The winningest coach in Turkish Airlines EuroLeague history, Zeljko Obradovic of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul achieved another first this season by leading his team to their fifth consecutive Final Four appearance. He already guided the club to its maiden EuroLeague crown two seasons ago and another title would make Obradovic the first man with 10 EuroLeague championships to his name. Fenerbahce finished the regular season atop the standings, however, preparations for this Final Four have been more difficult than in other years due to a rash of injuries, which Obradovic discussed in this EuroLeague.net interview. "Practice is very different if you can have 14 or 15 players who can work really hard. Now the question is which of them will be able to help the team at the Final Four and right now I don't know," Obradovic said. "Whatever happens, we will play and compete."
Coach, congratulations for having the best record in the EuroLeague this season. Does that give your team all the confidence necessary heading to the Final Four?
"Not really. Our confidence will be the same as always. We know that we have a very good regular season behind us, and the playoffs series against Zalgiris, and we are happy with that. But we understand that the Final Four is always a very specific competition and everything depends on the condition you go in to play in the Final Four."
Fenerbahce is making its fifth straight Final Four appearance. Teams like Madrid and your own Panathinaikos never did that. What's the significance of this streak for you?
"I say thanks to my players for their hard work over the last five seasons."
"We are very proud of this. It means we have worked very hard for five years to reach this level, which is very difficult. We understand how difficult it is and I say thanks to my players for their hard work over the last five seasons, which has allowed us to reach this goal. Our target always is to try to be competitive. Fenerbahce has demonstrated that we always want to be among the best clubs in Europe and we are very happy to be in that position."
Your roster is packed with players who have done well at many Final Fours and won once together. How much do you count on their experience making a difference now?
"Of course experience is important, to have players who understand what a Final Four is like because it is a very specific event. But the Final Four is always about two things: motivation and, as I said before, understanding in which condition you are reaching the Final Four. Right now we have some problems inside the team. Immediately after our last game against Zalgiris, I said I would like to have one week with the full roster to prepare for the Final Four. We are not in that position, but whoever goes to play we need to prepare ourselves and give our best."
What is the latest news on your injured players? Who do you expect to have available in Vitoria?
"I really don't know. We have four players out of any kind work at all: Lauvergne is out for sure, and also we are without Datome, Kalinic and Vesely. None of them have been able to play in the Turkish League and if the Final Four was tomorrow, they would not play. The situation is not so good, but the rest of the team can still play and I am very satisfied with all of them. Whatever happens, we will play and compete."
How much does the uncertainty over the fitness of those players affect your planning as a coach?
"All coaches want to have a full roster with everyone healthy so we can work positively. Of course, practice is very different if you can have 14 or 15 players who can work really hard. Now the question is which of them will be able to help the team at the Final Four and right now I don't know. So yes, I have some difficulties! But I know all the other players will react in a positive way and do everything possible."
You play local rival Efes in the first all-Turkish semifinal ever. How much will the familiarity between the teams condition the game and your approach to it?
"Yes, we know each other very well. We've played a lot of games against Efes this year and we know everything about them, without any question. We know their qualities and how we have to play if we want to beat them, but they know everything about us too. So it will be a very interesting game. We know it will be very tough, but we will go with the mind of fighting until the last second."
Efes has been offensively outstanding this season and possesses many weapons. What is the key to slowing them down?
"The fans will help us a lot at the Final Four, I know that."
"It's true they play very good offensively. They have a lot of individual quality, but they also like to share the ball and play like a team, so it's not going to be easy to stop them, for sure. But we have already beaten Efes a few times and we will know what's necessary to play a good game against them."
What can you tell us about the other semifinal between CSKA and Madrid?
"Two historic clubs and two excellent teams, both with a lot of quality. There are always very interesting games between CSKA and Madrid. It will be a good game, and generally, I believe it will be a very good Final Four."
Wherever Fenerbahce goes, Fenerbahce fans go too...how much will it mean to your team to have loud support from the stands in a neutral venue?
"We are very proud of the connection that we have with our fans and I'm sure there will be many of our people in Vitoria again. This makes a big difference to the players and the fans will help us a lot at the Final Four, I know that."
On a personal level, this is a chance to take your 10th EuroLeague title as a coach. Would it mean even more to reach such a major milestone?
"No. I really don't think about this. The team and the club are more important. I always think in that way; this is one more opportunity for Fenerbahce to achieve something important, and nothing else."