The amount of EuroLeague Final Four appearances for CSKA Moscow is nothing short of staggering but on the big days itself, apart from 2006, 2008 and 2016, they spectacularly lose that aura of invincibility.
Since 2000, CSKA have clocked up 15 Final Four showings, missing out on just two years (2002 and 2011) but they have faltered in all but three events, with many happening in unforgettable fashion. From the 2012 championship game, when they took a 19-point lead against Olympiacos only to lose to a Georgios Printezis floater with a second left to Vassilis Spanoulis putting them to the sword in the clutch in 2015 and last year.
The high level of promise is there but it fades away on the big stage. CSKA Moscow’s Cory Higgins, who unlike many of his team-mates won the EuroLeague crown in his first season has now experienced the joys and the despairs of the club on the EuroLeague’s big stage and wants to right the wrongs of last season.
“I think our season has gone well,” says Higgins. “We improved a lot, especially with our character. We had a lot of new pieces this year, so we knew it was going to take some time, but as the year went on, I think we got tougher, especially mentally.
“I think we have shown we can win in any type of environment. I think that this year we have so many different options and we can win in different ways. Different guys are able to step up in any different time, so that makes us much harder to beat.”
But the weight on some of the players to produce moments of magic that lead to a title in the EuroLeague is heavy. Higgins has now experienced it with defeat to Olympiacos last year in Istanbul and wants to make amends.
“It is extremely demanding, but I think this is why CSKA is very selective on which players they choose to bring over here,” he explains.
“The organisation is always going for people who want to win, no matter what kind of competition it is. Every time you step on the court, you have to give your best.”
Higgins added: “I would say I have more hunger because, I [have] been fortunate enough to win a EuroLeague championship, so I had a little taste of that success. That feeling is something that you always want to recreate.”