With Madrid's arrival, the Final Four is set!
All four teams are in Belgrade; Let the fun begin! Real Madrid arrived to the organization hotel a few minutes after CSKA Moscow and players from both teams had a chance to say hello to each other and greet some of the many EuroLeague legends in the lobby, including Theo Papaloukas, Misrad Turkcan, Dusko Savanovic, Nikola Vujcic, Matjaz Smodis and Coach Dusan Ivkovic. As always, the Madrid players arrived decked out in navy blue suits and ties and immediately proceeded to their rooms before meeting to the team's own designated conference room.
"I am excited just to be here, playing with such a great group of guys in this great competition. Hopefully we can win two games and go back to Madrid as winners!" Those were the words of Chasson Randle, who is one of only two active Madrid men – the other being Walter Tavares, who has never been to a Final four before in any capacity. "[My teammates] definitely have mentioned that the Final Four atmosphere is great and how big this event is. It is a special time for the club, this is exciting… It is a great feeling to be here - but it will be better if we come out with two wins!"
Belgrade - Wednesday, May 16, 20:58
Upon arrival, CSKA's Vorontsevich appeals for Serbians’ support
CSKA Moscow arrived at the Final Four hotel for the 15th time in 16 years. This time, in the Serbian capital, they were warmly greeted by Euroleague Basketball Legend and their former Coach Dusan Ivkovic. Entering hotel, CSKA team was bookended by two of its best players, with former EuroLeague MVP Sergio Rodriguez leading the way and two-time EuroLeague Best Defender Kyle Hines coming last. With a number of former legends present at the hotel, CSKA players stopped by to talk to familiar faces, like Andrey Vorontsevich who had a few laughs talking to his former teammate and three-time EuroLeague champion Matjaz Smodis.
"It is good to see old friends here," said Vorontsevich, who is making his eighth Final Four appearance, trailing only his current teammate Victor Khryapa who has 11, and his former teammate Theo Papaloukas who has nine. "The Final Four for me is a big basketball holiday. Sometime it looks as this is the usual part of the season for CSKA, but being here is our professional goal and for sure it was hard work for us, and all the teams here."
Vorontsevich and Khryapa might have all these Final Four appearances, but this will be the first time they will be playing games of this magnitude in Belgrade, this year’s Final Four host city. "I think this is something big for Belgrade, because in Serbia it is a national sport and I think the whole country will follow these games", Vorotnsevich said, and added with a smile: "I hope a lot of Serbian people will support CSKA because the Russians and Serbians are brothers. I know Serbians will be on our side."
Belgrade - Wednesday, May 16, 20:46
Zalgiris is back at the Final Four!
Not long after the defending champions, it was Zalgiris Kaunas that made its long-awaited return to the Final Four, landing to the Serbian capital and making its way to the Hyatt Regency Belgrade. And the Lithuanian champs did so in style, too. The Zalgiris delegations gets the award for best-dressed; the players looked dapper wearing matching grey slacks with powder blue oxford shirts and navy blue v-neck sweaters. Altogether, the players marching into the hotel looked like something out of a fashion ad in a men's magazine, however, this team has certainly not come to Belgrade for a fashion show, but to compete for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title.
"It's a beautiful feeling to be here. It's hard to describe this in words," Zalgiris point guard Vasilije Micic, a native of Serbia who grew up in Belgrade for the better part of his childhood, said. Micic, just like each one of his teammates, is making his first Final Four appearance, and finds this moment very special. "Last year I was in the stands watching the Final Four in Istanbul and this year I will be playing in it. That's the main thing going through my head in recent days, and something I will remember my entire life."
Head Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius seemed upbeat and in very good mood. It is a very familiar situation for him. He might be in his first Final Four as a coach, but Saras won four EuroLeague titles as a player between 2003 and 2009 and has played in a total of six Final Fours, the last as recently as 2013 with FC Barcelona Lassa. He finished his playing career in Zalgiris green a year later and now has guided his hometown club to its first Final Four appearance since 1999, which was when Zalgiris won its lone EuroLeague title. So, these have been some super-exciting times for the club, but the players did not looked at all phased with the extra-attention upon their arrival. According to Micic, they are very much locked in on the job at hand: "The excitement has died down a little bit after our playoff win," Micic explained. "I think this is big, and we deserve to be here and we will be ready to go in the semifinals."
Belgrade - Wednesday, May 16, 13:16
The champs are first to Belgrade!
Welcome to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four's LIVE BLOG from Belgrade, Serbia! We will be telling you all about European basketball's biggest event from now until a champion is crowned at Stark Arena last Sunday night. Defending EuroLeague champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul was the first team to arrive at around 11:40 am. local time. Sinan Guler, who could join a list of 7DAYS EuroCup and EuroLeague champions at the end of this weekend, was the first player to get off the bus and enter the headquarters hotel, following by local hero Nikola Kalinic. All the players proceeded to their private room to have lunch. Fenerbahce and Zalgiris Kaunas, which is set to arrive early in the afternoon, will practice today, while CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid will arrive in the evening. Fenerbahce coaching legend Zeljko Obradovic had the opportunity to say hello to EuroLeague President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu soon after he entered the hotel. Of course, Coach Obradovic drew the most attention as he is a celebrity and one of the most respected personalities in his native Serbia.
Jan Vesely, who is set to play his fifth Final Four, said after getting to the hotel, "It is a great feeling to make it to the Final Four and play at the highest level until the end. First of all, it is a great experience, very exciting, and a good chance to be part of history. We came here to play hard, play our game and be focused."
It is very special for Vesely to be back in Belgrade. He played for Partizan for three years and reached his first Final Four with the Serbian powerhouse in 2010; his wife Natalia Miladinovic is Serbian and they were married in Belgrade last year. "Playing in Belgrade is always special, but I am trying not to think about that too much and focus on what we came here to do. A lot of people will be in Belgrade to support me, but our job is to play basketball," Vesely said. "We have to play two games and everything is open, anybody can win. These are the best four teams in Europe. It will be a great competition."
Belgrade - Wednesday, May 16, 12:28