Zeljko Rebraca, MVP
With some newcomers such as Cholet of France, Tofas Bursa of Turkey, Buducnost of Yugoslavia and Pivovarna Lasko of Slovenia, the competition went on without big surprises in the first two phases toward the 2000 Final Four. In the eighthfinals, Olimpija Ljubljana defeated Olympiakos and Asvel got rid of Real Madrid, while the quarterfinals ended with the expected results. The four favorites, Barcelona (over Olimpija), Maccabi (Fortitudo), Panathiniakos (Cibona) and Efes Pilsen (Asvel) advanced to the Final Four, even though only the Greens of Panathinaikos managed to do it in two games. The Final Four was played in Thessaloniki, Greece, in PAOK's new arena, which attracted 8,500 fans from Tel Aviv, Athens, Istanbul and Barcelona for a fantastic scenario. In the semis, Panathinaikos defeated Efes, coached by Ergin Ataman, currently in Siena. In the other game, Maccabi and Nate Huffman, with his 24 points, ran over Barcelona's ambitions one more time. In the final game, Panathinaikos defeated the Israeli team with a big performance by Zeljko Rebraca (MVP) with 20 points and 8 boards. His duel with Huffman (26 points) marked the game, but Panathinaikos had more players putting together a good performance: Odeth Kattash with 17 points, Dejan Bodiroga, who won his first Euro title in a club, Antonis Fotsis, who confirmed his immense talent, and the great cpatain Fragiskos Alvertis. On the Panathiniakos bench, Zeljko Obradovic won his fourth continental crown.
Interview: Oded Kattash of Panathinaikos
Kattash drives the hoop
One of the most popular basketball players ever in Israel, Oded Kattash, led Maccabi Tel Aviv between 1995 to 1999, a rare stretch without a Final Four appearance for the Israeli powerhouse. In the summer of 1998, Kattash was close to becoming the first Israeli ever to play in the NBA, but the lockout there meant he would stay in Europe. The next year, Kattash found himself as a key player in a legendary Euroleague final, beating his old club, Maccabi, with his new one, Panathinaikos, for the first title of the milennium. Kattash's departure was still fresh in many minds in Tel Aviv. Fans of both teams, yellows and greens, cheered him before and even after the 2000 final game. With 17 points off the bench for Panathinaikos, Kattash hurt his former team up and down the court. When it ended, he was left without words nor breath, but one comment he made still echoes today: "It is the happiest day of my career, and yet the saddest one." Within weeks, during the Greek League playoffs, Katash suffered a complicated knee injury that has kept him from playing ever since, though he keeps working at a comeback.
Oded, what thoughts were running through your head after the semifinals ended back at Thessaloniki 2000 and you knew Panathinaikos and Maccabi were about to play each other in the final?
"So many things. Every thing around me was so confusing. It was like being part of a movie. Emotionally, those days were extremely hard to take. I was very excited because on one hand I got to the European final for the first time in my life. That's kind of moment you dream about. On the other hand I had to play against Maccabi. I knew how important this game is to Maccabi fans and to the guys of Panathinaikos."
Did you get any strange comments before the game from one side or the other?
"I felt very lonely. I couldn't get connected to Panathinaikos fans because they were afraid I might give the game to Maccabi. They were not sure I would be able to play good enough under these circumstances. Also, I could not be seen with Maccabi fans since I was their enemy at least for one night."
Did the pressure on you before the game affect you?
"To be honest, a day before the game I was not sure I could play at all. But at noon time, I just got really concentrated and later went up on the court totally focused. Coach Zeljko Obradovic did not talk to me before the game. He knew I was mature enough and understood it was better to let me concentrate by myself. After all, he was a player himself, right?"
A year later, still as a Panathinaikos player, you were injured already and did not take part at the 2001 SuproLeague final against Maccabi in Paris.
"I am sure I could have helped out there. As a player, I know my abilities and trusted them. It is kind of hard to talk about it now since during all that year I was too busy with my injury."
Is there any fresh news about your knee situation? What are the chances you will be back for next season?
"No change for now. I am still trying to be ready for the beginning of next season. It is very hard after three years without playing, but I will keep on trying."