2021 Final Four Opening Press Conference

May 27, 2021 by Euroleague.net Print

Dimitris Itoudis, CSKA Moscow head coach

"Good evening everybody. It’s always a pleasure and I feel honored to be once again here at the final stage of a great organization, Euroleague Basketball. Regarding this season, it was challenging. It was challenging for all of us due to the pandemic, restrictions, injuries and everything. But as I said to my players, when you make it happen, you will always remember with fondness those memories when you shared the hardship. We shared a lot of hardship this year. When you know that you have people on your left side and on your right side that can help you go through the hardship, that makes you come closer and become a real team. And this is what we enjoy. I think fans also enjoyed this: watching team basketball and very competitive basketball in the EuroLeague."

On the obstacles CSKA has faced

"Your question makes me think how simple things are. In a few seconds, you mentioned all the drama we had as a club - from the president to the players and everybody. It was a really challenging year. But the fact that we stood united and the fact that the players talked a lot and they embraced the moment and they saw the potential that we have is actually what we are fighting for, and what we are fighting against. Obviously, we are playing great opponents throughout the season, great opponents here in the Final Four, but we also compete with our potential. And that’s what we’re doing every day. When you see that you have potential, it’s a pity to waste it. Things could have happened other ways: could have gone south as we say. But because of the players and the commitment and the decisiveness that they have we’ve seen a different team. It’s not easy for the coach or the management during the season to create another re-start. But we did it as a team and all the congratulations should go to them because they did it. They made it happen on the court."

Is it different coaching at the Final Four after renewing his contract

"Those eight Final Fours with Panathinaikos, it was a great club, it still is. A great club, great fans, a great organization. The six Final Fours with a big club like CSKA, we are proud to defend the colors and the history of CSKA. Regarding the other question. I can only be thankful to Andrey Vatutin and Norilsk Nickel and all the people that support our job. It’s obvious that something good is happening in all these seven years. We wanted to extend that. The fact is that we are working together and sharing a lot of common expectations and desire and the fact that our tank is not empty, we still have the fire and we still have the desire. And actually, I’m not working. I’m enjoying every day. I have great fun. It’s not work. When you go to work with so much pleasure and so much enjoyment when you see these kinds of people having fire, you’re not working. It’s not a burden. It’s a joy to go there and work for this club and those people."

On rebuilding the team mid-season

"In answering this question I can also bring into the talk Will Clyburn. I have Will Clyburn and the other players. It’s not easy, but they made it happen. When they come together, you see them fight through that and that they really believe in what they have as a team and unit. I’m proud of that."

The biggest challenge on Efes

"Efes is a great team. They play great together. You might say this is a repeat of the 2019 championship game. They have the same coach, the same players and the same great philosophy. That’s obvious. We’re facing a lot of things. But it’s not going to be only one and the moment will show us the way. But we’ve been there. We practice ourselves to be challenged. The Efes team can definitely shoot the ball very well. They move the ball very well. They have multiple creators - from the bench or starters. Simon is very important with all due respect to Micic and Larkin. They have other players who can step up. I can mention all the players. But we definitely need to do something to distract them in order to make it difficult. Or if the moment shows that we can pretty much shoot the ball well and create the ball well, we might play an offense-minded game. We don’t know right now. We have several plans and we have been working on them. We have been in the shoes of being the favorite many times. And then all of a sudden 3 minutes decide the game. I’m not just throwing all our hopes to luck. There are certain details we will use. We will try to contain them - not to stop them. They cannot be stopped."

About his pride in this team

"It makes us proud how this Final Four happened for us. You can see how the players use every practice and video session. And they make it happen on the court, which is the difficult job. For me to theoretically bring up ideas and to try to lead them, it’s a different perspective. But for them to make it happen is tremendous. But we’re not just here to enjoy what we have accomplished. In the past, I have told my players, let the success rest in peace. That belongs to the past. And the past cannot define the future. For us now, the real moment is the one that matters. We want to compete the best possible way."

Ergin Ataman, Anadolu Efes Istanbul head coach

"We know that our basketball is fancy basketball. All of our fans and fans around the world enjoy watching our basketball. But of course I don’t know if it will be enough to win the EuroLeague because we will first in the semifinal play against a great team and a great coach and great players. I hope the people will enjoy watching this Final Four on TV. I hope that in the future we will play with more emotions. Because basketball is not only money, it’s not only budget, it’s not only economy. It’s also to enjoy the games."

