At 27 years old, Tau Ceramica point guard Zoran Planinic is entering the prime of his career. He has had a season to prove it, too, guiding his club back to the Final Four as he did in his first season with Tau. Planinic's combination of size, ball-handling skills, brilliant passing and solid shooting makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses and is a major reason that Tau has had the most prolific attack in the Euroleague this season. With his first Final Four experience a thing of the past, Planinic is eager to return this season and to try to win it all as the team playing closest to home in Madrid. In this Euroleague.net interview, Planinic speaks about his second season at Tau, what makes his team so dangerous and what it would mean to lift the coveted trophy at the end of it all. ""It would mean the world to me!" Planinic told Euroleague.net. " Personally, I would be on top of the world. The only thing close to winning the Euroleague is to win a title with your national team. This is the top thing for any European player."
Zoran, congratulations for making the Final Four, your second and Tau's fourth in a row. What is the feeling just days before the big event in Madrid?
"Thank you. The feeling is always good before the Final Four. We cannot wait to start. Like you said, I was in the Final Four last season and I saw how glamorous that event is. I couldn't even believe how big the event was. Everyone in European basketball was there. I was kind of impressed in Athens, so I hope that this year in Madrid won't be the same for my teama. We hope to do better than last season."
Last year, you had injury problems during the season. So far this year, and have played all 23 Euroleague games. How has the Euroleague season been for you, personally, so far?
"Of course, it has been better than last year. I played much better, with much more confidence. I think that not having injuries helps me a lot. I am satisfied with the way my Euroleague season has been going so far. We have two more games in the Final Four and I hope that we all will be very happy at the end of the season."
Your new coach this season, Neven Spahija, already knew you quite well from both the Croatian national team and Cibona. How much has that relationship helped you this season?
"It helps, that's for sure. I know the way he works and that always helps. I feel good in any coach's system, I don't have problems with any coach, and of course coach Spahija is not an exception."
Experts say that one of Tau's biggest strengths coming into the Final Four is their point guard duo, you and Pablo Prigioni. How is your collaboration sharing responsibility for directing the team?
"I agree that this is one of the biggest strengths in the team. We have high intensity no matter who is on the court, if it's Pablo, me, or even both at the same time. I think that Pablo is one of the best point guards in Europe. If you want to look at Euroleague history, he has already played five or six seasons in the competition and has been one of the best in those years. I am younger than him and sometimes I learn a lot from him, too. I am glad to play with Pablo and I like having him in the team."
You are set to face CSKA Moscow, an opponent you know very well, in the Euroleague semifinals? What do you and your team have to do to beat CSKA?
"Above all, it is a one-game situation. It is a do-or-die, win-or-lose game, unlike a playoff when you can afford losses. Definitely, we have to play our best to beat CSKA in the semifinals, and I mean it with I say 'our best'. We already played twice against CSKA this season and we lost both games, easily I would say, against them. We have to change a few things and give 100 percent on court, no less. To beat a team like CSKA you need all players to give their best."
You'll have a high-profile matchup against Theo Papaloukas, still the reigning Euroleague MVP and a tall playmaker like you. How much of a challenge does he present?
"It is a challenge, no question about it. I want to compete against Papaloukas. That is what we want to do in professional sports – we all want to compete. I don't think that our head-to-head matchup will decide the outcome of the game. I don't think that whoever has the better game will lead their team to a win. Tau has to play good defense and team basketball if we want to beat CSKA. For instance, CSKA has great individuals, but their team basketball is unbelievable. If you want to beat them, you have to play better team basketball than them. That's a fact."
In your opinion, which are your team's biggest strengths going into the upcoming Final Four?
"I think that we scored a lot of points so far and in my opinion, that is our biggest strength. We have a good ability to score and that is why we have to carry on doing, keep organizing our offense well against a good defensive team like CSKA."
In a way, Tau will be the local team in this Final Four, since it is played in Spain. Is it more pressure, an advantage or some of both?
"I believe it is an advantage. We will be the only Spanish team in the Final Four and Vitoria is not far from Madrid. I am sure that we are going to get great support from our fans. I think it is an advantage and anyone who was at last year's Final Four will agree with the fan base Panathinaikos had. It can only be an advantage."
You returned to the Euroleague after a three-year absence and have made two Final Fours right away. Is this what your return was all about?
"Of course. Every player dreams about winning something, because when we all retire, everybody will talk about how many titles we won. Every player should play to win something. If you play only for the money, he cannot be considered a sportsman, it is stupid to think that way. Every time you step on the court you want to win and be competitive."
Tau Ceramica has been to four consecutive Final Fours and has experience and talent to finally win the competition. What would it mean for you and the club to finally lift the Euroleague trophy?
"It would mean the world to me! Personally, I would be on top of the world. The only thing close to winning the Euroleague is to win a title with your national team. This is the top thing for any European player. It would also be huge for the club, too. Tau Ceramica has been knocking of the door but it never enters. It is hard to go to the Final Four year after year and do nothing. We are playing in Spain this year and from these years when we had the possibility to win, I think this is our best chance."