Andreas Pistiolis on coaching at 18, comradery with Itoudis, Galatasaray and more

2022-05-23T11:00:49+00:00 2022-05-23T14:16:22+00:00.

Mehmet Bahadır Akgün

23/May/22 11:00

Galatasaray head coach talks to Eurohoops about his early coaching career, his life in Panathinaikos for 27 years and his relationship with Dimitris Itoudis, among other stuff

By Semih Tuna & M. Bahadır Akgün /

Andreas Pistiolis is setting an example for the younger generations of coaches. He started playing with Panathinaikos at an early age before developing a passion for tactics and systems, which would eventually lead him to pursue a career in this position.

His bond with Panathinaikos was destined to be a strong one since his father undertook a top-level executive position at the Greek club when Pistiolis was still young. The years went by and then assistant coach Dimitris Itoudis offered him a scout position on the team, and things quickly developed for the now 43-year-old coach, who eventually outlasted both Itoudis and head coach Zeljko Obradovic in Panathinaikos. Itoudis and Pistiolis may have gone separate ways in their careers eventually, though they remain good friends.

Now, many years later, he is enjoying the head coach duties at Galatasaray and is considered a friend by GM Turgay Zeytingoz, and his passion for the sport is bringing the team into the spotlight again.

These are just a few of the topics Pistiolis discusses in an interview from the heart with Eurohoops’ Semih Tuna.


– You started playing at Panathinaikos at the age of 6 until 15, when you decided to quit playing and become a coach…

“Actually about 17. I stopped playing at 17, officially. My last years, I was in and out because I was studying for the university. So I was trying to keep it up, but I had to do a lot of studying, a lot of things to do. So I was in and out. Until the age of 15, I was playing more actively but I kept playing until 17. At 18, I became a coach.”

– And you were already so obsessed with the tactics and the system at such an early age, it kind of means that you were destined to become a coach. Why were you so obsessed with it?

“First of all, I loved basketball. For some people, it is how their brains work, what ticks them. I always liked the mental part of the sports. In general, also in other things in my life, I like this tactical way of thinking behind it. How you can change little details to make things better and things like that. This is how my brain works. Tactical things were something I always understood and appreciated. It worked out like.”

– But at such an early age, usually boys have some other things to pursue. Don’t they?

“Of course, you can do two things at a time. But once again, it was to the level of my knowledge back then. But I liked that part, it was something that excited me about basketball. Not just playing it, but how to use some small details to become more effective, to win games, to create some situations. This kind of thinking and mental process have always excited me in anything I did.”

– Your dad undertook a top-level executive role in Panathinaikos as an esteemed person. How was it to grow up in the culture of Panathinaikos since forever?

“Actually my brother was also playing basketball before me. I grew up in Panathinaikos area, kind of in the heart of Panathinaikos. My school was next to the historical stadium of Panathinaikos. I was in and out in that all my life. In a way, this was all I knew. This came natural to me. It didn’t seem that it could be some different way of life at some point. I grew up in that. I was in Panathinaikos, and Panathinaikos was my life for even a longer time. Because like you said, I started playing basketball at 6 because I was watching my brother, who was already playing basketball. So I was in the gyms even at younger ages. I actually stayed in Panathinaikos until I was 33. So it is a lifetime. Up until that point, this was all I knew. I never thought it could be anything different. You know, I never stopped and thought my life could have been in a different way. This was it. Because I grew up in that. My father was mostly involved in volleyball. In general, I also grew up in the sports culture, besides the Panathinaikos part. My brother was also a swimmer besides basketball. My father was in volleyball side. I was also following other sports in general. So I liked the sports culture and competitive part of life.”

– Also in Serbia, children are placed in not only one sports area, like your brother. Did you ever think of changing to another sports other than basketball?

“When I was a kid, I also tried other sports like handball, soccer… I also did some fighting sports at a really young age. But the only real fit I had was with basketball. This was immediately clear. I tried other sports, but they were not for me. Basketball was an immediate fit for me. I loved it from the first moment I played basketball.”

