The switch was flipped on Saturday morning as the focus at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four stopped being the results of the semifinals and began looking ahead to Sunday's championship game. The first order of business was the noon local time press conference to hear from Coach Ergin Ataman and guard Shane Larkin from Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Coach Dimitris Itoudis and guard Nando De Colo from CSKA Moscow at the BAKH Ciudad Deportiva Baskonia sporting facility adjacent to Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. Here is a summary of what they said.
Anadolu Efes Istanbul head coach Ergin Ataman
"I am very happy because it will be the first [EuroLeague] final for my club and also for me, but I want to tell that all season long, we tried to play entertaining basketball and yesterday was one of our best performances as a group. Now, the name of the opponent is not important for us. We will try also tomorrow to play smart basketball and have fun on the court, put out a good shot for all the people who will watch the game.
"I hope we will also have big support from the Vitoria fans, because we have three players that played for Baskonia in the past. I am sure that all of the Turkish fans, Fenerbahce fans, will be with us because maybe in the past we had some problems, maybe there is a big competition in our Turkish League between Fener and us, but when the Turkish flag is there, all Turkish people are together. I believe that tomorrow, we will have a lot of support and will try to win the cup, with all respect to CSKA, its great technical staff and its great players, with a lot of experience. CSKA has been to 14 of the last 15 Final Fours (actually 16 of the last 17, J.G.) but this is our first final and we will win it.
About taking more three-point shots in the playoffs:
"We improved our basketball in every game during the season and maybe because this statistic, we improved especially in the second part of the season. Shane came back to play great basketball, so we had one more player, especially on offense, to take shots and penetrate. We have many perimeter players able to attack the basket, create their own shot and create assists for spot-up shots. Every game, we improved our basketball, found more open shots and made those shots. This is our style of basketball. Adrien Moerman and Brock Motum are very good three-point shooters. We will continue to play like this, with good defense and a running game, finding good shots in fast breaks and transition. We improved our three-point shooting in every game.
About preparation for the championship game:
"Of course, if we didn't have a press conference, interviews, special events, we could analyze our opponent and make our strategy and preparation. But this is a final game and like Shane said, there is no special tactic to use this time. Players will give their performance and will hustle on the court. I am sure both teams will give 100% and those players who will perform better tomorrow will take the cup.
"First of all, maybe it is my first EuroLeague final, but before that, I played three European competitions finals, in the EuroCup, the Saporta Cup and the EuroChallenge, and never lost, so we have confidence. My players have confidence, with all respect CSKA's team. It may be success to play the final tomorrow, but for me, it is not enough. We want to win the cup.
"We have the EuroLeague pressure because last year, it was very bad for the club. It was a shock, but at the beginning of the season, we made all the strategic changes we needed to step up and of course, we had this pressure all season. Every game, we played it like a final, so more than EuroLeague pressure or public pressure, it was our pressure. We are a group that wants to win every time. I am proud that all of my players this year will have the same mentality as I do."
On Vasilije Micic's performance:
"Micic had a great season. Honestly, in the beginning of the season, when we built the team, we thought about him as a backup player with the same role he had in Zalgiris. In the beginning of the season, he was lucky because when Shane came, he had some physical problems and in that time, he stepped up, working very hard and we saw he is a very good player that fits into my system really well. He took more confidence and improved our game. He is very serious and plays both sides of the game, offense and defense. He can play the '1' and '2' positions and I am very happy for him. It is a great season and also, he gave a lot to this team in order to reach this level.
