From the time that he reached - and won - his first Final Four back in 1998, head coach Ettore Messina of CSKA Moscow has enjoyed the feeling enough to return more often than any other participant in that span to the Euroleague season's crowning event. In Milan, Messina makes his 10th Final Four appearance in just 16 years with the chance to become the coach with the second-most continental titles in European basketball history.
Messina started his first-division coaching career with four- and five-year stints at Virtus Bologna between 1989 and 2003, interrupted by four seasons when he led the Italian national team exclusively. His efforts in Bologna resulted in the team's first continental title, at the 1998 Final Four. After losing their repeat attempt in the 1999 final to Zalgiris Kaunas, a second Euroleague trophy came to Virtus and Messina just three years later, in 2001, with a best-of-five playoff finals victory over Tau Ceramica. They reached the 2002 title game, too, but lost, the same result that Messina would have at the 2003 Final Four with a new team, Benetton Treviso.
After five finals appearances in six seasons, Messina suffered a two-year Final Four drought before accepting his first job outside Italy, with CSKA Moscow, which was coming off three consecutive Euroleague semifinal defeats. Over the next four seasons in Moscow, Messina came closer than any coach in European history to winning four consecutive continental titles. Triumph came in their first Final Four together, in 2006, as CSKA reclaimed a trophy it had not lifted since 1971, and in their third, in 2008, the same year that Messina was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Contributors to the first half-century of European club basketball. In 2007 and 2009, however, they fell just two points short each time of repeating as champions.
Messina's remarkable streak of reaching the title game in all of his previous eight Final Fours ended in the semifinals last season. If he can resume that streak in Milan, Messina will become the first person in European history to coach the season-ending title game 10 times, with a chance to place CSKA second among the all-time winners with a seventh continental crown.