– You were an assistant in the youth team of Panathinaikos, which featured Antonis Fotsis and Andreas Glyniadakis as well. In 2005, Dimitris Itoudis offered you to be a scout for the team. Could we consider that a breaking point for your career?

“It was definitely the a huge step, my greatest opportunity until that time, but you know, at the same time, every step is important because, like I said, I started coaching at 18. I had young kids. Then at the same time I got every work I could. So I had this assistant coach job in the junior team, where I was working with the players you mentioned. So that was also great for me because I learned a lot of things. Then the next step was when I took over the junior team. I actually did good work over there that brought me to the attention of the club. Then, definitely the greatest and the most decisive step was when I was offered to work next to Dimitris (Itoudis) and Zeljko (Obradovic), where I could level up. At the same time, without the previous steps, I would never get this job. Every step along the way of this journey was important.”

– Not many people would remember but you stayed at Panathinaikos after Obradovic and Itoudis left. And you were so young, especially compared to them. Did you decide to stay to undertake a bigger role in the shifting mechanism of Panathinaikos? 

“I wanted to. It was a weird season back then. Panathinaikos moved out of the era of Obradovic. It was time for a change. It was my expectation that the club would invest in me and acknowledge my role and contribution to the club in this change. This didn’t happen. No hard feelings. I understand that it was a crucial time for everybody. It’s difficult to judge coaches. We’re not like players, where you have the stats for the performance. You just have to estimate things. There was a new status quo. The new coach came and brought the people he trusted. He didn’t know me. So I found myself in that change of the page for Panathinaikos. In this change of era, there was no spot for me that would also satisfy me.”

– Did you feel unwanted by the new coach?

“No, I wouldn’t say that, but I was wanted in a role that I didn’t want to have. For me, the options were either to accept a role that I didn’t believe it was good for me, or I could stay there like a lot of people do unfortunately in other sports so as to wait for people to fail and then maybe get another chance. But that’s not my way. Definitely, I didn’t want to become a negative element in a club that I grew up, I loved and served. I didn’t want to be the guy that would be happy if my team lost or tried to hinder the evolution of the club for my own personal development. So it was time that I had to decide, and I chose to live and found a different path. Because I had a lot of faith in myself, so I could see that if I hadn’t moved, nobody would have appreciated me. It was a crucial point for me to decide this.”

– Your path crossed with Turkish basketball nine years ago. You got out of your comfort zone after more than 15 years in a huge club as Panathinaikos, and it was your first abroad experience. Bandirma is a small city without much of a distraction other than your job in the basketball community. It kinda resembles Vitoria in that sense, in my opinion. Most of the players signing for Bandirma are the ones to take a next step in their careers. Do you think the same way?

“For me, looking back at it, this was the best thing that could happen to me. First of all, moving out of your country as a Greek, coming to Turkey was the easiest step you can take. We are very similar people. Turkish people are very hospitable and they go out of the way to make you feel welcome. So that’s important. Not every people do that. Banvit was a great organization. We had high level players, high level organization, management was high level. We had youth players. We had ambition. Like you said, both because the management took care of everything and Bandirma was a small city, you could only focus on your work and you’re 100% committed to it as both coaches and players in the same sense. It was the best possible step I could take at that point in my career. I don’t believe I realized how much it helped me at that point to take this next step, also in terms of living in a different basketball world. Because I was in Panathinaikos, and Panathinaikos was the greatest of the great with greatest players, biggest budget, playing at the highest level and everything. At the same time, it was a step down, but still a pretty high step, because Banvit was a very competitive team back then. We were playing in the EuroCup. So it was a huge deal for me, and I learned a lot in my season in Banvit. It was very educational and smooth. Because if I had gone to a completely different culture from Greece, maybe it would have been a huge shock for me. So it was an easy step to come to Turkey while leaving Greece for the first time. A country like Turkey is the best place for a Greek to do it.”

