By Cesare Milanti / info@Eurohoops.net
KAUNAS, Lithuania – On the first day of the EuroLeague Final Four, both Olympiacos and Real Madrid managed to take back into contention after trailing in the respective first halves against AS Monaco and FC Barcelona.
On the eve of the big final between the two European powerhouses, Georgios Bartzokas and Chus Mateo were accompanied by Kostas Sloukas and Walter Tavares, talking in the finalists’ press conference in front of Spanish, Greek, and International media.
What came out from the whole event, overall, was mutual respect between the two parties, who are heading into the biggest and most anticipated game of the EuroLeague season with completely different backgrounds.
On one hand, Chus Mateo will face his first-ever European Final as a head coach after being a protagonist as an assistant with Pablo Laso, while Georgios Bartzokas will try to become a EuroLeague champion ten years following the last time.
Starting the press conference, Real Madrid‘s head coach expressed his joy for making it thus far and his infinite respect for the colleague on his right side. “To be here in my first year as a head coach it’s a big honor. Olympiacos is a basketball machine and Georgios Bartzokas is a gentleman of the benches, a reference to European basketball”, he commented about his Greek colleague, who replied with similar words. “I have a lot of respect for Chus Mateo and Real Madrid, but we have also faith in our job, in the effort for all season, and in our team”, he added.
One of the topics that were touched mostly during the Championship Game press conference was surely the Final in London between Oly and Real Madrid, played 10 years ago. “I can’t say that I feel it’s something that has to do with destiny. I don’t live in the past. Basketball goes on, we are ten years older, and we are different persons”, coach Bartzokas said. “Basketball changes every day, nowadays it’s completely different. From this game, only Kostas Sloukas and Kostas Papanikolaou were the only guys who played for us, and on Real Madrid’s side Chacho, Rudy, and Llull. We’re talking about completely different situations. We are talking about big clubs in European basketball, and they are the same”, Olympiacos‘ head coach added.
As said, Kostas Sloukas was there that day. Tomorrow, it will be his name day, and he wishes nothing but gold as a present from his teammates. “Sweets? Of course, I want to win it”, the veteran point guard stated before Bartzokas highlighted the compliments on Olympiacos: “Since those comments mostly are coming from our country, they are exaggerated like the negative comments on a failure”, Oly’s head coach added. “But I have to admit that I heard also comments here from foreigners and the point is that as the sport evolves, things like speed, quick decision-making, and running are making a difference. Olympiacos won the EuroLeague playing 15 games in 1997 and this year we played 40”, he also commented.
Coach Bartzokas: "I heard one fan behind me in the semifinal shouting me to wake up, it seems I woke up in halftime" #F4Glory
— Aris Barkas (@arbarkas) May 20, 2023
After making everybody laugh with that statement, it came the most reflective moment of the press, where Georgios Bartzokas replied to a question regarding the importance of domestic players for both clubs in their EuroLeague successes. “You have a bond of local domestic players who know the culture of the club and the fans, representing the club a little bit better than anybody else. On the other side, there’s a lack of production of new domestic players: all over Europe, and this is a big problem”, he stated before pointing out the reasons why this may be happening. “The kids are more interested in being on the laptop the whole day, instead of going out and playing basketball, and only the huge talents are focused on basketball, but then they go to the NBA. European basketball is struggling not having domestic players at the highest level”, Georgios Bartzokas added.
What Georgios Bartzokas talked about has proof in yesterday’s clash between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. “Real Madrid ended the game with Llull, Chacho, Rudy. The same for us: the big talents of 2013 are still playing at this level. We must have a core of players who play together for a longer period, who has known each other for a lot, and add some pieces every summer if you need them. That’s it”, he finally stated.
Who surely was there that year in London was Pablo Laso, with whom Chus Mateo has stayed next to in Real Madrid’s successes for the 2010 decade, and more. The head coach of the Blancos took time to talk about how important the legendary head coach has been for them, “Pablo guided the way. In the last 8 years, we were working together. He started to make our club reach Final Fours a long time ago. It’s very important for me and for my players right now, and I’m very proud to have worked beside him. I wish him the best”, he finally stated.