"Last season, when I took the team halfway through the season, it was almost in the last spot. With the EuroLeague transfer rules, it was impossible the change all of our roster and I believe that changing the team in the middle of the season never gives you a lot of success. The beginning of the season is very important and we built the team with our budget, which I believe it is not as big as the four-five top teams. We spoke with the club and our president, and also had a problem in the Turkish economy related to Euros and dollars. Our club and our president believe in us and gave us 10-11 million dollars for players' salaries. We made good choices, finding good players, but also good characters. For me, more important than signing good players, we needed players with good character. Everybody is sacrificing their potential for the team. We started to work hard every day. We improved our basketball and in the beginning of the season, when I saw the guys, I also started to make big announcements with big motivation because we needed this, we were last in the regular season a year ago. We managed to improve the motivation not only in the team, but for the club and our supporters. Finally, one of our biggest successes is that Efes is not a football club in Turkey like Fenerbahce, Besiktas or Galatasaray, but in our last seven-eight games in the EuroLeague, we played at Sinan Erdem Arena in front of 16,000 people, sold out – all families, all fair play people, without any hooligans on the court. There was a great atmosphere, and I think that everybody, players and coaches who were there, enjoyed. This is one of the other types of success for us this season, and I hope we will continue with the same team, same players, same atmosphere also next year and in the future. This is very important for basketball, for sports in Turkey and also in Europe. We showed that, in the future, cities like London and Paris, they can build this kind of team that people will enjoy watching and the EuroLeague can improve everything in the world."
Anadolu Efes Istanbul guard Shane Larkin
"It’s been an incredible experience to be here – my first Final Four, our first final as a club. It’s been an up and down season but we fought together and worked hard. We bought into the coach’s system, gelled really well as a unit, and to be in this moment is really special. Now we want to take full responsibility and hopefully go out there and get a championship.
"Last time I was in the playoffs here in Europe I was playing for Baskonia and we got swept by CSKA. This season coming back I wanted to make a statement, be aggressive, play my game and take another step forward in my career. Accomplish some things I hadn’t accomplished yet. When the playoffs started I locked in, stayed focused, and watched a lot of film of how and where I could attack. It’s really helped me be successful but the coaches are putting me in great positions, and my teammates are looking for me whenever I’m available. It’s all about winning, it’s not about me – if we go out tomorrow and I don’t have an amazing game but we win the championship, that’s all that matters. So we’re focused on playing hard, diving for loose balls, getting steals and rebounds, whatever I can do to get any advantage against a great team like them.
"I didn’t start the season the way I wanted, I wasn’t playing the way I was supposed to. Efes brought me here to be the kind of player I am now, but at the start of the season, I just wasn’t doing that. So I wasn’t playing as much as I should have been, but I stuck with it, the coaches stayed with me and gave me confidence and opportunities to become who I am. Throughout the season I gained confidence, started playing better, shooting the ball better and feeling better physically. My teammates and coaches kept giving me the confidence to go out there and play my game, they were never negative with me and eventually I broke through, had a couple of good games in a row and the coach gave me more responsibility and more minutes. I think that’s why we’re here now.
"Coach really lets you play to your potential. He always says just use your potential and play your game. He gets us into our sets, he has things he wants us to do, but at the end of the day, he wants us to go out and play our game. If you’re not playing well you won’t be on the court, but if you are playing well he’ll give you more freedom to continue to play. As I started playing better, making more shots, being more aggressive and confident, he allowed me to grow and grow. I’m grateful for everything I’ve been through this season with the whole staff. It’s been a special season and hopefully, now it will be even more special and we’ll get one more victory.
"I started my European career here in Vitoria and obviously went to the NBA for one season and came back a year later, so it would be a full circle to win my first championship here in Vitoria. It would be amazing and a great experience for me, and hopefully the fans here in Baskonia would be happy as well.
About Coach Ataman predicting a championship earlier this season:
"I don’t think it’s crazy at all. I think it gives your team a sense of confidence if your coach has confidence in your abilities. It gives you the confidence to go out and play your game. Obviously now we’re here one game away from that, so if you said it was a crazy statement two months ago what kind of statement would you say it is now? He has great confidence and he gives that to all of us, and that’s helped us get to this moment."
CSKA Moscow head coach Dimitris Itoudis
"What to say? Coach Ataman said they're gonna win, so it's not going to be interesting. Obviously, we are very proud to be in the final. Especially the way we came back was outstanding last night. We have huge respect for all the teams here and especially for our opponent. Efes has played outstanding basketball this season and we're ready to go.