– Unfortunately, they are not active as a club due to financial issues anymore, but the foundation and the youth setup they laid was exporting players to the top level of Turkish basketball at such a huge level. We can show Alperen Sengün as its latest example. Vision of the president and Turgay Zeytingöz has always been impressive to me. Shortly after you left, they made an offer to Sarunas Jasikevicius, who hadn’t even started his coaching career yet. Could you please describe how it was to work there and what it meant for you? We do not see many teams with 28 wins in regular season, but you played against a Galatasaray team that overcame its mid-season issues as the reigning champions in the semifinals, and you got eliminated.

“Like I said, the working conditions were perfect. The club made sure that we had everything we needed. There was a great support from the management, Özkan Kılıç, Turgay Çataloluk, Turgay Zeytingöz. They were always there to help and make our job extremely easy. Only thing we had to do was coaching, and they would handle everything else around and any support we needed. So the transition was extremely easy for us. It was actually a very good season. We had a very good group of people. Not just good players, but also a great group of people. We were very competitive. It was a bit regretful for us that we couldn’t take that next step we were hoping by getting to the final and maybe even winning the league. We showed that  we had the potential for it. In the end, the inexperience cost us, and of course, Galatasaray was already the reigning champs that year and their roster was high level with players like Carlos Arroyo, Markoishvili. In general, the roster was amazing with a very experienced coach. We all know now what coach Ataman is. On the one hand, it was regrettable because we were hoping to achieve something greater, but we fought, we gave everything we had and we lost to a better team in the end. Galatasaray proved to be a better team. With some details, it could have been the other way around, but the result was fair. I still remember that season fondly and with great love for all we did, all the time we spent together as players, management and coaches. It was a good season, even though we didn’t get what we wanted. It was a good job. Everything about that season was good. Everybody was good people. We still keep in touch with a lot of the players and with the management. We still have family ties between us, because we went through a lot together.”

– Turgay Zeytingöz calls you “not a coach, but a friend.”

“Hopefully he does. Not only him, but everybody we were together there. I have a chance to work with Turgay again, which is really huge for me. This was a great season. It makes me sad to see that Banvit is not continuing because it was really a big deal for Turkish basketball to have a team like this working in the way they did. It is actually a big deal for any country’s basketball and basketball itself in general. What they were doing and how they were doing it should be studied for other teams to copy this organization and mentality they had.”

– In an interview 4 years ago, you said that Turkish basketball upbrings players with high level of quality, but exports them to the NBA. We have much fewer players that would play an influential role in the European basketball compared to the Greek basketball. Do you think this still has been the biggest issue after all these four years?

“This is a big subject to discuss. The thing is… Turkish basketball definitely has talent. Although, a lot of talents get lost somewhere along the way. This is not just in Turkish basketball, this happens in every country. The thing one has to understand is the ratio of it. For me, what always impresses me is that there is a big difference. The ones that succeed really succeed, and some guys just disappear. There is no middle class. There are few players that are in the middle. You know, this makes me really curios. Why is this happening? It really needs to be studied. You cannot just say things out of your mind about this. You really need to study why this is happening. You really need to understand the process and where this goes wrong and why these players are really exploding and becoming the highest level players, while some other players don’t even manage to stay at a certain level. The EuroLeague level doesn’t really exist for Turkish basketball the way it does for other countries. I cannot really explain this to be honest. I have some ideas, but it would be irresponsible to express opinions without really studying it. We really need to understand the process these players go through until they reach this level and what goes wrong where.”

– We can actually adjust the same question for the overall picture in the European basketball. A little bit of a show-off from a player, and he goes to the NBA. What should be the method to prevent this shift? Should the clubs increase buy-out amounts? Or should the European basketball improve in every sense including the marketing? Or maybe we should pay the players more?

