The four teams that will take the stage in the semifinals at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Cologne are getting their last serious workouts at Lanxess Arena before the Friday night lights hit them. Anadolu Efes Istanbul had the first practice slot, followed by CSKA Moscow, AX Armani Exchange Milan and FC Barcelona, in that order. Different coaches have differing attitudes about how to use the allotted time. While some push their players hard, others work on specific situations and yet others treat it as a shootaround so that the only thing their players break is a sweat.
Between the locker rooms and the court, several players and the head coaches from each team were set aside to talk to the media in addition to the two who attended a brief press conference at the same time in a different section of the arena. Even with restrictions on the number of accredited media members on hand, there was still a long line waiting to interview the protagonists of the Final Four.
One noticeable change from previous seasons is the changeover between practices, which was a time to see players who would be opponents the next day greet each other. However, just before Milan big man Kyle Hines ran from the mixed-zone to the court, he came upon his old boss, CSKA Moscow president Andrey Vatutin. Hines had played seven seasons for CSKA, led the club to two EuroLeague crowns and was named the club captain before he joined Milan this season. The two enjoyed a quick man-hug before Hines ran off to join the Milan practice.
Teams meet at Final Four press conference
The setup for the annual Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four Opening Press Conference was a little different this season with the dignitaries sharing the stage first, the head coaches and a player from each team in the early semifinal meeting with the press next and finally the head coach and a player from the teams in the late semifinals. Likewise, the number of press attendees at Lanxess Arena was limited, but journalists were able to view remotely and ask questions of the players and coaches.
Were there laughs at the press conference? Of course! There was some unintentional humor as moderator Joe Arlauckas stumbled on the name of Sportklub Serbia reporter Aleksandra Radivojevic, AX Armani Exchange Milan head coach Ettore Messina joked that someone should be fired after Arlauckas blamed someone on the EuroLeague staff for giving him the wrong facts for a question, and the same Messina later teased the same Radivojevic for mispronouncing his first name!
For the most part, the press conferences were shows of mutual respect with Milan playmaker Sergio Rodriguez called FC Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius "a player that I looked up to growing up," Barcelona forward Nikola Mirotic congratulating Anadolu Efes Istanbul guard Vasilije Micic on winning the EuroLeague MVP award and CSKA Moscow head coach Dimitris Itoudis calling Efes a team that his charges will "try to contain" because they "cannot be stopped."
Don't be fooled! Despite all that mutual respect, these players and coaches will be like lions on the courts at Lanxess Arena tomorrow to take one giant step toward the EuroLeague crown.