Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four weekend shifted into Championship Game mode with the press conference Saturday at noon at Mercedes-Benz Arena featuring the head coaches and one player from each of the finalists, CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce Istanbul. With the trophy they hope to hoist on Sunday night sitting before them at the press conference room, the four participants were peppered with questions looking ahead to what promises to be a fantastic finale to a superb season.
Zeljko Obradovic, Fenerbahce Istanbul head coach
"Hello to everybody. Obviously, I am very happy to be in the situation to play the final game for the first time in Turkish basketball history. We know we will have great support from our fans and that we play against a team that everybody recognizes as an excellent team, and it is true. they played very good basketball, have individual quality and more important, they play like a team for a very good coach like Mr. Itoudis. I expect and a tough, difficult game like the semifinal against Laboral Kutxa."
On facing his longtime assistant Itoudis in the final:
"We talked about this in the beginning of our pre-season camps, that we would play the final game. We were sure that we would be over here! I called Dimitris and said 'good luck, see you in the final!'. I already said that I am happy that we are over here. It was impossible to think something like this but both of us played thinking about going game by game. We will try to reach the goal that have in front of us. It is very different - we talk about a team like Fenerbahce that is in its second Final Four in its history and it is in its first final, and then about CSKA, which is in its 13th Final Four in 14 years. It is very different to talk about CSKA or Fenerbahce. It is what it is but everyone has the right to dream, play and give the best to our side."
"It was our plan to play like this and to play overtime - especially Bogdanovic, you know? He liked this very much. He slept during the whole game and finally he woke up. We must do a special warm-up with him tomorrow before the game to start, let's say, at 5 o'clock and everything will be OK, I hope! It is normal - I said after the game in the press conference that we didn't play they we did during the whole season. It is logical - we had an excellent start but Laboral is a good team and they know how to play. Bourousis once again played an excellent game. Up and down during the game is normal - like Dimitris said, the team that plays without any kind of pressure and focused on the game have many possiblities to win the game. I will try to relax the team and prepare everything that is important for this game. Let's see what happens."
"Looks like it is 1999 when he came to me and took the wrong decision to be with me. Everything that Dimitris said is true - lots of good moments, 13 years of our life. For me, the best is that he made me crazy in practices and games, talking about things we discussed, but it was the best. I alaways tried to have an assistant coach close to me that I can trust and between us, it was that. I didn't treat him like an assistant coach, it was something more, something special, as it is right now."
On Kostas Sloukas and his valuable experience:
"He is very motivated. He took the decision to come last summer and play for Fenerbahce for this reason, to be an important player, one of the leaders of my team - and he is. He played excellent. It is true that during the season he was out for some moments but he worked very hard and I believe he is very ready for tomorrow. He is very motivated, knows how to play and has experience, also in the final game, so I hope he will help the team a lot tomorrow."
"CSKA is very specific team and they play with Kyle Hines in the '5' position. I will say that everything in their game starts defensively. Everything. After that, they try to find mismatches in transition, they play excellent in many situations and this is the best part of their game. Of course, their perimeter players create the game and everything. They also use all kind of mismatches putting the ball on the boards. Everything will be very important. Everything. We must have balance in our offense to not allow them o score easy points and if we are able to do this, I believe it will be a different game."
About his motivation as a coach after so many wins:
"It is simple - I like my job. This is what I always repeat: i am very happy every morning when I go to practice. Actually, even if we don't practice on the morning, I am in my office over there and wait for some guys because I am sure they are coming to shoot the ball. Over here, there is one of them (Bogdan Bogdanovic) who is always in the gym. I feel like a very privileged person - I am doing a job that I like very much plus they pay me excellent. So what else you want from life? How many people have this opportunity of doing something they like and take good money? It is first simple, this is my first and only motivation - you start the preparartion with new players, a new team and you share with them everything about basketball and life. This makes me very happy."
