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Euroleague random news and Players/Coaches Interviews
Ramunas Siskauskas latest interview after the win over Olympiakos in Piraeus in Athens International Airport while waiting his flight back to Moscow:

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- By Evgeniy Djichkovskiy

- Before joining CSKA you used to pay for Olympiakos arch-rivals Panathinikos and you have faced Olympiakos in the SEF Arena many time with Panathinaikos. Was the atmosphere in the game with CSKA the same like it was in games with Panathinaikos?

- Yes. But not quite the same. In domestic Greek derbies everyone are shouting, flairs are being fired and fireworks are being exploded. Last Thursday Olympiakos fans were loud but rather civilized. Personally I prefer this kind of atmospheres over quiet crowds.

- Talking about atmosphere wasn't the atmosphere in SEF Arena too stuffy because of the smoke?

- I agree. It was. but I got used to it while I was playing in Greece. Everyon smokes everywhere there.

- But don't you have difficulties breathing in such conditions?

- I didn't feel anything. Of course after coming out of the locker rooms for the 2nd half you can smell the tobacco in the air but you get used to it quickly. All we think about is the game anyway.

- Did you notice that yourself, Zisis and Papaloukas were booed more than other others?

- It's normal. They are more familiar with us because they remember us from Greek A1.

- Has your career in Panathinaikos left unpleasant feeling for Olympiakos in your soul?

- I have played 8 games against Olympiakos wearing Panathinaikos jersey, so I don't need to answer that because you can understand it yourself. But I wouldn't say I hate them. More like athletic dislike.

- In one instance you scored 6 points in 1 attack! Do you even remember someone else doing that?

- I can't recall anyone else doing it right now but it might have happened before too. In any case two 3pointers with a foul between then is very rare.

- Did Messina's absence in Italy create any troubles for the team before the game?

- Not in the game plan itself. We all knew that we had to beat Olympiakos in order to keep ourselves alive. There are dead-end situations where you can't do anything about it. Our coach had to leave for Italy and we had to travel to Greece. I think our win boosted Messina's psychology and we did not let our assistant coaches down who had prepared us for the game.

- Very few predicted that Olympiakos could cause so much troubles to CSKA. What about you?

- I absolutely expected this. Olympiakos is a very strong side, even it is sounds so cliche. Olympiakos didn't reach the quarter-finals by luck.

- What changed for CSKA since the 1st game Moscow and you managed to beat Olympiakos away?

- We analyzed the game. We made a game plan on how to deal with Olympiakos. In details. But it didn't work out as we hoped in the first quarter. We then focused on our defense closing up on Greer, their leader in offense who organizes their attacks.

- Was anyone given individual tips on how to face Greer?

- Yes. Langdon, Zisis and some other guys. They all rotated in Greer's marking.

- After the end of the 1st quarter and being 12 points behind, weren't you afraid of collapsing?

- We talked about it before the game and decided that no matter what we would stick to our tactics and strategy till the very end.

- Can we safely assume that this was the best game for you in your CSKA career so far?

- Definitely one of the best ones.

- Is Yiannakis' Olympiakos very different than the Gershon's Olympiakos?

- Of course. During Gershon era they were focused on attack while now they are focused more on defense. This is a sign that they are getting better. Although we did lose to Gershon's Olympiakos too once.

- Aren't you afraid that you will be overwhelmed by stress before the 3rd game?

- No. CSKA got very experienced players and that will help us to overcome this problem. We just must do it.

- Last question. What do you have in those 2 square meters boxes which look so great?

- Greek sweet pies. They are wicked.

