Reporting from Istanbul: Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
As the head coach of the reigning EuroLeague champion, Dimitris Itoudis opened the circle of statements and Q&A that followed, emphasizing on what defending the prestigious title means after an unprecedently demanding and long season.
“You are called to play a semifinal, which basically is a final. There’s no tomorrow,” said Itoudis. “After a marathon, when teams played constantly this season, facing injuries and adapting to a new format. The journey showed us a bit how you can handle different situations, how to handle injuries and grow.”
The Greek coach mentioned that he and his players have commited to an obligation towards the franchise ahead the Final Four. “It’s a huge accomplishment being here and we are happy that we are able to defend our trophy. At the same time we do realize what our obligation is towards the great CSKA organization that help us do our job.”
The “Army Men” squad will march to the battle against Olympiacos at full strength, despite a recent woe with Milos Teodosic’s injury. But what the star playmaker of CSKA lacks from the absence of valuable practices, he carries in iron will to succeed, according to his coach.
“Milos didn’t play in the VTB league playoffs and played the playoff series against Baskonia with injections. He came back to practices some days ago and his wish and determination are on a high level. We’ll see tomorrow how it goes.”
De Colo: “That’s why Spanoulis is a leader”
Tomorrow, we’ll see a match-up between 2016 Final Four and EuroLeague MVP Nando De Colo and three-time continental champ and Final Four MVP Vassilis Spanoulis.
“We all know who Spanoulis is. The experience he has and how he uses it to know when his team needs to be led by him. That’s why he’s the leader. This is the difference between players and the… best players, like Spanoulis is”, said De Colo.
V-Span is the absolute leader, the “go-to-guy” and the central figure in most aspects that the Olympiacos‘ offense encompasses. But he trusts on the strong teamwork that is required for the Reds to achieve their goal. “Basketball is a team sport. It’s not about me or someone else. All teams have roles, share responsibilities. They give me some more responsibilites, but the most important thing is to help my team achieve our goals. And that is winning.”
“It’s not an easy thing”, Spanoulis added. “Everybody knows sacrifices are needed. You cannot buy respect, you work very hard for it.”
In his first Final Four game as a head coach, Olympiacos‘ Giannis Sfairopoulos achieved an impressive comeback victory that led his team to the 2015 Final. But the past belongs only where it is and this game is like it never existed for him and his players.
“We have forgotten that game. There are new conditions now. CSKA Moscow is the European champion. We are back in the Final Four after last year’s absence and psychologically everything is different.”
While the Final Four clubs are the same with the 2015 edition of the tournament, they have all been revamped in many aspects over the past two years.
Obradovic: “What can be a surprise now?”
For Fenerbahce, the most notable improvement is the maturity and experience they have gathered, according to head coach Zeljko Obradovic. “This is the most important thing. We have the same roster than last season but we have grown and this will help us for this season’s Final Four,” he said.
Back in 1992, Zoc won his first European trophy as coach of Partizan Belgrade. It’s still considered one of the most stunning surprises in the rich basketball history of the continent. But this year, the teams are all strong enough that no result would consist a surprise. “What can be a surprise now?,” he said. “Everybody has the same possibility. Real Madrid has nine titles, CSKA Moscow has seven. Olympiacos has three EuroLeague trophies. We have been in the Final last year and very happy to be in the Final Four this season.”
“I suggested to my players to rest last night… they had a long trip to get there”, Obradovic jokes about Fenerbahce playing in home city Istanbul.
“And I have this one here,” he added pointing to All-EuroLeague First team selection Bogdan Bogdanovic.
The Serbian guard and MVP of the playoff series vs Panathinaikos prefers actions than words. “We need to forget what happened in the past. These next two games, the semifinal for starters, are very special. When you come to the Final Four you feel a different kind of energy. We need to be focused on this and on the things we worked during the season.”
Fenerbahce is facing Real Madrid in a… re-match of the 2015 semifinal. Then, the “Blancos” had won, making the first step towards returning to the EuroLeague throne for the first time since 1995.
“Every Final Four is different though. Same teams and same match-ups? Yes. But different basketball games,” said Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso.
The Spaniards have lost the four out of the last five games they had given vs Fenerbahce but Laso doesn’t care about…. ‘statistics’.
“I don’t worry about them. I worry about the next game. If I’m playing a game tomorrow, I will be thinking about that. Not a game before.”
And if things call for a decisive crunch-time action in said game, the favorite for MVP of the season Sergio Llull is going to be there to take the shot. “I’ll probably take the shot to win the game. And a Final” he admitted. “They will look for me at that point.”