The numbers - 8 for 8 and 4 for 7 - don't lie. But they only begin to tell the story of the amazing record among Europe's club elite that belongs to our next FINAL FOUR Interview subject, Zeljko Obradovic. The head coach of Panathinaikos has made the Final Four eight times with five different teams, all but one of which took home the title. The four winners: Partizan 1992, Joventut 1994, Real Madrid 1995 and Panathinaikos 2000. The near misses came in 1996 with Real Madrid (fourth), in 1998 with Benetton (third) and in 2001 with Panathinaikos (second). The unknown quantity is Bologna 2002. "I'm proud of my results in Europe. I was lucky to coach great teams that allowed me to work well, to develop my ideas and have good players to put those ideas to practice," Obradovic said. "Everything else is up to daily work, ambition, motivation and being able to transmit your ideas to the players."
What explains so much success, Zeljko?
"I'm proud of my results in Europe. I was lucky to coach great teams that allowed me to work well, to develop my ideas and have good players to put those ideas to practice. Everything else is up to daily work, ambition, motivation and being able to transmit your ideas to the players."
There's a general opinion that says that the best teams have made it to the Final Four in Bologna. Do you agree?
"The best teams always make it to the Final Four. If you get there, it is because you deserve it. Well, sometimes luck has something to do with it too, but luck is always divided equally in sports. The problem is that everybody only remembers those times when luck was with the other side, not their own."
Has Panathinaikos arrived to the Final Four thanks to a favor by Olimpija when they beat Olympiakos in Piraeus?
"No way. Panathinaikos had a great season in Europe. We had the best record in the first phase, and also in the Top 16, even though we were on the brink of being eliminated only due to a bad game on a bad day. This is a flaw in the competition system. I recognize that it was exciting, thrilling, call it what you will, but it is not fair, as your season can go down the drain only because of one bad game."
And what can Olympiakos say about that?
"It's not the same case because they lost more games than us in the whole competition. I think that for next season, we should sit and talk about many issues. I don't like the rule that allows last-minute Final Four signings either".
But Panathinaikos did it...
"I'm talking about principles. My club took advantage of that rule, Kinder too, and the others can do it if they please. But my thought is this: I don't like it."
Let's talk about your semifinal rival. Maccabi seems to be your destiny, since this will be your third FInal Four duel in the last three years.
"We know each other very well, but there's a big difference between this year's game and the previous ones. They, apart from the signing of Husein Besok, practically have the same team, while we changed half of our roster. Besides, they had less injury trouble than we did and that allowed them to work under normal conditions. We were damned by injuries: Kalaitzis was out for five months, Kutluay two, Mulaomerovic nearly three months. Now we are affected by the Giannoulis case. But I can't complain. I only say what happen,ed, because sometimes you can only explain your game with your practices."
It is the first time that a team plays the Final Four truly at home. Is this an advantage for Kinder?
"Of course. Apart from the fans, for the players is very important to know every inch of the court. They know how the rims are, how they have to shoot, they don't change in the locker room, they sleep at home. All of them are small details that may not be important for people outside the competition, but for us they are."
With the signing of Buck Johnson, Panathinaikos adds another veteran to its roster. Do you think that experience is a decisive factor in this kind of games?
"I don't think that we have an old team. It is a combination of veteran and young players and in the middle, players at the zenith of their careers."
To summarize, do favorites exist in the Final Fours?
"Generally not. I always said that the chances are four-by-25 percent, but in this year's case, the fact that the Final Four is played at the PalaMalaguti gives Kinder more options. But it is also true that they will have more pressure."