On stopping De Colo's scoring or Teodosic's creation:
"Both things are very difficult. They have quality and know how to play. Nando is the Euroleague MVP, scoring almost 20 points per game and Milos also showed yesterday that he is a player who doesn't care about scoring or not. He plays for the team. If I remember wel, he had 6 assists and controls everything on the court. Both of them are vert good and it will be very, very difficult to stop them. Of course, the important part of the game is this. We will try everuthing but I don't know - Bogdan is close to me, it is more a question for him. It is also a team job. One-on-one is, of course, important in basketball but we must understand this is a 5-on-5 game. It is not about one specific player like Milos or Nando. We have Cory (Higgins) over here and in a lot of games, Mr. Itoudis prepared isolation for him, and he went like 'boom!'. It is not only 2 players. They have an excellent team, have quality and not just 1-2 players. They play good basketball and this is why they are in the final."
On Fenerbahce fans:
"They are a very important part of everything in our Fenerbahce club. Their support is amazing, they are always close to us. I remember when the season started in October-November, a lot of fans in Istanbul waited for us after the game and started to talk about the Final Four, saying to me that they already have tickets for it. I said 'what are you doing? How is it possible?' but they had trust and this is something very very good, very nice, one more reason to try to give everything tomorrow. This is the first thing that I will say to my players - like Dimitris said, everything will be yellow and blue. We have to go for it for ourselves, of course, and for them. Everyting will be decided on the court, five against five. Fans will do their job and once again, thanks from my heart for coming to support us, not now in the Final Four, but for the entire season."
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Fenerbahce Istanbul guard
"First of all, good morning to everyone. It is good to see this number [of media]. We expect a tough final and I think both of the teams deserve to be in it. Both teams played excellent during the whole season. Obviously, we are the teams with the best record this season. We expect an amazing final."
About betting with Milos Teodosic about the winner:
"We will see. We will talk about it. If I see him, maybe we will bet… if it is legal for players to bet!"
About Fenerbahce fans:
"I believe they will support us like this whole season. We trust them and I said yesterday, they have pushed us in all games during the whole year. They helped us a lot, being our sixth player."
Dimitris Itoudis, CSKA Moscow head coach
“Obviously also from my side, from my club we are very excited and looking forward to the final. Being in the final was a long, long trip. We know why we’re here. At the same time we have to face Fenerbahce for the first time; we haven’t met this season in the regular season or Top 16 or the playoffs of course. We expect a tough final. Fenerbahce is a team that has everything on its roster, big lineup, can play small ball. Of course with Coach Zeljko being in so many final fours and finals, we have a tough opponent, but we know why we’re here. We’re here and we have that desire. We want to be focused, determined and decisive.”
On size disadvantage in frontcourt:
“If I am not mistaken, we are only in the Final Four that is missing a player. All the other teams are with full rosters. But it is what it is. As I said also before the semifinal, we miss Joel [Freeland], but the other players stood up to fill his absence. The whole season we had significant players that were missing from the team, but the players that were active helped the team to reach the final. And that’s great. If there is a disadvantage, there are going to be certain moments in the game when something goes good, something goes bad, but I am very confident that the players on the court, the players that come off the bench will do what they have to cover what might look like a disadvantage.”
On relationship with Coach Obradovic:
“Whatever happened in the history happened in the history. Yes it is a fact, a great accomplishment for Fenerbahce in two years to be in the Final. I can talk only for two years part of a great club, CSKA that we are also in back-to-back Final Fours. History says something, but we are living in the present time. And I want my players, and the staff and the management to write history. To write history we have to go out decisive, determined, being focused knowing we have a great opponent against us. They have everything size, experience, bigs, smalls, inside outside, everything. It is history, it is the numbers. Maybe the numbers are attractive. But it is a final and both teams want the trophy, want the glory.”
