|You have only to read the arc of his career to know how much Vassilis Spanoulis wanted a Euroleague title. He worked his way up from his native Larissa to reach Athens in his teens and join Panathinaikos at age 23, thereby reaching the Euroleague for the first time. Although he played so well as to be voted All-Euroleague Second Team that first season, 2005-06, the Greens missed the Final Four. The next season, Spanoulis went to the NBA, only to watch from afar as the Greens took the Euroleague crown. He returned to Panathinaikos the following season, but again the team was knocked out short of the Final Four. Only four times all decade have the Greens missed the event, and the last two coincided with the first seasons that Spanoulis played for them. Earlier this month, however, all that would change as the Greens survived the closest Final Four in history and Spanoulis was voted MVP. With two trophies in his hands, Spanoulis had made up for a lot of lost opportunity in this, his first Final Four. "Now that I have had my experience, I too can understand what everybody meant by saying that it's a basketball celebration," Spanoulis told Euroleague.net. "Every basketball player wants to be a part of it, to be there and my goal is to be on time for this appointment as many times possible from now on... The first title is sweet, but after experiencing the joy and the pride, you just want to feel it again. You want more titles to accompany that first one!"
In your first Final Four, you ended up with the Euroleague trophy in one hand and the Final Four MVP trophy in the other. Did you ever dream of such things growing up as a player?
"I believe that every kid who starts playing basketball, every player later on, dreams of conquering a Euroleague title. It's a dream that came true for me. About the MVP trophy… It's a distinction for me, a personal honor, but like every title in basketball, every little award is a result of teamwork. Conquering Europe as a team is what matters the most; a success that came through teamwork, through the work of my coaches, of my teammates, of the administration. It's just amazing how we got to the end of this road, getting the Euroleague trophy, along with the fans of the team."
Everyone knows you came back to Panathinaikos to have a chance to win titles. Was the Euroleague trophy at the top of the list?
"Yes, yes! Definitely! As far as clubs go it is the highest a basketball player can get. Not that our job ends here…"
Let's talk about the Final Four itself, the closest one ever. Two defensive stops at the end of the semifinal and final made you guys the champs. Defense still wins championships?
"Defense comes first, if you want to get titles. This is the philosophy of our team. Everything good that happens in our offense derives from a good defense. I believe that we played well overall during the Final Four, there were only a few times that we trailed in the score and it's obvious that both the ability of the team and luck have their part in getting to the top every time. But the most important element is the ability. We deserved the trophy we conquered!"
Which game was harder?
"Both games had their own important significance. The first one was different, because it's always special for Panathinaikos to play against Olympiacos and vice versa. But mostly it was special because it was the step to get to the final. The final itself is just… the final. What else to say? But I cannot talk about the one or the other game. You need to win both games otherwise you will not be the one celebrating in the end."
In both games, you scored most of your points early. Was that by design or just you reacting to the circumstances?
"I do as my coach says and I take what the game and the opposite defense allows me. Sometimes I try to make use of my teammates, other times I am called upon to organize the game for my team, others to score. I make the most out of what the situations on the court give me; sometimes to organize the game, sometimes to play defense, sometimes to score. It doesn't really matter. I try to help my team anyway I can, trying to become a more complete player".
Panathinaikos and CSKA have the biggest rivalry of this Euroleague generation. How special was it to play the final against them, especially with a close friend like Nikos Zisis on their bench?
"A game between CSKA and Panathinaikos is special. That's true. The fact that there was a trophy in the background only made it even more special. It was a tough final, against a really good, great team, like CSKA. It was obvious by they way the game ended. About Nikos… We are best friends and a game cannot change that fact. We knew that for 40 minutes we were going to be opponents. We play for our teams respectively, but as soon as the game ends we are the way we were. Best friends again!"
What was on your mind when the shot by Ramunas Siskauskas was in the air?
"(laughing) A flash of the trophy. I virtually saw the trophy passing in front of my eyes! Do I need to say more?"
What is it like to play for the most successful coach in European basketball history, Zeljko Obradovic?
"It's a great honor to play for Coach Obradovic. He has helped me immensely in my career both as a player and as a person. He has made my game more complete. Everyday you gain something from him. It's an honor, it's great, but at the same time it's very difficult to play for him, because he seeks perfection. On the other hand this is something that makes you a better player, helps you improve your game every single day!"
You have been in major international events with the Greek national team. What is your review of the Final Four as an event after taking part in your first one?
"This is the top competition as far as clubs are concerned. And now that I have had my experience I too can understand what everybody meant by saying that it's a basketball celebration. Every basketball player wants to be a part of it, to be there and my goal is to be on time for this appointment as many times possible from now on."
They say that the feeling of a first Euroleague title inspires you to want more. What are your thoughts on the future after winning this one?
"My thought is that I want as many titles as possible with my team! This is my goal. The first title is sweet, but after experiencing the joy and the pride, you just want to feel it again. You want more titles to accompany that first one!"