The smell of championship basketball was in the air Thursday morning as the heart of local government hosted the 2015 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four Opening Press Conference. The private patio of the Casa de Correos at Puerta del Sol, where the President of Comunidad de Madrid, Mr. Ignacio González González, sits, welcomed hundreds of media members from around the world, but first and foremost, the central protagonists for the games of the Final Four, CSKA Moscow coach Dimitris Itoudis and guard Milos Teodosic; Olympiacos Piraeus coach Giannis Sfairopoulos and guard Vassilis Spanoulis; Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul coach Zeljko Obradovic and newly minted bwin MVP for the Euroleague season, Nemanja Bjelica; and Real Madrid coach Pablo Laso and forward Felipe Reyes. All eight took the stage shortly after the EFES Euroleague Awards Ceremony concluded at the same site.
Mr. González González officially greeted all who came to Madrid for the Final Four with warm words during the EFES Euroleague Awards Ceremony. The press conference itself opened with remarks from Euroleague Basketball President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu, who also welcomed Turkish Airlines CEO Dr. Temel Kotil to address the assembled participants. The question and answer period began with a question to each participant from emcee Tania Lasera, before microphones were shared among the general media, which had its chance to ask their questions of the coaches and players.
Comunidad de Madrid president, Ignacio Gonzalez Gonzalez:
“Welcome to Madrid and thank you for being here. I’m sure that over the next three days you will enjoy the weather, culture and the hospitality of our citizens. Madrid is one of the greatest cities in Europe, a place where we encourage and supports the sports because we want our citizens to participate and practice them on daily basis. We want to integrate sports in our culture. Over the past 10 years, Madrid has been on several occasions the meeting point for supporting events such as EuroBasket, Euroleague Final Fours and Fiba Basketball World Cups. Madrid is once again a focal point of European basketball. This great Final Four is supported by the government of the region of Madrid, because we know about the social and economic importance that it can bring to our region. Tomorrow, very close to where we are, right next of the Royal Palace, Euroleague Fanzone wil begin. It’s a biggest Fanzone that has ever been organized and a perfect starting point to enjoy all the fantastic things Madrid has to offer. As a real Madrid fan, please allow me to wish that it’s my team I want to win on Sunday, but most of all, I want us to enjoy the best of European basketball. I am sure that this Final Four will be a great success and will be well celebrated. Once again, welcome to Madrid, and thank you very much for being here. I hope you have a fantastic time.”
Dr. Temel Kotil Deputy Chairman and CEO of Turkish Airlines:
“We love this beautiful city of Madrid, it is 30 years of linking Madrid to Istanbul. We have three daily flights to Madrid and not only Madrid, we fly to six cities in Spain. Apart from this fact that now we have been so excited about a different thing that will more enliven this glamourous city for coming three days. A lot of excellent things are waiting for us at the Final Four. I first want to congratulate the Euroleague for their 15 year anniversary that was celebrated in Istanbul last week. And I also want to exspress our deep pleasure for our partnership that have lasted for five years and will continue until 2020. After that we can talk again! I wish all the best to all four teams, and hopefully the best one will become the winner. Life is a competition and has a competitive nature like life and death. Not only in sports, competition is everywhere. If you go to the heart of every single business, it is competing against ourselves. An airline business is also like a competition. We compete against ourselves, like in basketball. Whoever is best is the winner. We really love all the competition here, and on Sunday we get the good results of it. Thank you.“
CSKA Moscow head coach Dimitris Itoudis:
“I would like to congratulate the players that got their awards and the four teams that are here. We started the season with the injuries we had to try to adapt. We built our confidence. We, during the season, had some players coming back from injuries and then Andrei Kirilenko. The semifinal is our final. So we are focused on the game against Olympiacos.”
“I would like to mention that we are proud that CSKA is again present in the Final Four, our 12th in 13 years. That’s a great achievement for my organization. History doesn’t play basketball. The players will go on the court and fight. The fact that we have Kyle [Hines] might help and it has helped. This is the talk in the locker room among the players.”
“I am very happy that Giannis is coach of Olympiacos and brought his team here. We are excited and we are focused on the game. As I said, the semifinal is a final for us. As you said, the generations are changing. We learned from the people that have more experience and we took our lessons.”
CSKA Moscow guard Milos Teodosic:
“I don't like to talk much about my game. I would prefer to talk about my teammates and the game CSKA played. I think we played amazing basketball. If tomorrow we play like we have played all season, I hope we win tomorrow.”
“Of course, Vassilis Spanoulis is a main guy and a key player for Olympiacos, not just this season but for the last four or five seasons. But we know he is not the only threat from their side. They play really great as a team, and this is one big and good team. Tomorrow is not going to be easy for us to play against them.”
Olympiacos Piraeus head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos:
“I want from my side to congratulate all the team that qualified for the Final Four and the players for their awards. My first Final Four was with CSKA and now I’m here with Olympiacos. I’m proud we of my team that we qualified after last year’s absence. We have a lot of belief in our team. We will do our best to fight for the win tomorrow.”