His contribution to his players' improvement

"Not only me, but all my staff. We work every day to improve their individual basketball and team basketball. This is their capacity. We have our system in the team that has been successful in the last three years. We gave them freedom on offense and they are playing comfortably. We play good basketball, but it’s not because of me. They are very good players. I am proud of these players and the Efes club that gave me this chance to build this team and I hope for many years that we will continue with the same players and same roster."

About last season and his previous titles

"It’s true. We fought last season. We wanted last season to finish the season on the court. Nobody knows if we would have won the championship at the end of last season. During the regular season we played great basketball. Last season is over and it’s a new season. About me and the different cups I have won before, that is not comparable with Itoudis and the seven titles he has won. But for Turkish teams to win those cups, it’s important for me and now I have a great team and we have played great basketball the last two years. We were one of the most successful teams in the EuroLeague. And now we will try to win this title at the Final Four. But with all due respect, we have the last champion in the semifinal. We will see. It’s only one game. We will see which players have their best performance over these three days."

Will Clyburn, CSKA Moscow forward

On Efes having the same core roster for three seasons

"I think it is a big advantage for them. Obviously, when you want to build something special in basketball, the more time you have the same guys with you, all the time, you can know each other a little bit more and it is always helpful. At the same time, tomorrow is just one game and the better team on that day wins, but of course, they are a great team and they have spent some time together so you couldn't expect anything else."

Back at the Final Four after winning in 2019

"To be honest, obviously, that is something that you don't really forget. The memory sticks with you forever but at the same time, you try to leave it in the past, even though it feels good. You try to put it behind you and just worry about the now. Obviously, it is tough but hopefully, we will just go out there, play our type of basketball and the better team wins, obviously. Like I said, good luck to everyone."

About his recovery from injury last season

"You know what? It was tough. I want to say the darkest time was the first week. Obviously, an ACL is a tough injury to come back from. It is not an easy journey. I guess that after the first week, after the surgery is done, you're kind of feeling down still, for a while, for maybe two-three weeks. You can't really move your leg. But after a while, like anything else in life, you have to get up and go with it. Obviously, it was tough but I had a great team. I had a great support - my guys in Russia, my guys in the US, everyone helped me get back to this point. Obviously, with the season ending last year earlier, it gave me even more time to recover and get back to normal. I am just thankful that I was able to come back and play basketball at a good level and be the same Will that I was before."

Vasilije Micic, Anadolu Efes Istanbul guard

"Hello everyone. It is a big pleasure for me to be here again representing Efes. I definitely agree that it was two very strange games this season when we faced [CSKA], but at the same time for them, I would say it was an important moment when they realized how strong of a team they have this season. Also, in the second match, we felt that we were ready to respond in the correct way and if we are focused we can compete with them. For us, that game in Moscow was very very important because after that match we had a meeting and we realized that we are the same team from the previous two years. We don't have to doubt ourselves, and we have to believe in ourselves more than in that moment. I am thankful we lost that match by 35 because we turned our season on its head after that."

On being the EuroLeague MVP and pressure

"It means a lot to me personally because I did not expect that and everyone saw that yesterday. But besides that, I am very happy that it happened to me because it had been four years of dedication since I entered the EuroLeague once again with Zalgiris and after that three years with Efes. And the role that I had in the beginning of the relationship with Ataman and Efes was something that it looked too far from this to be able to happen, but in the end, it happened. And this is already yesterday, and I keep it there. I am very happy that my family was able to experience that, unfortunately, the most important person was not there, but that's life. It is not pressure for me, I am relaxed for tomorrow."

FC Barcelona vs. AX Exchange Armani Milan - Opening Press Conference - Final Four Cologne 2021 - EB20

Sarunas Jasikevicius, FC Barcelona head coach

On turning pressure into an advantage

"It's very difficult to answer this question. At the same time, when you have pressure, you have to be able to deal with it when you’re playing for teams that play in the Final Four. At the same time, if you have some pressure or some nerves, you gotta run faster, you gotta concentrate on the things that you can control: defense and doing all the intangibles and little things. That’s probably most important at this point."

