
“Ettore Messina is a great coach,” he added referring to the Milano play-caller, “Currently, he is the most experienced and accomplished coach competing in the EuroLeague. I have a long-lasting friendship with him. He is a person that I really respect, take as an example since my early coaching days, have always followed and someone that has always supported me. I enjoy his clinics abroad so much. However, at the end of the day, I also had the team of reigning EuroLeague champions, and this time it was me who won it. Before that, he had beaten me many times. The most memorable one among them was the EuroLeague Final Four semifinal between Benetton Treviso and Montepaschi Siena in 2003. They had beaten us in the final seconds to go through the final. I can say that I kind of took that game’s rematch, as the Final Four was really important for both of us, and it happened to be me who got the win this time.”
“As Milano, Olympiacos also has a defense structure with a lot of switches, but they have different players. Milano expands on this type of defense, but I don’t know what Olympiacos wants to do,” said Ataman, “I don’t know if we will see solely switch, or experience some other things, but the playoff series was also a very serious training for us. We couldn’t reach the scoring totals we desired in none of these four games, but we could see when we are more successful based on how we attack these defenses. If we see a similar defense, we will take the same approach.”
A rematch of the 2021 championship game is possible but first things first for the 56-year-old head coach.
“Both teams have to play the Semifinal games first. Then, if we get to have an Anadolu Efes – Barcelona Final, it means that we have a rematch of last year’s Final. As that game would be an extra motivation source for them, it would be a motivation for me that we lost both games during the season and I got ejected in both. However, the most important thing is to reach the final before that, as we have a very good and serious opponent in the Semifinal,” he explained.
“Our medical staff is intensely working to make these players available for the Final Four,” Ataman told Eurohoops, “Both of them will be coming back from a long injury period if they can come back, but I hope they could give us 10-15 minutes on the court. If not, it is not terrible. We played the last two games without them against Milano. This is only a one-game semi-final. If necessary, we can just play with six players. It is okay.”