“First of all, I don’t think that there has to be a process to prevent this. This is the natural way of things. The only way you can really keep these players in European basketball is to increase the level of European basketball to match the NBA. It seems very difficult now, but I think it could be done. We could close the gap between NBA and the EuroLeague, between NBA and Europe. Actually, the gap has closed, and that’s why we see so many players leaving for the NBA. The demand for the European players has increased compared to the previous seasons. This is the proof of something good being done. Right now, Europe is producing more and more players at the NBA level, compared to the previous decades. You wouldn’t see this happening this much in the 1990s. In the 2000s, the number increased a bit more, and every year, you see this increase. This is actually an improvement in the process of basketball players’ creation. This shows that the marketing part or organization part has not kept up with that in order to be able to keep these players over here. At the same time, there is an equilibrium to that. The more Europeans go over there, the more Americans have to come to us. We have to improve the product of basketball to be more profitable, to be more attractive to the fans. We should try to create what we have created in European football. We should mirror this to basketball, improve the level of basketball, and then we can be able to keep this high level players over here. There are some examples like Mirotic coming to Europe. Mirotic could easily choose to stay in the NBA. He could find some great contracts in the NBA. He came to Europe. This was very costly. The problem of European basketball is that this is not profitable, not viable. We cannot produce this money that the great teams are making right now considering the budget of the great teams. I don’t think Real Madrid or Barcelona or Anadolu Efes or Fenerbahçe is breaking even. They are not breaking even. They are losing a lot of money. This is the issue. If we could produce this money in order to be a viable option to keep these players in Europe, that would be the solution in my opinion.”

– NBA teams now have up to 17 players on their rosters and we have more two-way contracts up there. How do you feel about the players’ quality compared to the past? Do you feel like finding the right player is harder than ever as a coach?

“It is a matter of organization. A lot of teams are making great moves and building great moves with less budget, while some other teams are just wasting their budget and making bad teams with it. It is a matter of organization. There are a lot of players that play basketball. If the recruiting process is correct and the scouting is correct, and you choose the right person for the right job, it is doable. I don’t think it is difficult compared to previous seasons. The only problem is, like you said, it is hard to invest in a young or good player knowing that you are going to lose him. This is the difficult part of the process: to invest in somebody when you know that the better he goes, and your investment is not going to work. You are not going to be able to build on him. That is probably the only difficult part. At the same time, you see that there are players jumping out of the second division of Italy, Germany, Turkey or whatever. In general, sometimes they appear out of nowhere. Players are there. We just need to have a better process of finding, recruiting and actually using them in terms of getting the right person for the right job.”

– Speaking of the NBA, you attended the Summer League in 2017. Did you ever think of working there on a permanent basis back then? We can see that the number of European assistant coaches is increasing. While the demand for failed coaches in the NBA is decreasing, the assistant coaches are constantly undertaking interviews with the teams.

“First of all, my only actual interaction with the NBA was that working with the LA Clippers in the Summer League. It’s a different world over there. For me, Europe is a better fit. But at the same time, I believe that European coaches are progressing and accepted more in the NBA. There is still some sort of, let’s call it ‘racism’ towards coaches. It has nothing to do with the race, but there is some mentality that the European coaches are lesser than the American coaches in the NBA. But you see that more and more European coaches are proving themselves and taking the steps to go over there. I believe that the biggest problem is that we got three different types of basketball. We got the European basketball, NBA and the college basketball. They got different rules. They are playing differently. They have completely different mentalities. This kind of prevents the moving of coaches. That’s why you also see very few American coaches that come to Europe. Because it is difficult for them to understand and adjust to the European basketball mentality. They are not familiarized with that, while European coaches are a lot more familiarized with the American way of basketball. So that’s why you see the European coaches going in bigger numbers to the NBA, while the Americans are not coming this way. Because they don’t study and understand the way we play basketball in Europe and how it is different from theirs. At the same time, I believe that the gap is closing slowly. It applies to the players and coaches the same way. The only part that is not closing is the marketing gap. Because the NBA is light years ahead of us in producing money and respecting their product compared to us. But you know, on the other hand, there’s still a lot of room for improvement for the European basketball over there. So you can be hopeful that this will be the next step for the European basketball.”

