Two weeks before the most important event of his professional career, after having led CSKA Moscow to the finest season on record in Europe, the Euroleague MVP for April, Marcus Brown, asks a favor before getting off the phone with Euroleague.net. "Just tell everyone to keep the family of Alphonso Ford in their prayers," Brown says. "He was a great guy." Brown and Ford, the former Euroleague scoring champ who died of leukemia last fall, crossed paths everywhere from the southern United States, where they both grew up, to the Euroleague. You can be sure that Brown will use Ford's memory as extra inspiration as he marches CSKA to the Final Four in Moscow from May 6 to 8. Brown says he's proud of his team already, win or lose in Moscow, where he expects to take part in perhaps the greatest Final Four ever. "Everyone is really, really anticipating this one," Brown said. "Given all the factors - Maccabi won last year, we were right there the last two season, Panathinaikos is definitely a tough team, Tau is always that way - the billing for this Final Four is like a heavyweight fight."
Marcus, congratulations on being named MVP for April. The quarterfinals that month were the last step to the Final Four. What's the mood in Moscow as the big event approaches?
"Everybody is excited, of course. We've been in this situation before. It's not a tense situation for us. Winning the Russian Cup this week helps, for the psyche more than anything else. That was one of our goals, and we got that out of the way. There are no injuries, thank god. So everyone is feeling good."
CSKA has already has the most dominating European season ever. Does success still depend on the Final Four?
"I think you just have to take things as they go. Obviously, it doesn't feel complete unless you win the whole thing. But to see the kinds of things we have accomplished this season is great. You've got to think about this. We start the season in one group, and went undefeated. In the second stage we lost our only game all year. But then, five of the eight teams in our original group made the quarterfinals, and three of those are going to the Final Four. So what we've done so far speaks for itself. Regardless of what happens now, we put in the work."
Those who see CSKA play often have described you as a coach on the floor. How do you see your role?
"On pretty much ever team I've played for, my role has been that way. Maybe a lot people see it more so this year, with us hosting the Final Four and that putting more emphasis on us. But I don' t think necessarily my role has changed or intensified more. What we have is a great group of guys, good personalities. In a sense, it's they who I would say are real receptive and open to advice on the floor. That kind of helps the coaching staff. J.R. Holden and me know the philosophy, defensively and offensively, what things need to get done on the floor, and the guys are open to that. I give them the credit."
How does getting so much trust from a coach with the status of Dusan Ivkovic make you feel?
"Our communication is very good. Every marriage is going have bumps in the road. To me that's life, and it goes no further than that. Our coach is known throughout Europe, and he makes things easier for me at times. I know that he trusts me and he lets me go on the court with that. It's a good feeling and it comes with a lot of responsibility. He's a coach who is know for his big victories and experience, so for him to feel that way about me, I am glad to have that trust. If you want to give someone responsibility, I am the guy, I can handle it. All the pressure, what people write, what critics say, doesn't faze me one bit. If you want someone to take the last-second shot, I'll take it."
Both your minutes and scoring went down some this season. Was that planned?
"Coach and I talked at the beginning of the season, even before I came back to Moscow, and he said he wanted to take my minutes down to keep me fresh as I could be all season. He knows what kind of pounding I take on the court, so that was his effort to help. He wanted to keep my minutes down, and with the team so balanced, sometimes he was able to rest me nine or 10 minutes. I am all about winning. I've never been a stats guy and I never will be. If my points are down, it's OK. Just look at kind of season we had."
You guys bring a 21-1 record to the Final Four. Was that one loss good or bad?
"I'm not a believer in getting one loss out of the way. It was a bad night for us. That was it. If I had my way, in a perfect world, we'd go back and play it again, try to erase it. We had to rebound from it, and we did that well."
That defeat and your closest wins were in Moscow. Playing at a different arena, with fans from all over Europe, will CSKA still have a homecourt advantage at the Final Four?
"I think there will be some home cooking. But we've just got to play regardless. We can't count on anything just because we are at home, expecting the other teams to play like road teams. I do think most of our tight games were at home, because we were lax from being at home. We played with more intensity on the road. I think mentally we have to approach the semifinals like a road game."
People are already saying this could be the best Final Four ever. Do you agree?
"Yes. Everyone is really, really anticipating this one. Given all the factors - Maccabi won last year, we were right there the last two season, Panathinaikos is definitely a tough team, Tau is always that way - the billing for this Final Four is like a heavyweight fight."
You face Tau Ceramica in the semifinals. What kind of challenges does Tau present?
"They try to play very physical. They've got a couple big weapons in Scola and Macijauskas. And Scola is playing really well right now, after he had a down period early in the season. Macijauskas is always going to be a threat. I just think we have to approach it like a road game and impose our tempo and defensive philosophy. If we rebound well and stay out of foul trouble, we'll be all right."
What would it mean to you to win it all and be a Euroleague champion?
"Most of all, I'll be proud of the guys from top to bottom, and the coaching staff and the fans. It would be a sweet finish, the icing on the cake, like finding that big diamond in the mine. It would be something special. Even though a lot people picked us and we have a good team, I don't think we have overachieved, but have gone over some people 's expectations. I don't think people expected us to do all the things we've done so far. It would be sweet to tie it up with the trophy."