Facts are facts, and when the numbers are counted, they say one thing loud and clear: no active Euroleague player has had as much success as Fragiskos Alvertis of Panathinaikos. Alvertis will make his seventh Final Four appearance in Moscow, a record he holds exclusively. He also holds three Euroleague titles won with Panathinaikos. Should they win again in Moscow, he would become the first player of the Final Four era to win a fourth crown. Despite that long list of accomplishments, Alvertis is still only 30. In this Final Four interview with Euroleague.net, he makes it clear that records are nice, and he'll keep going for more, but what he really plans for the Final Four is to live the moment to its fullest. "The most important thing for me now is to enjoy these days, from the first moment you fly to Moscow until the moment you get back," Alvertis said. "The Final Four is a big celebration for European basketball, and the way to approach it is to enjoy it at all times."
Congratulations for reaching the Final Four. You've been to more Final Fours than any player, seven, but what did it feel like making it this time in front of 18,000 fans at home in OAKA Stadium?
"This time, the way we got to the Final Four was a little more exciting than all the other times, I think. The last quarterfinal game against Efes Pilsen was something special for us. Everyone wanted to beat them very bad. There were almost 20,000 people in the gym, the first time I have ever seen so many people at a basketball game, so the atmosphere was unique. I am happy to be going for the seventh time to the Final Four, both for the team and for me personally. Now, we are ready with no stress to go and play and fight there."
Three years is a long time between Final Fours for you, did you miss it?
"The truth is that yes, I missed it, but everyone here, especially in Greece, got used to our team going to the Final Four without realizing that it is not something simple to do. Many teams in Europe with big histories never go to the Final Four, or maybe go only a few times. OK, so we were two years without making the Final Four. You can't beat the best teams in Europe every year. If you get one bad result, one bad night, you maybe don't make it there. It happens. But this year we did it, and it's great to be back."
You're up to seven Final Four appearances, a record as we said, that also makes you something of an expert. What does it take to win this event?
"As I have said to the Greek media, the most important thing for me now is to enjoy these days, from the first moment you fly to Moscow until the moment you get back. The Final Four is a big celebration for European basketball, and the way to approach it is to enjoy it at all times. You play free, without stress, because there is no tomorrow, and you do what have to, fight and that's it. There is nothing else to do except enjoy every second."
In the history of European basketball, only nine players have won more than three titles, no one since 1980. Since you can become the next one, does that kind of history interst you at all?
"Of course, it means a lot. I consider it a challenge for me. I have had many opportunities before to win, and this time I will have the same. Every team has a 25 percent chance. It would be perfect to have four titles. If it happens, I would consider it a big deal."
Thinking back from you first Final Four until now, could you have predicted all the change that has come to European basketball?
"We have made big progress in European basketball.. All of Europe is at a high playing level - from Barcelona to Madrid to CSKA and Maccabi to Panathinaikos and all the others I haven't mentioned. The clubs have also changed a little bit the style of basketball. They promote the sport very well. There is better advertising, marketing, bigger companies as sponsors, more TV. Everyone around basketball is moving well and working better together, and I feel the sport is getting more popular. I didn't expect that, but don't forget that in Greece, big players from Europe and the NBA came to play here, and that helped interest people in our sport. I think the interest was always there, and that helps a lot."
Let's talk about this year. Why wasn't Panathinaikos a big favorite to reach the Final Four?
"Well, it is never easy to get here, and it wasn't easy this time. We had to play against very good teams. We had injuries during the season and needed to change players, which is difficult. But in the end, what's most important is we kept fighting until we made it."
Do you agree that your team's long bench, with up to 12 always contributing, is an advantage for Panathinaikos at the Final Four?
"At this moment, Panathinaikos has 12 players who can play at any moment or any time during the game as needed. We have many experienced players. We can do whatever we want on the court, play big or play small. Yes, for me, that is an advantage we have."
You are also playing under the most successful coach ever in Final Fours, Zeljko Obradovic. He's another advantage?
"Yes, of course. Everybody knows Coach Obradovic and what he has won in his career. What is clear is that he is successful by himself. No one has given him any gifts."
Is your semifinals opponent, Maccabi, the most offensive team you can remember?
Maccabi, especially this year, is a very, very good team full of great players. They are excellent on attack and also have the experience of last year and other Final Fours. It is going to be a very difficult game for us, but also for them I think. So I think everyone can expect a hard-fought game."
In this rivalry that has developed between Panathinaikos and Maccabi based on mutual respect?
"We played many times against each other in the past, so that connects us with many relations and memories of those big games. Another thing was when Oded Kattash came here from Maccabi. I think the fans of Maccabi started to like Panathinaikos some because Oded was here. In general there is a friendly relationship between the two teams, except for the fight we give once we get on the court. But there is respect between us, of course."