|One year after he became a Euroleague champion but played just the last few seconds at the Final Four, forward Kostas Kaimakoglou returns to the event in a much different role. Kaimakoglou has proven critical in helping the Greens get back to the Final Four. His great performance in Game 4 of the playoffs – 12 points and 7 rebounds in 18 minutes – allowed Panathinaikos to stay alive and eventually clinch its first back-to-back Final Four appearance in a decade. Overall, Kaimakoglou has averaged 7.9 points on 43.5% three-point shooting and 4 rebounds in 21 Euroleague games off the Panathinaikos bench. In so doing, he has collected the second-most three-point shots and the third-most rebounds and steals for the Greens this season. Just like his entire team, Kaimakoglou is determined to win a second consecutive Euroleague title, something unprecedented in Panathinaikos's remarkable history. "It is a great motivation for all of us, team and coaches," Kaimakoglou told Euroleague.net . "We can do something different and special, and we have in front of us the chance to do it. Everybody with the team wants to win it for the second consecutive season. Our most experienced players and our coach have won many titles, but are still hungry for more."
Hello, Kostas. Congratulations on reaching the Final Four again. How excited are you to be back?
"Making it to the Final Four, the biggest event you can reach with your club, is always great. And having the chance to reach the Final Four in two consecutive seasons was very difficult and very good. I am very excited and can't wait to get to Istanbul to play the second Final Four of my career!"
Panathinaikos comes off a great playoff series against Maccabi. How hard did you have to battle against such a great opponent to return to the Final Four?
"Obviously, our series against Maccabi was the toughest one in this season's Euroleague. Both are great teams and have been very successful in the past. I think that both teams deserved to go to the Final Four and as everyone saw, the series came down to the final minute of Game 5. It was decided by little details – one free throw, actually. We played better and succeeded in going to the Final Four, but it was very difficult to beat Maccabi."
Your role in the team has been critical this season. You have received a lot of playing time and stepped up in crucial moments. Do you think this has been the best season of your career?
"Probably. I have to agree that my role has been different than it was last season. When you play for Panathinaikos and especially for Coach Obradovic and his staff, it is not too easy to play a lot in your first year with the team. I had to learn the systems and how the team works. Our coaching staff asked me to play more this season and gave me a bigger role. That is great for me, because every player wants to play games, that is the most important thing as long as it helps the team win games. I will give my best at both ends to help the team to win, regardless of my personal performance and numbers."
How much of an advantage is it to have such an experienced team, with so many Euroleague winners playing together for years, in a tough scenario like the Final Four?
"I believe that all the best teams are always experienced. Every team that goes to the Final Four has equal chances to win the title. I don’t think that any of the four teams will go to Istanbul to just play and enjoy the experience of being in the Final Four. Every team believes in itself and wants to win the title. I think that every game is like a final and comes down to what happens that day. If you are focused and play well for 40 minutes, at this level anybody can beat anyone. The team that arrives in Istanbul with the best mentality and the most focus will have the best chances to win."
Coach Zeljko Obradovic works hard psychologically to have everyone ready. How does he get you mentally ready for the Final Four?
"Look, I think Coach Obradovic knows everything about his job and what he has to do. I am not a specialist to speak about this issue. Everybody knows what Coach Obradovic has achieved in his career. He never wants to lose and needs to win, always. He knows the way to do best in the Final Four, especially with the experience that comes with all the Final Fours he has been to and the titles he has won. He knows exactly what to do, how to work with the team, psychologically and on the court. If any player wants to speak with him, he can do it in private, but whatever you want to say, you can also do it in front of the team. He knows the way to prepare for it and will have everyone ready for the Final Four."
CSKA Moscow will be your opponent in the semifinal. You played them already twice this season. How different will this game be compared to the first two?
"It is going to be totally different. Those games were played in the Euroleague regular season; that was a long time ago. Both teams were not 100% ready and could not offer their best basketball. Every good team wants to give its best at the end of the season, when the title is at stake. I think that CSKA will be a much, much better team than it was in the beginning, but that is what I believe about our team, too. Everybody has a chance to get to the final if we play a good game."
What are CSKA's main strengths as a team?
"I think that first of all, Andrei Kirilenko wants to win a big title with CSKA. I believe he stayed here because this is what he wants – to win the Euroleague. He is a player that never stops moving and that makes it very difficult to guard him. He has a lot of energy, chases every player on defense, battles hard for rebounds... he is very important for them. Milos Teodosic is a great point guard who creates for himself and the team. Nenad Krstic is a great passer, like a point guard in the low post sometimes. These are the most important players for them, but all 15 CSKA players are really good and are always ready to play. The fact that I highlighted Krstic, Kirilenko and Teodosic doesn't mean we don't have to take care of everyone else."
Do you expect the semifinal to be a physical battle? Will it go down to who really wants it more?
"Yes, of course. Once you reach the Final Four, the only thing in your mind is the semifinal, and it is going to be a war, a big one. There will be a lot of body contact and whoever plays harder, with more heart, and is smarter will have the biggest chance to go to the final."
Does the fact that you won the Euroleague, the feeling of being Euroleague champion, inspire you to try to win the competition again?
"When you win the Euroleague title, being able to do it again the following season is even more difficult. That always goes for us, too. Everybody wants to beat the reigning champions. What we achieved until now, making it to the Final Four for the second consecutive season, is big."
Panathinaikos has never won consecutive Euroleague titles. What would it mean for the club to finally do that?
"Like you said, that has never happened before. Panathinaikos has never won consecutive titles. It is a great motivation for all of us, team and coaches. We can do something different and special, and we have in front of us the chance to do it. Everybody with the team wants to win it for the second consecutive season. Our most experienced players and our coach have won many titles, but are still hungry for more. We all want to win everything, every competition we play in. Getting to the Final Four again is great, but winning back-to-back titles is what we really want to do."