Olympiacos Piraeus is back in the Final Four for the first time in a decade and one of its major catalysts in that historic step has been center Ioannis Bourousis. The 25-year-old big man's seventh Euroleague season has been the best of his career as Bourousis led the Reds in both scoring and rebounding. He also tied for the Euroleague lead with seven double-doubles while playing just over 21 minutes per game. Despite his dominance, Bourousis is modest and level-headed, always thinking team first, but setting his personal goals very high. "I know that I have taken a small step forward, but I can still do more to become a better player for my team," Bourousis told Euroleague.net. "It would be very important for us to play for the Euroleague trophy, but it will be more important to win the title...We are going to Berlin to win the title and not only to be part of this event."
Ioannis, congratulations on a great season so far. How does it feel to be headed to the Final Four after seven Euroleague seasons?
"It's a great honor, not only for me but for Olympiacos, too. We've tried very hard in the last few years to reach the Final Four and we were very close to succeeding, but… For every player, taking part in such a big event is something very special and unique to his career."
Everyone is calling this your breakout season. Does that make this Final Four accomplishment even better?
"I try my best to help my team and I'm very happy that I had a small contribution in helping my team reach Berlin. All together we succeeded, but we haven't reach our goal yet. We wanted to qualify for the Final Four, but we aren't going there just for tourism. We want to go all the way and win the trophy."
Were you surprised at all to lead Olympiacos in scoring and rebounding in Euroleague games this season?
"Honestly, I didn't know that. I try in every game to do my best to help my team win. I'm also trying to improve my weaknesses and that is the only thought I have. I know that I have taken a small step forward, but I can still do more to become a better player for my team."
You have averaged almost the same playing time this season as before, yet you numbers are up way up. How?
"It's like I said before. I believe that I worked on what the coaches needed from me and that's what made me a better player. The other thing is that my teammates help me very much with their experience."
You were always a high-percentage shooter, leading the Euroleague in two-point percentage on season. Was this season's explosion just a question of shooting more?
"This year I'm shooting more often because this is part of the team's strategy. However, if I had to shoot less often and contribute to other aspects of our game, I would have done it. What our coach asks of us is to shoot under the best possible circumstances, and that is what I always try to do."
Can you explain to someone not from Greece what Olympiacos-Panathinaikos in a Euroleague semifinal means?
"It's the biggest derby in basketball in the whole world. Only if you are part of it can you understand exactly what it means. It's also a big honor for Greek basketball to have two teams in the Final Four. It's going to be a great game and I hope we are going to win. We respect Panathinaikos, but we want to beat them."
Growing up in Athens with a third club, AEK, what was your perspective on the famous Olympiacos-Panathinaikos rivalry?
"During the years I played for AEK, Olympiacos wasn't such a strong team, but everybody talked about this rivalry. The whole atmosphere before this big derby is totally different, but I couldn't understand it before taking part in it myself."
You've played Panathinaikos many times over the years. What is the key to facing down the Greens in Berlin?
"Panathinaikos is a very big team with a lot of experience and players who have won a lot of titles in their careers. We have played against them a lot of times. We know them and they know us. We have to be focused on our game and not look at the scoreboard whether we are leading or trailing. In this game, the team that has more will and passion, the team that is more focused, will win."
Can passers like Theo Papaloukas and Nikola Vujcic, who are new on the team, make a difference now, when defenses tend to get tougher?
"Our life became better this year with Theo and Nikola. They make everything so simple for the team, and with their experience they have helped us a lot. Their experience is what we lacked the previous years and they will show us the right way for those two games in the Final Four."
What would it mean for you to win the semifinal and have a chance to play for the Euroleague trophy?
"It would be very important for us to play for the Euroleague trophy, but it will be more important to win the title! As I told you before, we are going to Berlin to win the title and not only to be part of this event or to only beat Panathinaikos."