Final Four interview: Kostas Tsartsaris, Panathinaikos
April 25, 2007
As Panathinaikos gets ready for the Final Four, one of its most important players is the often overlooked Kostas Tsartsaris. While the 27-year-old big man does not fill up the box score as much as some of his teammates, his ability to stay calm and better his team have made him one of coach Zeljko Obradovic's most trusted players. Now in his fifth season in Panathinaikos and appearing in his second Final Four, Tsartsaris is desperate to finally lift the coveted Euroleague title. "Every professional basketball player dreams of a Euroleague trophy, so yes, we are hungry to win this one," Tsartsaris said in this Euroleague.net interview. But he knows how hard it will be, even playing at home at Athens Olympic Indoor Hall (OAKA). "The fans are going to give us an important push, but it is not enough to win the trophy. Small details will determine the winner."
Hi Kostas. Congratulations on reaching your second Final Four. Panathinaikos had a whole season's worth of expectations and pressure to qualify for the event. Is there a sense of relief now that you made it?
"It was a very tough season, but we managed to accomplish our initial goal, which was qualifying for the Final Four. Our expectations are much higher than last year and honestly there is a sense of relief that we made it. As for the concentration, without it you can't succeed in anything. At this top level, you can’t stay loose for a single second."
You have six teammates who also reached the 2005 Final Four in Moscow. Altogether, 10 Panathinaikos players have been to the Final Four before. How do your previous experiences help you prepare this time?
"The 2005 Final Four in Moscow left a bitter taste with all of us. We had entered the tournament with high expectations, but left Moscow with our heads bowed. We learned from those games and I have to say that our ego was hurt two years ago. So, that experience and definitely all the experience we have from previous tournaments will be very helpful."
Despite all of the club's success in recent years, Fragiskos Alvertis is the only Panathinaikos player to have won a Euroleague title. How hungry are the rest of you guys to get your first Euroleague trophy?
"Every professional basketball player dreams of a Euroleague trophy, so yes, we are hungry to win this one. We listen to Alvertis' stories from the previous Final Four tournaments and it would be a great lie if I told you that we are not jealous. Frankie is a living legend and sets an example for everyone."
Playing the most important games of the season on your home floor is clearly an advantage for Panathinaikos. What kind of impact can playing at OAKA have on your chances?
"Our fans are going to be the sixth player. Competing in front of our fans and in our arena will help a lot, but the other finalists have been through such difficulties and have played in the hottest arenas in Europe. So, the fans are going to give us an important push, but it is not enough to win the trophy. Small details will determine the winner."
When you walk out onto the OAKA floor with the Panathinaikos crowd behind you for a game, do you try to control your emotions or use their energy to play with more emotion?
"You need balance. You can't let your emotions influence you, because in a situation like that, you can miss your target by not doing things that you have planned in practice. The crowd must give you the energy to play better defense and compete with bigger passion and determination. That's the point."
In the semifinal, the deep Panathinaikos frontcourt goes against that of Tau Ceramica, featuring Luis Scola and Tiago Splitter. What are the keys to stopping them and where do you see your role in the matchup?
"Luis Scola and Tiago Splitter are very good players and had an excellent season. Especially Scola is one of the top European inside players, but I don't think Tau can count only on them. They have many other capable players that we have to pay attention to. Anyway, in order to stop their frontcourt, we will try to use our bench's depth, since we have many big guys and I am one of them. I will do exactly what Coach Obradovic is going to ask from me and try to help my team go to the final."
Last year your goal of reaching the Final Four was snapped by Tau at home in a deciding Game 3 of the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Psychologically, how will that game's result effect Panathinaikos going into the semifinals?
"I think it is a totally different game and it has nothing to do with the Game 3 of the 2006 Quarterfinal Playoffs. So that result won't affect us negatively. We are not thinking of revenge or anything like that. The Panathinaikos-Tau Ceramica semifinal is a new game and the goal is different than last year."
You come into the Final Four with more Euroleague games played – 133 – than all but six other players. What does this competition and the opportunity to win it for a first time mean to you personally?
"It means everything, since I have been chasing this trophy for many years. The participation in a Final Four gives you the opportunity to fight for the biggest award, which establishes the winners at the highest level. I want be one of them and I will fight for it."
You've come a long way from Iceland, right? For people who don't know, tell us how you ended up being a star in Iceland at age 18? Do you ever go back to visit?
"As you know, the Bosman case changed the status quo of professional sports, so I decided to play for Grindavik for a season to get my freedom from the club that I used to play for in Greece. I stayed there for eight months and there is no doubt that the 1997-98 season in Iceland was a lesson in life. I haven't returned since then, but my ambition is to visit Iceland in the future."