With the trophy they so badly want to celebrate with on Sunday night sitting beside them, the head coaches and a star player from both Euroleague finalists gathered before a room full of accredited media on Saturday afternoon at Barclaycard Center for the official Turkish Airlines Euroleague Championship Game Press Conference. Though there may have been slightly more questions for hometown coach Pablo Laso of Real Madrid, all four participants were peppered by media members from around Europe. Laso and his Olympiacos Piraeus counterpart Giannis Sfairopoulos got along amicably. Afterwards, they posed for photos with the trophy, as did Olympiacos captain Georgios Printezis and Real Madrid center Gustavo Ayon.
Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso:
"It is a new final for us, our third final in three years. That speaks very well about our team. We are very proud of it; this year it was even a bit harder for us because we had a slow start. A lot of players came late from the World Cup, we had new players in the team, but we were able to make it and finally we are here until the final day. I am happy to be here and this is the first time I am playing against Giannis [Sfairopoulos]. We have a lot of respect for Olympiacos, as always. Olympiacos versus Real Madrid is almost a classic game in Europe, two prestigious clubs. Nothing else, we have to be ready for a basketball game tomorrow.
"How do you stop Spanoulis? Good question. Very good question. This is our home, I have the locker rooms key! I think Spanoulis is a great player - not only he can score in the right moments. For me, he is the leader of this team and had the talent and quality to make those shots at the end of the game. But listen, this is basketball. I can stop Spanoulis. I can put five guys on Spanoulis, but this is a team effort. We have a lot of respect for Spanoulis and the whole Olympiacos. I am worried about Spanoulis and of course, about their whole team.
"It is a different game. We played in the final two years ago and played five playoffs games last season. Every game is different, so tomorrow I just know one thing. If we want to beat them, we have to play our best possible basketball.
"Only one key to this game? Rebounds.
"I don't know if it is our moment. Real Madrid doesn't live on moments. As all great clubs, Real Madrid lives on good, continuous results and daily work. It is true that, compared to last year's Final Four, in which we arrived with a lot of physical problems, we arrive in a better moment this year, physically speaking, than to the Final Four in Milan. Taking that into account, it is not an excuse for what happened last season and it doesn't guarantee anything tomorrow. It is one game, just one. My way of doing things is looking forward and I don't give much value to everything that happened in the past.
"I am happy. Like I said in my first day at this spot, I know what it means to coach Real Madrid. It forces you to do well, it is a need. I always tell this joke: when we won the Copa del Rey, my first title with Madrid, we arrived to the locker room and the first thing our president said is that we had to win the league. And we had not won the Copa del Rey in 20 years. It is what this club is about. Of course, I am proud of the number of finals we reached in the last four years and that speaks really well about the good job my players did.
"It is more difficult to be in a Final Four as a coach. Always more difficult. My worst day in basketball was when I retired as a plyer. I think that playing is the most fun part of the game. Physically, there is a time when your body is finished and then you have to use your brain. And then I got injured on the bench last year! In the end, now I am totally sure it is harder being a coach.
"I think that the three Final Fours we have been to have been very difficult. We have to play a tough first stage, then the Top 16, then the playoffs just to get here. It has been different for us this season because last year, we won all our regular season games and this season, we had important players injured and some new players arrived, but we grew as a team during the season. Everything was easier last season; we had the same core of players with the same roles. Then you have to add our physical condition. Last season, Carroll was not in his best condition and Draper didn't play. My players may now have the problems every player has at this time of the year, but the team is feeling good, physically speaking. Injuries hurt anyone a lot and it is something we cannot control. This year, injuries came early for us.
"For me, basketball is my life and there is a different motivation every day. The day I don't have this motivation, I will be done and if I cannot motivate my players, that is a bad thing. You always look and must find that motivation you need. As I always say, emotions are easy to get in a game like a Euroleague final - they know it and we have to mix emotions, feelings, calmness... with basketball. You have to find the way to get to your players so that they face the game in the best way possible.
"I believe that for both teams that we represent here today, being a team has probably been our biggest asset, over having great players like Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Sergio Rodriguez, Gustavo Ayon.... there are great players in both teams, but both teams get credit for that, for being able to make teams. That is we are talking about the way we had to go to get here. It is really tough to get there, it takes a lot of work. Taking that into account, we try to insist on something they know - they are playing a final, but I value the way we went to get here."
Real Madrid center Gustavo Ayon:
"It is an honor for me to be in the Final Four. This is my first Euroleague season, my first Final Four and truth to be told, we worked hard during the whole season to be here. The team gave a 100% effort every day to be here. Now that we have the opportunity to be here, we have to make the most out of it. Olympiacos is a great rival and we have to play a perfect game during all 40 minutes to have chances to get this title. We have to work hard and be ready."