On the difference between Final Four with Zalgiris and now

"I believe I put pressure on myself and the team wherever I have been. With Zalgiris maybe you consider yourself an underdog by the media, but we went into the Final Four in Belgrade with the idea that we’re going to try to win. Of course, in front of us was a great Fenerbahce team, a Final Four with an incredible level of basketball. It doesn’t really change anything. We’ll try to win tomorrow. We really did try to win in Belgrade. That’s the thing about the Final Four: all four teams that come here do believe that they have a chance. It’s no surprise. It’s very difficult to reach the Final Four. You go through the wars, you go through many battles. When you get here, I believe everybody thinks they have a chance."

On handling the pressure of a Final Four

"As a coach, it is much easier due to the lack of nervousness. I have been here many times. It is true that in my first Final Four, I spoke about it with Juan Carlos [Navarro], at my first Final Four in Barcelona, you didn't even know what was going on. You just looked at a lot of people and the expectations. I always tell the players that above all, you have to control what you can control. Like I said before, we can control our defense, our sacrifice, good screens, offensive timing... If you hit shots or nor, that is another thing, but there are things you can control and this is what we will try to do."

On coaching without fans

"I believe players can hear you better. In my case, I don't know if it is positive or not, we will see these days, but I believe you can help your team more, because they hear you at all times, running back on defense, they hear you already. Clearly, one of the most beautiful things about the Final Four is the fans. I believe there was a great opportunity to do this with fans, but due to the year we are going through, it can't be done. We have to carry on and wait, this is exactly what we have to do. It is a bit of bad luck but it is what it is right now."

About Pau Gasol's return

"We are very happy in general. When Pau came, we knew it would be hard for him. He hadn't played in two years and turned 40 some time ago. He stretches with me and Juan Carlos [Navarro] during practices (laughing). The truth is the plan was to go little by little and see how he would enter the team and he improved every day, every week, learning our concepts and above all, feeling like a basketball player again. We saw that in the last 2-3 weeks and it is exactly what we hoped for when we signed him."

Ettore Messina, AX Armani Exchange Milan head coach

Bringing Italian basketball and Milan back to the Final Four

"For us, you can imagine it’s an amazing joy. For our owner, for Mr. Armani’s family, they’ve been supporting this club financially, emotionally they’ve been a tremendous owner for this club and for our fans of course. As for Italian basketball, just like any country in Europe, your fans are happy when you win. And those who aren’t fans are happy when you lose. I know it’s a time of good faith, but there will be people who are rooting for us and those who are not rooting for us. If we do well, like we’ve been doing; and the national team does well and if other clubs step up it will be very important to attract other investors in our wonderful sport. And that would be very important for not just Italy, but all of Europe."

On his players at their first Final Four

"To play in a first Final Four is never easy for anybody. In this regard, our veterans will for sure be helpful to those who are here for the first time. They will talk, they will lead them by example, and they will make sure they feel comfortable before the game and during the game. And then nobody knows what any of us has going on inside. For sure, focusing on the small things like everybody has said will probably help the players to play better.

"I feel that every Final Four is different. Being able many times, you know the routines a little bit, you don't get lost looking around like Coach Saras said before, which is what happens to you the first time. Everything looks like Disneyworld to you. It helps you focus a little bit more on the things you have to do. I am sure that having players with that experience, the added value is that they can help those who are here for the first time. Because I think that, many times, the first time is the most complicated one."

The difference between winning with Virtus and CSKA and the Final Four with Milan

"Of course to be able to compete in a Final Four with a team from your country is important, but I always remember playing the Final Four with CSKA, which represents the whole country too, was a special and a unique experience. The main difference that I feel is that when we competed with Virtus and CSKA, we were always the favorite. And we had amazing expectations. When we went with Benetton and now with Milan, probably there are a lot of people who do not expect us to win. Since we all have weaknesses, it makes you feel a little bit better."

On the pressure of winning with Milan

"I don't believe that anyone in the club feels this type of pressure, for two reasons. One, we are not responsible for what the club did before, so we cannot take that responsibility for the last 29 years. And second, I believe we had a magnificent season even though we put together a very serious, very competitive team, with leading players and hungry, young players. But in the end, you find yourself here, with these fantastic teams and we have to be very happy about it. For me, the most important thing is that the club remains competitive in the future because it doesn't make any sense to be in the playoffs for one year and then disappear for 10 years. What we will do next season, and the next, and the one after that, will be very important because if you make it to the playoffs every time, sometimes you make it to the Final Four. And if you are in the Final Four twice, 3-4 times, you can win once. I don't think we have to think that we have to do anything fast, because it doesn't make any sense."