– Coming back to Europe, you had told us that the war situation has played an indirect role in your move to Galatasaray and that you wanted to start your head coaching career even before. What do you mean by “before”? Was there a specific timeline?

“It was more of a growing thought as progress and a will. I am the kind of person that always wants to get involved and get better at what I do. I don’t like to be stationary and feel like I am not getting better at what I do. It was a natural evolution. At some point, I realized this was a thing I could do, and slowly this became a thing I wanted to do. So it was a process. I wouldn’t say there was a timeline, but there was a thought process going on in my mind while working and trying to improve. And I realized that the next step in this improvement was to be on my own, work and do things in my way, as well as test myself. Because this is also a test. A lot of guys think they can do it, but when they have to do it, they fail. There is no other way to know this, except for going out there and actually doing it. At the same time, I was in a work environment that was challenging. I was working under good conditions. But it was very competitive and demanding. So at the same time, I always had something to do like opponent report preparation and some next goals to achieve. But this moment came because of the situation in Ukraine, and after the opportunity presented itself, I knew it was the moment to take the next step.

– In 2020, Aaron Jackson tweeted that Panathinaikos should have hired you after Vovoras left. I remember you liking that tweet. Would you accept such an offer back then if PAO had knocked on your door?

“It is very difficult to say what would have happened. I don’t like to create speculations. It would have depended on what the offer and the situation at the time would be. But the reason why I liked that tweet was because of the trust he showed in me. Because it was an appreciation. So it was not about the job that he suggested me for, but it was the fact that he gave me a vote of confidence. This is what I appreciated over there. There is no greater feeling of satisfaction than being appreciated by the people you work with. So when players I work with show me trust and their belief in me, it’s really satisfying. So why I liked that tweet had mostly to do with that. It was not a complaint like ‘Why is Panathinaikos not signing me?’ It was nothing about that. As for signing or not signing with the team, if it had happened, I would have had to evaluate the conditions. What would the job offer be? What would I have to leave behind? It is difficult to say.”

– A lot of your former players posted their wishes for support on social media following your move to Galatasaray. You mention making players believe in what you do and your plans as a coach in every interview. There was a chaotic atmosphere in Galatasaray when you signed for the team with the players have lost their confidence. How did you manage to make them believe in you? You had talked about some mental preparations, what were they?

“The mental preparations were not to believe in me but to believe in themselves. Because this was a very good team that I took over at that point. I knew I had good players. The season is a marathon, and through the season, you experience a lot of situations where you get worn out, in a lot of difficult situations. And if you don’t handle it correctly, the issues start building up. At that point, my main issue was the fact that I had a team with low confidence because of bad results and everything that preceded. So my first job was to make them understand their own potential, which was something that they had forgotten. Believing in me comes with time. You talk to your players, you explain them things. When they understand that you know what you are talking about, what you say is clear and when you have the consistency on the things that you say -you know, if you are not a guy that says one thing in a moment and another thing in another moment, this builds trust and trust helps building even more confidence. First, you need to believe in yourself and then you believe in each other. So, in this process, I hope I have the trust of my players.

– Even the fans were losing their interest in the team, but then we could see the stands in the recent games…

“This is basketball. This is sports. There is the competition. If you don’t get the results, you are doubted. People will start losing their confidence. Players, coaches, management… This is the way of things, unfortunately. It is all about the results in the end. Sometimes managements, players or coaches can keep their faith in somebody because that person had proven himself or shown capability, or because they really know the person. But in the end, it is all about the results. If you don’t get the results, you don’t get the confidence. This is normal.”

– Galatasaray is a demanding club as a structure. You have to plan the future while taking care of today. You had a dream start here, but you also need to build your roster for the next year. How is the situation regarding the management affecting you?

