Last summer, Velimir Perasovic and his Croatia side were dumped out of Eurobasket and he subsequently parted ways with the national team.
Nine months later, Perasovic has bounced back from his summer low and will lead Laboral Kutxa in the Euroleague Final Four on Friday.
“We signed a few additions, and those were also the right moves,” said Perasovic. “So, players with the experience of spending a year in the club, and the arrival of Ioannis Bourousis, is the combination that helped us to come up with a competitive squad.”
But he and Laboral Kutxa will need that on Friday night against Fenerbahce, a team that many consider the favourites to lift the Euroleague crown come the season’s end on Sunday. However, even though Fenerbahce have a team stacked full of talent, no team is unbeatable.
”Their strength is their team effort,” Perasovic explained. “They have a lot of great individuals, but as a team they are what every coach wants to have. They are tough, disciplined, versatile. They have a big team and can play big, but can also play with a small lineup.
“They are good on the perimeter. Fenerbahce does not have many cracks you can exploit. No matchup with them is a good one. They have toughness, they have speed and quickness, they are aggressive. But no team is unbeatable. We have to play our basketball and see where it takes us.”
Perasovic can look back to the 2006 Euroleague Playoffs as inspiration in a bid to beat Fenerbahce and its legendary coach Zeljko Obradovic.
The two play-callers met ten years ago in a thrilling three-game series that saw Perasovic’s Laboral Kutxa, then Tau Ceramica defeat Obradovic’s Panathinaikos. Since then both coaches have gone on to win multiple titles, both domestically and in European competition.
But while Obradovic has gone on to become the Euroleague’s winningest coach – scooping eight titles in total – Perasovic is still yet to claim a Euroleague title, he won the Eurocup, two years ago with Valencia but the big prize has eluded him.
“Winning the Euroleague would be a dream, like it would be a dream for any head coach,” he says. “I think that is what all coaches dream of when they first get into coaching. But I do not think about this Final Four in that way, I think only about the first game we have in front of us. Winning the title still looks so far away right now, that there is no point to think about it in that such way.”
BACK-TO-BACK FINAL FOURS FOR FENERBAHCE
Last year in Madrid, Fenerbahce competed in their first Final Four and despite being blown out by Real Madrid in the semi-finals, it was clear that the Turkish side belonged on the Euroleague’s big stage.
A year later, they are considered by many to go further. But coach Obradovic, appearing in his sixteenth Final Four will not be thinking that, he wants his team to worry about themselves.
“Naturally, this is the Final Four and everyone will have a big motivation, but we will try to play in a way that we believe is good for us,” Obradovic said. “The most important is to think about ourselves, to prepare ourselves and play a good game.”
One of Obradovic’s main weapons comes in the form of the athletic Ekpe Udoh, who has been a dependable rock for Fenerbahce this season, averaging 12.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game. Something that the American doesn’t think about.
“I had no clue about the blocks or the stats,” Udoh revealed It feels great cementing what I do as a player on the defensive end. It’s been great. I know a lot of people will be coming for it next year, so we’ll how long it stands.”
But for Udoh, recently awarded the Euroleague MVP award for April, he will appear in his first Final Four. He admits that while it’s not something he has dreamt of during his rise as a professional, he aims to enjoy the moment.
“It would mean a lot,” Udoh said. “It’s the second-best trophy outside the NBA. Not only that, it would be the first trophy here at Fenerbahce and the first for Turkey, I believe. So Turkey is on our back. It’s bigger than us at this moment.
“With everything that’s gone on in Turkey, this would be a really good chance to put smiles on faces and just show them that there is hope and that if we work together we can achieve any goal out there.”
Quotes from Javier Cancedo