Team Focus: Efes Pilsen

Sep 29, 2008 by Euroleague.net Print
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Ergin Ataman, Head Coach

Coach, tell us about your team's roster for the next Euroleague season, what changes you made and what improvements you expect to gain from those decisions?
“When I was approached to become the head coach of Efes Pilsen, I explained my plans. First was to create a solid base of Turkish players and we have six players in the Turkish national team. I believe the Euroleague is a higher level so I prefer players who have experience in the Euroleague. We have brought in important foreigners like Milos Vujanic, who in my opinion now that he has gotten over his serious injury and can return to the form of when he was one of the best players in Europe. We brought in three experienced Americans, Bootsy Thornton, Charles Smith and Preston Shumpert. All have played in teams that have reached the Final Four and are ambitious. Another is Michalis Kakiouzis, a very experienced player who has always played for big teams and has played in the Final Four on many occasions. I got to know him when we were together in Siena and now he is 31, 32 years old. I believe he’s a different kind of player, who knows basketball well and we need someone like him. Then we rounded it off with a prestigious center who I trust a lot in Mario Kasun. "
How much can you learn from the preseason about your team? What signs do you look for now that will help when the Euroleague starts?
“Let’s say that working with a player, you get to know him both technically – the things he can do – and how he is in the locker room, which is very important. In the end, it’s not the team with the 12 biggest names that wins, but the team that is good technically and has also bonded in the locker room. So having players you trust and who trust you is a great advantage. Now Efes Pilsen will have eight new players, but the great advantage for me is that I have four players that I’ve coached before. "
Now that all the other teams have mostly completed their rosters, how does the competition in the Euroleague this season look like to you?
“To arrive at the top, everything must be done thoroughly. I’m a coach who regards tough defense as important. If you don’t defend well, it’s difficult to win big games. The offense might go cold one day and then you lose. So we have to put together a team of great defenders. Smith, Thornton, Peker, Gonlum and Kasun are very strong under the basket. My first choice before offense was to have a physical team. As a physical team, we have more options. We can play a more controlled game with Kasun underneath. We can play a faster game with Peker and Gonlum or with more shooters with Kakiouzis and Shumpert as forwards. "
What are your goals going into the new Euroleague season?
“The key to reaching the Final Four is to do everything well, because there will be at least 12-13 teams like us in the Euroleague that have been put together with the aim of making it to the Final Four. So in the end we’ll see who put everything together best to reach the Final Four. And I can add that getting to the Final Four is definitely the goal of Efes Pilsen. But seeing that Efes Pilsen ahs twice finished in third place, our main objective is to play in the Euroleague championship game.”
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Efes Pilsen has been one of the most consistent teams in the Euroleague this decade and will look to return to challenging for a spot in the Final Four this year after a disappointing campaign last year. Accordingly the club has brought back the only coach to ever lead the club to a Final Four, Ergin Ataman, and pieced together an impressive roster that features two former Euroleague scoring champs and four players with Final Four experience. Only a handful of players remain from last year’s squad, but there are many others with past experience under Ataman, at the club or both, who are hungry to lift Efes Pilsen back to its rightful place in European basketball. Among the players expected to play the biggest roles in the Efes revival are former top scorers Charles Smith and Milos Vujanic, All-Euroleague second team selection Bootsy Thornton, shooting ace Preston Shumpert and veteran big men Michalis Kakiouzis and Kaya Peker. The combined talent, experience and depth at every position gives the fans in Istanbul every reason to believe that this is the season Efes Pilsen gets back to the Final Four.

ROSTER
Name
Pos.
Height
Charles Smith
F
1.93
Milos Vujanic
G
1.90
Sinan Guler
G
1.92
Mustafa Abi
F
1.97
Kerem Gonlum
F
2.08
Baris Hersek
F
2.07
Ender Arslan
G
1.88
Cenk Akyol
F
2.00
Bootsy Thornton
G
1.95
Engin Atsur
G
1.92
Kaya Peker
C
2.08
Michalis Kakiouzis
F
2.07
Preston Shumpert
F
2.07
Mario Kasun
C
2.13
Head Coach: Ergin Ataman
Vujanic, the league’s top scorer in 2003 with Partizan, figures to start at point guard, where he can trigger what looks like a lethal attack. Knee injuries have slowed him down a bit, but Vujanic still possesses the outside shooting and court vision that will crack opposing defenses. Ender Arslan, who was a teenager on the last Efes squad that Ataman led to a Final Four, is one of the few natural playmakers on the team and figures to be a sparkplug off the bench, while Engin Atsur will provide depth in his debut Euroleague season. On the wings the club will rotate Smith, Thornton, Shumpert, Sinan Guler and Cenk Akyol. Smith, who led the league in scoring in 2005, has also spent time in the past with Efes, while Shumpert joins the club from Besiktas, where he played under Ataman. Those two scorers will enjoy playing with the complementary Thornton, who has all the skills needed to propel his team to victory. Guler is also a Euroleague debutant with a history under Ataman.

In the paint, Efes has a nice mix of rugged and talented players. The experienced Kakiouzis’s inside-outside abilities will be a key weapon for the rest of the team to feed off of. Peker is master in the low post who makes his presence felt with his scoring and rebounding. At center, Mario Kasun possesses an incredible mix of size, speed and athleticism that leads to tantalizing dunks and blocked shots. Kerem Gonlum and Mustafa Abi are two of the toughest players around. Gonlum is consistently among the best per-minute rebounders in the league, while Abi is an excellent defensive stopper off the bench. Youngster Baris Hersek adds size and depth. He's got a limited taste of the Euroleague last season and will hope to earn more chances as the season progresses.

Efes Pilsen has all the pieces in place for a year to remember. The preseason efforts will be important for coach Ataman in working on the chemistry for a squad with so many big names, but their collective experience and maturity should all work in the team’s favor. Expectations are always high in Istanbul, but they could hit new heights this season with arguably the club’s best roster ever.