On entering the Final Four as an underdog

"It’s a great experience. It’s really fun and I’m really enjoying this Final Four a lot. Regardless of the outcome. Because personally, I put a lot of value in what we did as a group, as a team, as a club in just being here. Honestly, I have never enjoyed a game throughout my life - whether we won or lost. But to be here in this situation, it’s really rewarding. I’m enjoying every single minute from when I wake up to practice and even here. You never know, this might be my last press conference at a Final Four. I want to enjoy every second of it. What will happen afterward, we will see."

On Milan’s shooting struggles this season vs Barcelona

"You reminded me of two painful losses. What do you want me to tell you? That we will shoot better? I hope. But we don’t know. Seriously speaking, when you play such amazing defense, so well organized, so well executed by the players, we know we’re going to shoot bad shots. That’s part of the game. We’re going to have a number of bad shots. We have to limit the number of bad shots and we have to get some offensive rebounds and limit the turnovers. But that’s in the handbook of being a coach. Everybody knows that. Hopefully, we will be able to do that."

Nikola Mirotic, FC Barcelona forward

"I feel amazing. I feel blessed to be here after many years for FC Barcelona [without being here]. When I came here, I said it is the biggest goal for me to win the EuroLeague title and now when I am sitting here surrounded by people who won many, as coaching staff and Chacho also, I feel it should be my time, also. But I don't put any pressure on myself; I do want to enjoy it. I want to try to do my best to help my team to succeed and I am very motivated to be here.

"I would say that many small details can make the difference at this level. Obviously, our game and what coach demands from us is trying to power the offensive rebounds, but I believe that the key, and the way we have to come out, is with the right defensive mentality. We have been the best defensive team this year and we have to start from there. On offense, we have to control our turnovers and try to be loyal to our game. We know we are facing a great team with players who can score a lot of points, so we have a lot of respect for them. But we will try to play the best way we can."

About not winning the MVP

"First of all, I think I didn't lose anything. Right now I am where I want to be, to represent Barcelona and play the Final Four. It would be nice if I was the MVP just for a few seconds, right? But nobody in the end I think remembers the individual awards, I think they remember collective things. So, for me, as I said before, I am the only one standing here who did not win the EuroLeague, for me that's the biggest goal and a dream. I don't want to put any extra pressure on myself, I do want to enjoy. I congratulate Vasa Micic on a great season and the award. For me, it is just to put the club where it deserves to be and have a chance to win a team title. That is all I can say and there are no different things."

About Coach Jasikevicus's experience

"I would say that without a doubt, our coach's experience helps us a lot, especially because he was a player who won and someone who is close to the players. He speaks to us and knows exactly what we are going through, each of us. All that process during the season, especially when he was getting to know us, helped to put each of us in the best situation to be the best player possible. We have a lot of confidence and are looking forward to listening to him and following his game plan. We know we are here for the right reasons. We earned it and worked well all season long. So we trust our coach and ourselves, but are very humble."

Sergio Rodriguez, AX Armani Exchange Milan guard

"It is great to have this opportunity, to be here representing Milan and having the chance to compete, to get the third title with a different team. I was thinking of asking Saras for advice, but probably he would give me the wrong information! But always, he was a player that I looked up growing up, and when you check all the accomplishments that he had, [winning with three different teams] was one that I really kept in my mind as a very difficult thing to accomplish. So we will see, and we are here for that.

"It is important to keep the excitement that we had this year. We worked well, the team played well together all season long, and we believed in our chances. That is the most important asset that we could reach, working all these months. So starting from there, we will have to play well but the team is aware of the importance of this moment and is focused."

On the keys to beating Barcelona

"I think we have to do the same that we have done during the season. We have a lot of weapons in the team, outside, inside. We have players able to create advantages and have to use everybody in the right way.

"We have to bring a lot of energy because when you play such a big team, well-organized, you need to put a lot of energy and effort into the things that you do. Be decisive on every possession will be key for us."

About the Final Four ‘rookies'

"I think we have to help them feel comfortable and confident on the things that we have been doing during the whole season. It is true that experience helps to get a better way to prepare yourself, get better routines and that is the way we can help our teammates feel more comfortable."