“We are in front of a big challenge because we have a great chance to play against a great team with very good coach. No matter what happened in history, we focus on this game. Sure we have some players that participated in these games in Istanbul and London. Their experience will help. We have a big chance in front of us and in life you don’t get these chances a lot.”
“It is very good that coach of CSKA is a new coach. Dimitris is a good coach. I am very happy that two Greek coaches will compete in the Final Four. We are proud of this Greek coaching generation that lately we saw everywhere in Europe is doing a great job. We are thankful for the coaches that we learned from and also the coaches that worked in Greece and gave us ideas, lessons on how to build our philosophy.”
Olympiacos Piraeus guard Vassilis Spanoulis:
“Most important is to have good character and for everybody to be happy with his role.
We are happy on our team to have these kind of guys. Our coaches and administration help us this way. We are happy to be here and compete with the best teams in Europe.”
“The most important is to have the right players, teammates, and the right coaches. Basketball is a team sport; Nobody plays alone. I am very happy that I’m with this team where everybody plays for the team.”
“The past doesn’t play basketball. This is the present. It’s a different game. We play against great coaches and great players. We will do whatever we can to win.”
“We learn from a very young age to work hard. We’re very lucky and blessed that we play what we love and everything we do we do it with love. We’re happy that we represent Greece and Greek basketball and the Greek nation.”
Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso:
"We are trying to be a top level team, playing for every championship and trying to win every game. Being the Final Four is in Madrid, it is very important for us to be here. We know how much fans are supporting us and what the club means. Since Day 1 of the season, it was a long way to be here, playing against great teams and great players and are we are happy about that. I am not happy with being in three Final Fours in a row. We want to continue coming to the Final Four, this is what Madrid deserves and what we are focused on."
Asked if this is the last chance for Madrid to win the Euroleague…
"No. What do you want me to say? Ask Jordi Bertomeu, will there be more Euroleagues? What I think is that when a season starts, an opportunity starts, as well as a complicated path. Zeljko spoke on Nemanja Bjelica's situation. Two months ago, I had an interview in which I was asked how it was possible to have a Euroleague MVP like Sergio Rodriguez coming off the bench. Even my daughters tell me I was crazy for not starting Sergio. Even though tomorrow is a final and there is a long path to follow, full of hard work and effort. All four teams aspire to be champions, but like Jordi said, there will be more Euroleague championships."
"Playing two finals is a great achievement. Of course, it is a good experience but like Vassilis Spanoulis just said, the past doesn't play games. It is a different game tomorrow, a different Final Four in a different court. We are very proud of our last two seasons but this is a different story now."
Real Madrid forward Felipe Reyes:
"It is very important for us to play in Madrid, in front of our fans. We know it is very difficult, but this is our third consecutive Final Four and we want to keep growing. This is a great opportunity to do something big in front of our fans, and we are here to reach as high as possible. We have been working hard for a long time, just as all the teams at this Final Four, and we will try to go far."
"It is clear that yesterday's elimination [of the Real Madrid football team] is hard for all Madrid fans. We already had the pressure before that for the simple fact of playing here in Madrid. Everyone is asking us to win the Euroleague. We play at home and lost the last two finals... so we had pressure already. Just because the football team lost doesn't give us more pressure. We need to know how difficult it is to get here to the Final Four and win the Euroleague. That's the important issue. We need to keep working and have, I hope, two great battles ahead of us."
Fenerbahce Ulker head coach Zeljko Obradovic:
on Bjelica being the Euroleague MVP…
"I will have a big problem now. This guy is the Euroleague MVP and I already prepared the game to start without him. I have to think about this; people will say this coach is crazy - starting without him. I have to see how I will surprise Mr. Laso. "
on Madrid and Fenerbahce not playing this season and if that creates an advantage…
"I don't think so, both teams know each other very well. We are very ready for them. "
on Bjelica being the first dominant 4 he has coached…
"Mr. Arlauckas is over here; he was my player when I took the title with Madrid 20 years ago. [Bjelica] can play like a point guard, is a power forward, but can play in every position. Last year, I used him at the '5' position and when I had problems against pressing, I gave the ball to him."
on Pablo Laso’s coaching philosophy and what Laso learned from Obradovic…
"He likes to run, my teams always run. He likes full-court pressure, zone pressure, box and one." Obradovic turns to Laso: "Something else? A lot of things. Basketball is universal."
Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul forward Nemanja Bjelica:
"This is a historical moment for this club, and for a lot of players, too. Maybe not for our coach, but it is really a big thing to be here. We deserve to be here, and we have a big chance to fight for the title. I don't want to say we did a great job this season, but we did a very good job. We have two more games. We did not come here just to visit Madrid, we came here to win. "
"I already said this 100 times, but I will say it again. You can learn a lot of things from Zeljko. Not only about basketball on the court, but about life and other things, too. He is a great person. When I came to Fenerbahce two years ago, I came only because of him. And when I look back in the past, if someone asked if this day would come, I would tell that person he is totally crazy. "