“I understand that there is an uncertainty, and this is a moment of change for Galatasaray, as there will be the elections. But the management over here, Turgay, Kerem and Timur have protected me from all this. This situation hasn’t touched me at all. All I have had to do is concentrate on my work, focus on my team, and I know that these people got my back. This is a big part of what you consider a good job from the management. There is a lot of parameters to it that people don’t see. One of them is to shield the players, the coach and the team in general from this uncertainty and the situation. They have done this so successfully, and I am really thankful for that.”

– Back at CSKA, you had some problems in terms of getting on-court contribution from players such as Kosta Koufos and Ron Baker, who’d just come from the States. Maybe we can also add Alec Peters to that list. Probably you had thought similar things for Calathes back in 2012, but he had amazing mentors with him. Will you be more like looking into players that already have experience in Europe?

“First of all, I wouldn’t put Alec Peters in the same list with the others. He had his ups and downs, but I thought he contributed. In the end, he was successful and the team was actually successful. He had a role in that team. He’s proven himself to be a high level player. His next move was to Efes, and then he is still playing for a EuroLeague team, where he is performing, while the other guys just disappeared. It is always a big issue when Americans that are unfamiliar with the European culture have their first contact with the highest level of European basketball, which is very demanding. A lot of guys are failing, while some others have succeeded. There is a lot of examples of people that came with no European experience, and they were successful. Sometimes, it is really hard to judge. Definitely, when you scout players, one with an experience in Europe got an extra point. If you know he’s been to Europe, he’s lived in Europe and adjusted to the European lifestyle, this is an extra point for him. But for me, it is not forbidding the other guys. If we dared to make such moves in CSKA, for sure, we can make it over here. This is not high in our priority list. It is there, but not high. There are other things that we need to prioritize when making the transfers.”

– You’ve been in Turkey for a while now and adjusted here. What do you think has changed in Turkey since your time with Banvit? We can see more games with 30-point differences between two teams compared to the past I guess.

“The main change between that time and today is the financial situation. It is normal. This is all over the world with pandemic and all these things affecting the financial situation deeply. The financial situation is the basis of everything. All European basketball suffered from it. When we were in Banvit, those were the golden years in Turkish basketball. A lot of money was being spent and invested in basketball. Right now, there is still a lot of money being invested, but it is no comparison to what was happening back then. On the other hand, right now Turkish basketball is harvesting the seeds of that time. The clubs, organizations, players and coaches have had the experience brought by the higher level players and coaches. All the people that came here left something behind. Clubs, coaches and players learned something from the situation. Even though the budgets being used are no comparison to that time, in my opinion, Turkish basketball is really competitive. There are examples of some teams having collapsed, again, for financial reasons. You have these differentials for that, but if you look at the teams that qualified for the playoffs, excluding the two teams with the biggest budgets, Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahçe, the classification of the rest of the teams could have been completely different with one win. Even for the teams that couldn’t make it to the playoffs, very small details separated them from the teams that made it to the playoffs. I believe that Turkish basketball was extremely competitive then excluding the two teams. They have been dominating and they are a lot stronger, even though these teams have the additional weight of competing in the EuroLeague at the same time, which is extremely demanding now compared to then. But I like it, because, from the time I came over here to now that we are in the playoffs, the picture of the standings could have been completely different with a few details. Two different results in total, and it would have been completely different who had the budgets, who qualified and everything else. In the end, that’s the most exciting thing you want from your league: to be unpredictable, to be fair to everybody and for everyone to have a chance in terms of not starting the league and already knowing who would win, who would be the finalist, who would make it to the playoffs. It could have been different. Can anybody predict what is going to happen next season? No way! That’s very exciting. It means that this is a good league. It is true that some teams collapse at some point. If you face these teams in November/January and March, they get to be completely different teams. But this happens everywhere. In the end, Turkish basketball has a good product, high-level players and a high level of competition.”

– I feel like, with a lot of European competitions, teams regardless of the domestic league, at least till the playoffs. What should be done to put more importance on the domestic leagues?