“Coming over here we knew and last night we spoke with Zeljko that besides the basketball the game, the game I have to repeat is between CSKA and Fenerbahce, that’s what is important; that is the clubs competing and players and of course coaches. But it interesting also the human story. In 13 years we shared a lot of moments in terms of family issues and all other things, emotions. I will never forget because every relationship starts with doubts, no matter what kind of relationship, it could be your girlfriend, your wife, your friend, in your professional life; you have doubts. You have to win trust, build trust. So it was the same with us. I met Zeljko first in 1993 when we played a tournament; I was with KK Zagreb, he was with Joventut. We had a tournament over there. Since then we kept some contact, we were talking. In 1999 when he called me I was about to take another decision to take a position at another club, MENT, but it was an honor to be with him. But as I said we had to build the relationship. I will never forget the moment in 2002 when we won title in Bologna, we had let’s say 10 or 15 minutes, Zeljko and me, in the locker room, in the bathroom. Don’t misunderstand, we were in the bathroom, okay? Don’t imagine what happened there. We were in our costumes, our suits! But it was very emotional and the words he said to me – please, don’t take me wrong, I will not share with you. But he said how much he values us being together. That was the moment that I can say the trust was already built, the relationship was going to another level.”
On Hines’s playing time after 37 minutes in semifinal
“Regarding the playing time in almost back-to-back games, referring to Kyle… I had one game, I can tell you that we were playing Barcelona. Not to go long, but we had a four-hour flight plus two hours there in Barcelona coming and going back. And then we had another four hours in Moscow and then flying to Krasnodar with a six hour flight plus four. So I took a decision to rest some players, among them was Kyle. I went to him and said Kyle, you need some rest. He said coach, I don’t want to rest. But I said you have to. That says how much Kyle is about staying on track and playing. Now, obviously we have some players we haven’t played, like Pasha [Korobkov] and D [Nichols] and we will try to share the minutes, we’ll try to see how the game goes, but definitely Kyle is very important for us.”
On Fenerbahce ‘s fans
“The gym looks yellow. Yellow, blue, whatever. But whenever my team played this year, last year against a hostile crowd, my team played great basketball, so I’ll take that. Recently in the playoffs, playing against Red Star, obviously different quality of teams, but the in general when we play concentrated, the crowd helps us to perform.”
About Jan Vesely:
“He is among the players on a team created by Zeljko and his philosophy you need to have. He is very important playing at 4, playing at 5. Definitely he needs the creation of the guards, Bogdan or Dixon or Sloukas, or others over there, but he has enough quality to go on boards and defend and everything. He is another good player among the great players that Fenerbahce has.”
Is Fener more prepared after playing Laboral in semifinal?
“Loko is playing a different type of basketball. Fenerbahce is a different kind of team. Definitely in one day we have to make adjustments, but during the season we have played teams playing that type of basketball. It will require being even more focused, determined and decisive, because the problems Fenerbahce can put to us at the same time we can put to them. So we’ll try as much as possible to put problems for their defense.”
On style of game in final
“Fenerbahce during the season – and we analyzed a lot of games, did what I like when you can be like a chameleon changing colors, making adjustments during the game. Because the game is like life, like Zeljko was saying, it gives to you different answers, puts you in a different path. You might have a plan, but that plan might go to the garbage and you must make certain adjustments and reactions. Or action that might cause some reactions. Fenerbahce played different types of games. They were switching, they were hedging, they were playing shadow over, reactions, small ball, with big lineups. The fact that yesterday they were forced to play that type of basketball that we each, let’s say, represent in Europe kind of the primary creation might be whatever it is, but after that it is important to drive, to kick, to passers and that it what they do pretty good. For sure, that’s a part of the game that will concern us with how to get them out of that. For sure that’s a big part of the game.“
“I would say that Cory Higgins is a player that earns things. He lives with big enthusiasm every moment. I am very happy for every player that has reached his first Final four and for those that will give their experience being here.”
Cory Higgins, CSKA Moscow guard
“We had a very long road to be here, but now we get to play the biggest game at the highest level in European basketball. We are looking forward to an amazing final on Sunday.”
On his godfather, Michael Jordan
“I’m sure he knows, but he’s always proud of a winner. I haven’t communicated with me recently, but I’m sure he expecting me to give my best foot and hopefully come out with a win.”
On approaching Final four games
“A lot of people ask about it being my first Final Four, but for me it doesn’t matter much. I approach the game the same way. Being a final you don’t need any extra motivation. The motivation is always there.”