To understand what a Final Four means to the participants, Euroleague.net recently sought out an expert: Johnny Rogers. Between 1992 and 2002, Rogers played five times at the Final Four with three different teams. His Final Four experience culminated in a pair of titles for Panathinaikos, in 2000 and 2002. "I just love the Final Four," said Rogers, now playing with Caprabo Lleida of the Spanish League. "I went as a player five times, the last four seasons in a row. Now, I cannot imagine not being there." Lucky for Euroleague fans, Rogers will mot miss this year's Final Four, either. He's coming to Barcelona as a guest commentator for Euroleague.net! From now until the Final Four starts on May 9 in Barcelona, Euroleague.net will draw on his expertise about the teams, the players, the hype and the psychology of playing a Final Four. Then, in Barcelona, Rogers will be courtside with Euroleague.net, commenting on the action and answering your questions, too! To get started, Euroleague.net talked with Rogers last weekend about how his fascination with the Final Four developed.
Istanbul, 1992, Philips Milan
"When I think about the Final Four, to be honest, I've never missed seeing any of them. I remember watching them even before I went to one. When I was with Real Madrid my second year in Europe, I watched Jugoplastika play, and I thought, 'Wow, that looks great to be playing in a game like that.' When I got the opportunity to play with Philips Milan, I took it knowing that we had a good chance of going to the Final Four. But still, until you get there, you don't realize how big it truly is. And then when you go with other teams that are not on that type of level, you really miss it. I went from Milan to four different teams who didn't play in the Euroleague at all. So I was lucky to come back and, at what was the end my career, be part of the top competition again."
Munich, 1999, with Olympiakos
"We went to Mnich and all eyes were on us and Kinder as the major contenders. We had beaten Kinder twice that season. The problem was everyone had overlooked Tyus Edney, Anthony Bowie and the guys from Zalgiris. We were never in that semifinal game with them. It was a helpless feeling. They went running by us, pulling up for threes on the fastbreak. We were in shock. I remember watching the finals thinking kinder wouldn't be surprised, since they had at least been warned by what happened to us. But they were down by 20 right away. They tried to come back but Zalgiris held them off. Zalgiris really deserved it that year.
Thessaloniki, 2000, with Panathinaikos
"Every body said that because we were playing in Greece, it would be easy, because we were at home. But I can tell you the people there in Thessaloniki dind't like us at all. We might as well have been in a different country, really. But we were focused on the title that season from training camp. That was the goal of the team. We started off winning 20 games in a row, slumped for a few games, and then picked up and finished the season real well. We won conivincengly. That was the best moment, without a doubt, in my career. I remember guys who had been trying so long, especially Gentile, who had been in seven or eight finals before and never won. Now we had won the biggest title of all. Rebraca won his first. Bodiroga, too: It was the one trophy he was missing. Oded Kattash did it against his ex-team. It was such a high, just the greatest feeling."
Paris, 2001, with Panathinaikos (SuproLeague)
"We were expected to go back to the Final Four, but was tough year for us. We didn't do as well as expected, but we made the SuproLeague Final Four with two other teams who had been there the year before. But this time, Maccabi just dominated the Final Four. The were up big on us at the half and we might have come back to lead by a couple points after that, but then they pulled away pretty easily. They deserved to win that Final Four."
Bologna, 2002, with Panathinaikos
"Last year was a huge surprise. It was definitely an upset. Nobody really picked us to win. Everyone pointed out our team's weaknesses. The truth is we were basically happy to make it back to the Final Four. We had Rebraca from the year before and changed 6 or 7 guys altogether. Damir Mulaomerovic got hurt in the Top 16, and he wasn't at his peak self. We were behind the eight ball after losing the first game with Olympiakos by 16 points. We only beat Olympiakos by 13 at home, so they had the advantage. Lucky for us, Olimpija beat Olympiakos in Pireus. That contribute to feeling kind of happy just to get there. We thought that was a great accomplish.
"The thing about a Final Four is once you get there, you just need two great games. Anybody can win when, once you get there. That is so true. We had to play Maccabi, who we knew well, and to us they looked even stronger than the year before. I don't think they expected such a tough game from us. Then we had Kinder in the final on their homecourt. We didn't have too many people from Greece. When they got out on top right away, I was watching from the bench and just hoping we could get back in the game. I didn't want to see us lose in a blowout. But sure enough, things turned around in the second half. That was something few people expected, I think. That made it even better."
Barcelona, 2003, with Euroleague.net
"When I heard the next Final Four was in Barcelona - and when I knew I was going to play in Spain at Lleida - I began to think that there was no way I was going to miss it. It's just such a great atmosphere. The whole basketball world in Europe goes, and now its a must-see event for the NBA teams, too. Last year was so well-organized in Bologna, just a great weekend for everyone. And in Barcelona, I expect it's going to be incredible. They have about 16,000 seats, but if there were 30,000, they could sell out. The people in Barcelona feel this is their chance to see history. Nobody wants to miss it, and that goes for me, too."