“This is a general problem in European basketball. The division between FIBA and the EuroLeague is not a good thing. All these forces should be put to work to promote European basketball instead of working against each other. That’s not a good thing. What could be done? This is a very tricky question. I believe that in some countries, the domestic league has completely lost its value, while other leagues are still extremely competitive and important. For example, the ACB is equally important to the Spanish teams with the European progress. Again, it is a matter of product, value and recognition. If the domestic league is not producing any profit, you play in empty gyms, fans have no interest, it is normal that the teams would prioritize Europe and European competitions, which are not the same way. But if you play in a league with full gyms, good players, and unpredictable results, in a league where you will find your team relegated when you don’t respect the league, you have to respect it. It is a matter of league organization and the product you are organizing, attracting the fans, sponsors and investors.

– Your fellow companion of the past 17 years, Dimitris Itoudis, has been rumoured to be the next head coach of Fenerbahce. How would it feel to be such rivals with him if he took such a role?

“This is just a rumour, so I don’t want to discuss based on rumors. On one hand, you know that Fenerbahçe will have a good coach, like they do right now. Fenerbahçe is one of the great clubs, and they always invest in good coaches. So you know that you are going to face a good coach. For me, it would be interesting to have another friend in the city, but this is all just theoretical. Dimitris has a contract with CSKA. It is kind of weird to discuss about if he is going to come. Right now, I am preparing for my current opponent, my current situation. This is a little bit too far for me. But if I have to think that far, I know that Fenerbahçe will have a good coach. That will be that.

– He is a very demanding coach. Which special factors made you partners for so many years?

“We matched in terms of our characters. I went over there at a young age, and I learned a lot from him. But there were also other people close to him, who didn’t have the same duration or results like me, in terms of learning his system and learning from him. In a way, Dimitris educated me in basketball. We learned to work together in this way. The work ethics were there. We were both motivated and ambitious. We had common goals the whole time. So over the years, we worked in demanding sports and in a situation that intensifies everything having to win every game, and we had tough and great moments. In the end, the duration of it speaks for itself. When you work so many years with somebody, you know that at one point, everything ends. Nothing lasts forever. We were not going to be 70-80 years old working as head coaches and assistant coaches at CSKA. Everything good would end. It is the way of things. But the fact that we worked for so long so successfully and achieved so many things together speaks for itself.”

– How hard was it to earn Obradovic’s trust and confidence?

“He and Dimitris gave me a chance. It was the hard part to get the chance. After that, it was not supposed to be easy, but when you are given a chance, that’s all you need and it was challenging because you know that you have to keep yourself at a high level. But I think I proved that I was up to the challenge.”

– You had said that the 2009 Panathinaikos was the best roster you ever worked with. It is undoubtedly one of the best rosters of the modern EuroLeague. Just a personal curiosity: What would be the outcome if that team had played against 2004 Maccabi in your opinion?

“Again, this is a very theoretical question. First of all, I have to say that it was the most complete team. I don’t know if it was the best team, but if you ask me, of course, I am going to say Panathinaikos. What else can I say?”

– After the Game 3 of the EuroLeague playoffs, I had a question for Ettore Messina and he said that a good offense would always beat a good defense. What is your position on that?

“It may be true, but the successful team plays good defense and offense at the same time. I don’t know why we have to take one or another. When building a team, you need to take care of both. Both are equally important. There is a lot of teams that won titles based on their offense and there are a lot of teams that won titles based on their defense, but the teams that everybody remembers were balanced in both. They were playing good defense and offense. These are the most successful teams. I believe it is equally important.

– Isolation game is becoming more and more important, which you highlight as well. You have three guards that could be game-changers, as well as Akoon-Purcell until he got injured. Will you be paying attention to adding such players for the next year?

“I hope that our season would be so good that we wouldn’t have to pay attention to any other player for the next season. If a team works and it becomes successful, there is no need to talk about other guys than you have that brought you the success. You don’t need to focus on one thing or another. You need to focus on everything. Sometimes, the game guides you. Whether you are going to play isolation, low-post or pick-and-roll depends on how your opponent treats you. I believe that we don’t have to isolate that much right now because a lot of teams respect our isolation game and they don’t want to give it to us. But at the same time, we need to have a complete and all-around game. So every part is important. That is what we are working on. To be balanced and ready to use whatever weapon necessary to win the game.”