"The experience that my teammates had in past finals is really good for tomorrow's game. Personally, being in my first Final Four is a good experience. I hope I can give a lot to this team. I worked hard until this moment and I want to give things to help the team be at the highest level. This is nothing new to me and I hope it will be different this year.
"Since the day I arrived, people are talking about the Euroleague as the main goal for this club, the team, even for our fans. We managed to reach other goals during the season and it is time to fight for this, the most important one.
"It has been a long season, working hard every day for this. I feel really good physically, but the most important thing is that the team is doing well. Each and every player understands each other; we have good chemistry in the locker room and on the court. It is do-or-die time and we have to make the most out of what each player gives to the team.
"I didn't know where I would end up playing during the World Cup. I had no idea if I would get to play the Final Four. The moment I signed for Real Madrid, the excitement started to grow day by day. We are here to face this final and will fight 40 minutes to win the title.
"Everyone feels good in the locker room, focused on the goal, which is the most important thing we need. As for the game, my numbers could be better or worse, but the most important part is being intense and doing good things for the team. Numbers are secondary; it is the final score that matters."
Olympiacos Piraeus head coach Giannis Sfairopoulos:
"We are very happy we will play our third final in the last four years. We are very proud of it. We are also proud because the club is participating in the Final Four for the fifth time in seven years. It’s a big success of our club and everyone on the team. I think we are facing the ultimate favorite for the Euroleague trophy, Real Madrid. We have big respect for them as typical European club in all competitions. We know that they were built to win the Euroleague. They play in their home court, in their city, in front of their fans. So they are favorites. On the other side, we know how to play against favored teams, not only in the semifinals last night, but also in pervious Final Fours. We will do our best to fight against an undoubtedly great coach and good group of players."
"When you play against Real Madrid, it’s a team that has big quality at every position. Really quality players, three or four at every position. You cannot stop each of them, you have to be ready to stop the whole team. They are many years together with same coach, same philosophy and this year they added some players that make the team even stronger. So we have to stop Real Madrid as a team and not individuals, although they have very talented players individually."
"Circumstances are different every year. Maybe Real Madrid has the same coach, but this game is different than the final in London or the playoffs last season. Maybe they have the same players as the basis, but they added players. Our team is different this year. We have a lot of the same players, but we are trying to play the game differently than previous years. So we cannot compare this season’s final with previous. Big games are [decided by] small details. If we want to win the game, we have to focus on different aspects of the game."
"You cannot work on only one thing when you play final. You must be ready mentally and tactically. For sure it is very imp how we approach the game mentally, but tactically we must follow our plan as best we can."
"When you play a final, you cannot feel tiredness. When you play a final, there is no fatigue. To be a champion, you must overcome the pain. This is my answer and I think everybody from both teams will [agree with] this."
"It’s very important to stay to our plan no matter how the game will go. We are up, we are down, we must stay to the parts of the game we will read. We will focus. We think it is important to control these parts of the game for the chance to win. It was very important yesterday that although we didn’t have good offensive game in general, our defense was good most parts of the game and we were in the game till the end. Three, four times CSKA had the lead and we came back. When we got the rhythm, we got the lead and psychology. It is very important in the final to do our thing and prepare as we have all season until now. Like we prepared and played this season for first game of the regular season, we must also prepare for the final. Because what we are doing all season, we cannot do something different to prepare for the final."
Olympiacos Piraeus forward Georgios Printezis:
"For us it’s also a big pleasure to play in another Final Four and another final.
Especially after a year we didn’t start well and had a lot of injuries during the season. Many players for us missed many, many days, sometimes we couldn’t even practice. We expect tomorrow a very good final against Real. We have to be more concentrated if we want to win."
"A final is always a final. It’s a different game. Everybody knows that. My team knows how to play big games. We have the mentality, we worked hard all year. We have players that love to play big games. It’s different than last year. It’s a final. Real plays very well. We have to be very focused if we want to win and we have to wait until tomorrow to see what we can do. "
"Our team plays all games until the end. Everybody has the character to play and enjoy this game. It is very important in the Final Four to enjoy the best you can. Of course this is not possible sometimes, but if you can, be relaxed and do the simple things that brought you here. I think until know we have done that."
"We are the team with the lowest budget and we managed to win. I think we need to play good basketball, very strong, very tough and to start well. This is something we try to do in every game and maybe this will help us. What I have learned is that no game finishes before the whistle. We know to play like this. It’s a 40-minute game. We have big examples from the past. I am very lucky that I have teammates like Sloukas and Spanoulis that can take the pressure. Everybody knowns how the pressure is in Greece. This is how you work if you are a big athlete. If you are a big athlete, you will score those shots."