About preparing for the championship game
"We have been there, this is the system. Though I do believe that's a great question because the system is different when you have days to prepare the game obviously or are in a playoff series, it's a totally different psychology, a different preparation. Now all that matters is in which kind of condition you are in psychologically, mentally, of course. But also it is important that we have played each other already in the regular season. We have some of those tactical points of view. we do know that the final is the final so everybody has equal chances. We do respect our opponent. We're going to build a lot of things on how the plusses and minuses work for each side.
"If I may go to the statistics, in my era we've been to the final one time against a Turkish team and we won. So we are 100%. We know that statistics don't play the game. We are very serious about that. We know the difficulties. The feeling is good. We have shown this season, and probably you would agree, that we have shown that we are consistent in what we are doing. We have many timed been doubted, a lot of doubts out there – Can we do it this year? Or CSKA is not hungry. They do this, they do that. That gave us a tremendously big motivation to prove first of all to ourselves that we deserve to be out there and fight until the end. So as Nando said, yesterday in the game, probably there were others who didn't believe in us, especially at minus-14. But we kept believing and that belief gave a boost and the players united and we came back. Of course, none of the coaches would like to have such a thing, losing in the third quarter by 14. I will come back to the question, the feeling is it's all about being dedicated, being focused, being persistent and actually giving the same consistency throughout the season with different circumstances, with adversity we had to fight. We do have the knowledge.
About the pressure to win at CSKA:
"I would definitely agree with you, but I would say it comes with the job. We all knew – Nando, myself and every player – where we were coming and what we represent and what our obligation is. We do represent a great club, a great city and a great country. We do have that knowledge. Of course, this has to match with your expectations as well, as an individual, and I'm pretty sure and confident that the payers that I coach, they do share the same dedication, the same expectations, otherwise they would not be recruited to such a club, so it comes with the job.
"It was an outstanding comeback, though my first two comebacks were about us being out-hustled and outplayed in the beginning. So so that was not the right mindset that we were supposed to have, So we have to work on it tonight and tomorrow morning to go into the final a different mindset. But, as Nando said, we've been there and we've don't that again and again. We've kept great offensive teams below their averages or below their potential in creativity and execution. We did it yesterday and a lot of times we've done it against great and talented teams. So we have the qualities to do it, but the mindset should and will be different.
About Will Clyburn's injury:
"It looked bad last night. Will is much better today. He went to the therapist. He's going to be ready to go. It's not a major injury he had. He had some issues also before the semifinal. His heart and his soul is going to be there and of course his body."
CSKA Moscow guard Nando De Colo
"It has been a really long and tough season for us. Like I say all the time, the EuroLeague is a tough competition, but we are here today after a great victory yesterday. We showed character, so this is good, It's what we've done all season long. We have one more to go. It will not be the easiest one. Efes had a greats season; they deserve to be here and we need to respect that. The most important thing is to stay focused.
"I think like all the players, we try to do our best on the court and now is the time to step up and take responsibility and that's it. Our team knows exactly how we need to play to win and games and this is what we did in the playoffs and yesterday. Even if it was a tough game we never gave up and played until the end.
"It's what we did all season. Like I said the season is long and we had some ups and downs, but every time we faced this kind of situation, we always stepped up and showed as a team that we can win games. Yesterday was for sure a great comeback, but let's say it wasn't a surprise for us to do it. Like coach said before, it is not easy to be minus-14, but we knew we could do it and we still believe in ourselves.
About playing against childhood teammate Beaubois
"I think it's great to play against other French basketball players like Beaubois or Adrien Moerman, but I don't pay attention to just one player. I stayed focused on our team. This is the most important.
About playing well at Fernando Buesa Arena
"This gym has a history and it's true I've played a lot in this gym, but what happened in the playoffs and yesterday's game is not just about me. It's about the team and what we can do together. Each player knows what he has to do on the court."