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Star Turn, Q & A: Mike Batiste, Panathinaikos
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With white socks pulled up to his knees and those knees pulled up near the rim for another monster dunk, Panathinaikos big man Mike Batiste has patented a signature pose of success over his last six seasons in Athens. Since arriving in 2003, Batiste has been the unfailing constant in the Panathinaikos frontcourt during a flood of domestic trophies and one truly memorable Euroleague championship season. Indeed, just as no fan of the Greens will forget Batiste's crucial turnaround jumper to secure the 2007 Euroleague title for Panathinaikos, none will lose sight of him in Berlin, either. As the team's second-best scorer and top rebounder this season, Batiste is ready to keep Panathinaikos dangerous in the paint for their third Final Four together, one which he plans to finish with two hands around a new trophy.
Having won the Euroleague just a couple years ago, how important is being back at the Final Four to try for another title?
"Any chance to be crowned Euroleague champion again is always a blessing. For me personally, and I know for my teammates and our fans, we are very grateful for this opportunity. The Euroleague is one of the biggest competitions in the world, and to get to the Final Four is not easy at all. Every team is good and each phase - from the regular season to the Top 16 to the playoffs - is a challenge. It adds up to a very difficult road to the Final Four, so I am very grateful to not only be there, but to try to win it again, like we did two years ago. We will be very ready because we know that we're playing a great team in Olympiacos, our closest rival, in the semifinals. And now people all over the world will get to see what's so special about that rivalry."
After six seasons, what does it mean to you to wear Panathinaikos green?
"The key to it, number one, is the history and the tradition. Every time you walk into the gym for practice, you see the green championship banners hanging over your head. That's a blessing from all the guys who have been here before you and won championships for Panathinaikos. It's a long list of great players who make you feel fortunate to play on a team like Panathinaikos with big-time history, big-time tradition and great players coming through here and succeeding."
How would you describe the Panathinaikos-Olympiacos derby for people who will watch it for the first time in Berlin?
"First, you'll get to see one of biggest rivalries in sports, not just Europe, but around the world. Honestly, it has to be one of the top five or 10 rivalries in all of sports. These are two organizations with history, with tradition and with fans who support them to the very end. It's big, man, and people from around the world will get to see what it's all about. You hear about it, people talk and tell stories, but to see these two teams come together against one another is something really, really special. And we're going to give the people what they want. We have big-name players on our team, they have big-name players on their team. When we clash, it's going to be an opportunity to see something special."
What do take to Berlin from that night almost two years ago when you won the Euroleague in Athens?
"Number one, I remember the experience of playing and winning at European basketball's highest level of competition. Being on that cloud is the most natural high any person can get in sports. To be crowned a champion of the Euroleague is the most coveted thing in European basketball. It's one of the biggest trophies you can imagine winning. So it's big for us to be back, and from experience we know that if we go with the right mentality, we'll have a chance to win it all again. You have two games to play at the highest level. In the back of my mind, I know that once you put out maximum effort, the end result is being crowned a champion. That's what I'm taking from 2007 to 2009."
Thursday, April 16, 2009
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