One thing that assured Benetton Treviso's presence in the Final Four is the team's versatility. Centers shoot three-pointers while point guards attack the basket. The subject of our latest Final Four interview, team captain Riccardo Pittis, is the embodiment of his team's versatility. "I was born a versatile player," Pittis says. "It's my character." The winner of two European titles with Milan in 1987 and 1988, Pittis wants punctuate his career with another crown for Benetton. "I don't follow De Coubertin's ideas," he says. "I don't want to go there just to participate." For Pittis and Benetton, the challenge begins Friday, May 3 in a semifinal against defending Euroleague champion Kinder in Bologna.
Having played now in several Final Fours over three decades, what are your expectations for this one?
My expectations are the same I had in all the other finals I have played before. I don't follow De Coubertin's ideas. I don't want to go there just to participate. We aren't the favorite team this time, and that could give us the opportunity to face the event more relaxed. The last time we played the Final Four we were favorites and we missed our goal.
What are your memories of your European titles with Milan, including the first Final Four?
I have great memories. We won the first edition of Final Four and we beat Aris Thessaloniki and Maccabi Tel Aviv, two teams that were better than us, but we played two fantastic games and we won. I was really young and I had many minutes on the floor.
Since then, you have played in two other Final Fours, both losses. What would it mean for you to win the title with the club of the second half of your career, Benetton?
It would a great way to finish my career. I will not stop playing at the end of this season, but it's true I have just a short time to play after this season. The victories with Milan were a good way to start and this one could be a great way to finish.
Some say the true goal is to get to the Final Four only. Then fate decides. Do you agree?
Surely I don't agree. I think your fate depends on you. You can manage your destiny, depending on how you face the game, by your attitude and intensity.
Benetton's last Final Four was 1998. You and Denis Marconato remain from that team. Are previous Final Four experiences useful as you prepare for Bologna?
No, I don't think that that previous experience can give us help. Every Final Four has a different story. This is a different team, with a different coach and a different system of play. It will be another adventure.
As team captain, what general advice will you give the young players on the eve of this Final Four opportunity?
Yes, I have a big piece of advice for them: Go on the court and don't think about the final goal. Leave your soul on the court, because there is no tomorrow. Only today exists. Play with your mind at ease, be calm and have a good time. This is probably the best way to stay well and avoid nervousness, but it's not so easy to do.
What does it mean to Benetton to have Mike D'Antoni on the bench next week?
D'Antoni is a guarantee. He has played and won finals as a player and has experience as coach in a Final Four. I think he can put all his experience at the disposal of all the guys playing it for the first time.
Tell us about your semifinal opponent, Kinder Bologna. What makes Kinder tick?
The key of Kinder Bologna is their team attitude, the way they stay together, their team concepts. Their victories are not one-man victories but collective victories.
What is more difficult, guarding Emanuel Ginobili or being defended by him?
For sure it's more difficult to guard him, because he is an unpredictable player. He can do it all! He is difficult to read.
How did you become such a versatile player, naturally or by your own decision?
I don't want to seem presumptuous, but I was born versatile player. It's my character, this is the way I live my life. I try to adapt myself to all the different situations I have to face, on the court and off of it.
How much different is European basketball now than when you first played in a Final Four, both on the competitive and organizational levels?
All is changed, both on the court and in the organization of the events. Basketball is different, faster, more physical and intense, for sure the technical level is lower. Regarding the organization, I remember when we played in Gand the court and the arena were really bad. Now there is a different way to live the event. We are closer to America in the organization and in the staging of the event.
What is your opinion of this season's unified Euroleague?
I hope it will be this way forever. Two Euroleagues in basketball, as in any sport, are useless and not competitive. This season there was a great level of competition.