A champ from France!
With the new competition system remaining the same, 1993 would see some newcomers make their way through the top European competition, names that were famous in the past or would become so soon, such as PAOK Thessaloniki and Olympiakos Piraeus of Greece, Limoges of France, Benetton Treviso of Italy, Zadar of Croatia and Real Madrid of Spain. Curiously enough, the Final Four played in Athens, Greece, was formed by four of those newcomers: PAOK, Limoges, Benetton and Real Madrid. Toni Kukoc, now wearing the Benetton jersey, played his fourth Final Four in five seasons, but he could not win it for a fourth time. Benetton and Real Madrid were the clear favorites, but once again, surprises arrived in the Final Four. Limoges, with Kukoc's former Jugoplastika coach, Bozidar Maljkovic, on the bench, defeated the Real Madrid of Arvydas Sabonis in one semifinal. In the final, the French team beat Benetton 59-55 after imposing a game tempo known as "basket-control". At the time, Maljkovic used to say that Limoges was "a team of miners". Michael Young was the best scorer, Jim Bilba the big hero of the final, Willy Redden contributed 6 points and 10 boards, Jure Zdovc and Frederic Forte were the leaders on court almost without mistakes, while Richard Dacoury, the biggest star of French ball, lived his time of glory. It was the first, and last, European title by a French team, a truly historical accomplishment.
Interview: Richard Dacoury of Limoges
Dacoury in action
In 1993, he had already played 15 seasons for the same team, Limoges, and had won almost everything he had the chance to: except the European title. By the time he was finished his career five seasons later, Richard Dacoury was indeed the most-decorated basketball player in French history: 9 French League titles, 7 French Cups, 2 Saporta Cups and a Korac Cup. But in the summer of 1992, Richard Dacoury was thinking of retirement. That thought only lasted until limoges hired Bozidar Maljkovic, the head coach of two-time champion Jugoplastika. Dacoury saw his last chance, and he was right. "I had this frustration of being unable to reach the European top," Dacoury told Euroleague.net recently. "But Boja arrived with his titles and I dived into his project, trying to lead the rest of the guys. We began to work very hard, with an intensity that I never saw before." The following spring, Dacour was leader of the only French team ever to win the European title and the crowning moment of his career was reality.
What are your first memories when you think about this season?
"The feeling that we succeeded in achieving a dream that no one thought possible but that became reality. It was a competition in which I couldn't imagine that a French team was able to win. It was a fantastic season, with the coming of a new coach. I believed in him deeply and he brought a new discipline and a new way of working. Of course, it was impossible to think that it could pay off so quickly."
At that moment you were an icon in French basketball. How did you feel to work with a new and very demanding coach ?
"First of all, before I learned that Boja was coming, I was ready to stop my career. I didn¿t find pleasure anymore. I had this frustration of being unable to reach the European top. But he arrived with his titles and I dived into his project, trying to lead the rest of the guys. We began to work very hard, with an intensity that I never saw before. I think that the way we worked became a source of inspiration for a lot of French coaches."
And so you reached the Final Four?
"Yes. We were so dominant in the French Championship - winning 19 in a row, if I remember correctly - but we had just lost in the Tournament of Aces a few days before the Final Four started. Instead of giving us doubt, it made us work harder and when we came to the Final Four, we were very humble. We wanted badly to give everything and to have no regrets."
You weren't the favourite at all?
"Absolutely not! The semifinal was against the great Real Madrid. Our coach did a huge psychological job on us. I saw that later, but now I can say it: He did the best work ever on our confidence. He was so relaxed, especially if you compare him with the rest of season until that point. He smiled, laughed. We had no pressure. He told us that it was only pleasure."
And then you played Real?
"It may surprise you, but for me it was the strongest moment of the Final Four. It was a giant in front of us, a myth. But we made it and everything became possible. All the doors were open. We had a conquering state of mind. The result is almost secondary, but the way the team reacted made us feel that we were able to finally make it. I insist on that: the guys were so great. That is something that I'll never forget beyond the result."
The final was against another "monster", Treviso?
"Yes, and the coach succeeded in making us believe that this team was not that strong. The Benetton of Kukoc! Can you imagine that? And we believed him. In the first half, the pressure took us back and we played really bad. In the locker room we realized that we were only down by six while playing a weak basketball game. We knew that if we wanted it, it was reachable. The rest was history, told and told again since then. I only have one regret: that season, the trophy was so ugly. I dreamt of holding the old one. They changed it the year after."