– The trends of basketball are in constant change. The undersized centers were a lot more popular not long ago, while now the trend is really tall centers with the ability to play against smaller players with their quick feet. A similar situation was also there when Dusan Ivkovic’s off-screen attacks were popular, and then the Pick-and-roll game became the new deal. However, the teams are now focusing on making them less effective now, which means the off-screen game could be popular again because the players now know how to defend against this, as you said. What do you think will be the new trend in Europe?

“From my experience, these things go in circles. This defense, that defense… People start adjusting to one thing, they learn how to handle it and then you have to figure out a different solution to create new problems offensively and so on. That’s why you see these trends. Also we are highly affected from the NBA and how the NBA does things. What seems to be the newest trends is the five-out game, where centers can spread and all five players are able to shoot. For me, there is one trend that will never die, and that is ‘fighters.’ People that come into the game, fight and give their heart and soul. Whether you play pick-and-roll, off-screen, isolation, low-post, five-out or with two non-shooters, if you got fighters, you are already in a good way. This is something we are focused on doing here. This is something that never goes out of fashion. People that fight, people that give their heart, people that are willing to be physical, people that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team… Sometimes this becomes the club DNA. You work on that and you understand that this is a long-time thing, and you say that this is transmitted from generation to generation. I think Banvit was a good example of that. Coaches and players were changing, and yet, Banvit had some similarities in their way of playing and attitude that refused to lose. When you start to build something, this becomes the team DNA. If you think about it, we are now fighting on the court. The first one that fought and never gave up was our management. Because when the things were not going their way, they didn’t give up and start planning the next season. They didn’t start blaming each other. They kept focused and they tried to make the team stronger by getting players. When it didn’t work out, they changed the coach. They invested more and more money. They didn’t give up at any point. So being a fighter is something that never dies and it sometimes transmits from the club to the players or from the players to the club. Whatever basketball you play tactically, this always works.”

– The fans highly regard you, probably unseen since Ergin Ataman’s stint over here. How do you feel about it?

“I am very grateful. The love is mutual. Because the difference between Galatasaray and the other clubs is their people. This is what makes Galatasaray special and great. The fanbase, the number and devotion of the fans… Because you know, there are other clubs with a lot of fans, but they don’t have the same passion that Galatasaray fans have for their club. They are a defining feature for this club. This is the club with a huge fanbase comprised of people that are willing to help you, support you. I am happy that I could make them happy with the results. I am happy that they are supporting us right now. I am happy that we earned their trust and love. At the same time, this is not only me. There is a lot of people involved in this. I am getting loved, management is getting loved, players are getting loved. There is a mutuality in that. We also love the fans. We see what they bring to us when they come to the gym. The energy they bring to us… This is the situation. This situation should also survive in tough moments whenever they come. When the results are not in our way, people should remember these moments and the moments that we proved we are willing to fight for the fans. The fans should be willing to support us in our tough moments.”

– Finally, how is the life in Istanbul? You are not the same person that travels here every once in a while during the season? How is it different from living here? What do you like and dislike here?

“Living in İstanbul is amazing for me. For me, so far it is definitely my favorite place that I have lived. I am living close to the gym, which was very important for me. The city has a great energy about it. You can find anything. The weather is great. The people are even greater. Definitely, one thing that nobody likes about İstanbul is the traffic. If you want to go somewhere, you have to spend all your day in a car. Nobody likes that, but Moscow was not much better. Athens has also a lot of traffic. I am kind of used to it. But in general, this is a very happy place for me. When I came over here, I felt like I am home immediately. I like the culture very much. I like most things about İstanbul. I already had my first contact with Turkish culture in Bandırma. In İstanbul, it is 10 levels up definitely. Life is really good so far. Hope it keeps being good like that.”