|The bwin MVP for February, veteran guard Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos Piraeus, may be the Turkish Airlines Euroleague player with the most points headed into the playoffs. But Spanoulis knows only too well that every player on Olympiacos will be needed to face down Montepaschi Siena in their best-of-five series starting on March 21. A year ago, Olympiacos beat Siena by 50 points in Game 1 of the same playoff series, only to lose the next three straight and miss the Final Four. Spanoulis suffered that turnaround along with a few other current teammates, but the majority of this season's Olympiacos roster is new. Spanoulis has been their leader to get to this point, but he more than anyone believes that success is spelled t-e-a-m. "In the end, it's about making the team work well, because this is a team sport," Spanoulis told Euroleague.net. "On our team, everybody has a role and there is very good chemistry. This is important because, as I said, we are trying to build something good for this year and for future years. If the team does not play good, whatever I do will not be good enough. The team plays together. We all win or we all lose together."
Vassilis, you've got your first bwin MVP of the month award for helping a rebuilding team reach the playoffs. How does that feel?
"For me, it's special that my team goes to the top eight teams. Like you said, it's a rebuilding team, but also one with a lot of young players. That makes this a big accomplishment for everyone in the club,: the president, the coaches, us players, the fans. We are very happy for this. It gives us big courage to keep going and to understand that this team has a lot to achieve this year and in the next years. We're building a new core with a lot of good players, Greek and foreign, and with the big help of our coaches. We are building something new, and so it's very important for us to reach the playoffs. For me, what's most important is to help my team win. To have this award is very good, too, but without my teammates and coaches, it would never happen."
As the leader of this team, what for you has been most important to keep everyone moving in the same direction?
"The most important thing, I think, is to believe in our strength. To believe in our dreams and our work. To believe that if we listen to our coaches, even though we will pass through bad days and nights, that only with concentration and motivation to improve ourselves and play like a team, only in this way we can achieve something. It's difficult when a team is rebuilding, you have difficult nights and difficult situations, but hopefully all these things are making us stronger. We stay together, work lot of hours in the gym, and speak a lot together. You have to improve all the time together, and I have to congratulate everybody. Our young guys have improved a lot from our first day together. All the experienced guys on the team - like Giorgios Printezis, Lazaros Papadopoulo, Pero Antic, Michalis Pelekanos - give us great help. Everybody is important here, coaches and team, everyone is doing something to help."
Did you believe before the season that this team could make the playoffs?
"Yes, I believed that somehow we would find a way to get to the top eight. I believe a lot in my coaches and teammates. Many people didn't believe in us because a lot of great players had left the team. But we always said that if we could go to the top eight, it would prove a lot. That was our big motivation to do things nobody would believe. We also believed we could go to the playoffs again because we have a very experienced coach who knows how to give us psychological motivation, keep us together and keep the right chemistry."
You opened February 0-2 but got a nice home win against Anadolu Efes. Did something change for the better in that game?
"After two losses, that was one more time this season that we were in a must-win situation. Already in the regular season, we had must-win games against Nancy, Cantu and Bilbao. So one more time, it was must-win, and we were ready. That game showed a lot for this young, new team. That was the kind of win that creates character. Our coach had us ready; the experienced guys played good; the young guys played good; and our newest players, Joey Dorsey and Acie Law, gave us effort and energy. We were lucky to get guys like them who fit so well in the team. It's difficult this time of the season to find good players who fit so well. You might find good players, but you never know if they will fit with the chemistry, but they fit."
Speaking of Dorsey, was his defensive presence key to winning the rematch with Efes in Istanbul the next week?
"Joey's defense is unbelievable. That is what we needed from the beginning of the year. He's a guy who can close a lot of holes on defense, has a great ability to block shots and can beat everyone to rebounds. In that Efes game, I remember also how Printezis and Kostas Papanikolaou had great nights shooting. Efes trapped me on the pick-and-roll to make me give up the ball. This is an adjustment for us in every game, but we are lucky that every night a different guy takes responsibility in those situations. We've had Kyle Hines, Martynas Gecevicius, Papadopoulos, Printezis and everybody take their turn. This is good for team, because we are very close to each other and everyone gives something every night."
Last week, facing Galatasaray to make the playoffs - or not - you were everywhere, especially in the first quarter. What was going on in your mind?
"It was a do-or-die game for a ticket to the playoffs. I wanted to be ready for my team to advance to the top eight. For five months, we have been fighting for these things. If we didn't win that game, it would have been like we did nothing. I just wanted to bring a lot of energy and mental concentration. I was feeling good and tried my best to show I was ready for our team to win."
During the rest of the game, when Galatasaray came back, you always took the responsibility. You even had a big blocked shot. How did you respond to every situation?
"It takes concentration in your mind to build the self-confidence you need to take good shots, to make good decisions, to find the open man and so on. You need to generally be ready to do whatever the team needs to win. I was ready. Like I said, if we didn't save that game, it was going to be like we did nothing this season. This is how I felt."
The result is a rematch with Montepaschi Siena, the team you lost to in last season's playoffs. Is revenge the right word now?
"You know, we will try to do our best. Last year we lost to them, and didn't lose in a good way. We won the first game of the playoffs by 50, and then the last three we lost. Playoffs series are a matter of timing and psychology. Sometimes, it's not the best team that passes through, but the team that's more ready at the right time. A special situation like that might help a team go to the Final Four. Maybe it's a player having a great night, maybe it's the other team's shots not going in. Last year, we learned a lesson and now we have to take advantage of that lesson. We have to go and be our best the whole series. For us to be in the playoffs is not enough. Everyone in the club wants to go further. When we play basketball, we want to win. Nobody wants to lose here."
Which will be the biggest keys to this series against Montepaschi?
"Siena is a good team, with big personality and winning spirit that we respect. We also now have a very good team, a very experienced coach, good atmosphere and chemistry. I didn't see Siena much so far this year, only a couple times. But I know it's a team that we will have to slow down their rhythm and keep them out of the open court. Siena is very good at stealing the pace of a game for itself."
You are Olympiacos's undeniable leader this season. You seem to be enjoying that role, too. How does it feel to be a go-to guy and to have so much responsibility?
"I enjoy it and I enjoy playing basketball. I always like to say that I never say no to any situation in basketball. In a big team like this, I was ready to take responsibility and am comfortable with it, all to help the team win. Our coach and his staff work very hard to put me in the right places to succeed. They are always looking forward to how defenses play me and always giving me something new to help the team. That's one of the big things that few people can see, how they help me. In the end, it's about making the team work well, because this is a team sport. On our team, everybody has a role and there is very good chemistry. This is important because, as I said, we are trying to build something good for this year and for future years. If the team does not play good, whatever I do will not be good enough. The team plays together. We all win or we all lose together."
You were chosen as the Final Four MVP in 2009. Do those memories inspire you to try to get back to the Final Four, this time with Olympiacos?
"Yes, every year when you go to the playoffs, even when it's a difficult series, the Final Four and the trophy are on your mind. We know that we must fight a great team like Siena, and that there are bigger favorites for the trophy, like CSKA. But we will try our best and it will not be easy for anyone to win against us. We will give a lot of energy on the court. For sure, many people will say we don't have any possibility, but we will put everything on the court to win. That's our target. We'll see at the end of the day what we do well or not. But I think we are rebuilding this team for a lot of success."