* NOTE: Half an hour later, during the flight Teo Papaloukas complimented his teammates and the journalists with some of those famous Greek sweet pies.
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
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Good job for translating the interview Arkadios <!-- s:thup: -->[img]{SMILIES_PATH}/thup.gif[/img]<!-- s:thup: --> As Siska said, Messina does not let the team lose confidence or get nervous which often happens to many teams when are behind. CSKA doesn't break psychologically in hard situations.
Great work Arkadios!!! <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/smile.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Smile' />

I think it's more than obvious that Messina prepared a whole plan only for how to stop Greer. I think Yiannakis should take Siska's words after consideration. It's obvious that Langdon, Zisis and maybe Holden will rotate over Greer's marking once again in Moscow, and Oly should take advantage of that, especially if will be "created" a match up between Qyntel Woods and every guard of CSKA ( as it happened many times in the first game of Moscow, Q vs Papaloukas or Q vs Langon, were sure points for Oly ).

I hope Siska will be in a bad day, in the "big" night... <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/tongue.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Tongue' />

Quote:Good job for translating the interview Arkadios <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/thup.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':thup:' /> As Siska said, Messina does not let the team lose confidence or get nervous which often happens to many teams when are behind. CSKA doesn't break psychologically in hard situations.

Panathinaikos too. And if you ask me, that's the difference between the top class team and the very good team ( like Oly, Maccabi, TAU etc ). These 2 teams have players that can control their anxiety and don't mess up in hard situations. That's also why, every time, a derby between Oly and Pana, ends with a margin, less than a 3pointer, PAO is the 99% winner. <img src='<#EMO_DIR#>/wink.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Wink' />
Euroleague granted Partizan a 3 years guaranteed contract to Euroleague, starting frm the 2009/10 season.
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
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They deserved it very much!
Ettore Messina interview

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First of all, congratulations on a another great season. How difficult was it to reach the Final Four this year as compared to others in your experience?

"I'd say that it has been very difficult. The first year I was here, we lost David Andersen in midseason and became overachievers. Last year, we were the defending champs and, after looking at what has happened this season, it was an incredible accomplishment coming back to the championship game. This year, we probably had more talent than ever before, but even more injuries than before. We had to reshape our chemistry a couple times and we went through difficult moments. We were down to Roma at home in our first Top 16 game, and then obviously lost at home in our first playoff game with Olympiacos. I know that the way forward is difficult, but for sure I think that for us to have won the series with Olympiacos has given us some extra edge, I hope, for the Final Four."

What does it say about the quality of the Euroleague as a competition when teams like Panathinaikos and Real Madrid can't get past the Top 16?

"It says a lot. i think that maybe the big issue now is that during the regular season we play too many games to cut a very limited number of teams. There is a lot of discussion about the first part of the season, whether we can do something to make it more dramatic for the fans. At the same time, the Top 16 has proven one more time to be one of the most exciting sports shows all over Europe. I don't see any other competition like this, not even the Champions League in football, that shows the quality of teams at the top level like the Top 16 does."

Let's talk about your team. CSKA extended its record Final Four streak to six in a row. What does that unprecedented consistency mean to you and the club?

"It says more about the club than maybe it does about the coaches and the players. If you look back at the history of those six years, there have been very few changes in CSKA in terms of the structure of the club. Even in the coaching staff, there have been only two changes in six years. That kind of continuity and stability is a big part of CSKA being so successful."

Was there a key turn of events this season that propelled the team forward on its way back to the Final Four?

"I think that the streak of wins we had between late November and through December and January, without Smodis, Siskauskas and Papaloukas for many games, and of course without Savrasenko at all, was very, very important to us. Thankfully, the remaining veterans carried the team in those difficult moments."

Two other Final Four teams were in CSKA's regular season group, Siena and Tau, your semifinal opponent, and you beat both twice. Does it mean anything now or is it a trap to look backwards? Are you glad now you played them and beat them, rather than losing or not playing at all?

"For sure, we can say that it was a very consistent group, because also Olympiacos was just a game away from the Final Four. As for having beat the other two Final Four teams twice, in these kinds of situations, everything goes back to balance one more time. For sure, the fact that we beat them twice, if you play the same teams again, means something because it remains in the minds of the coach and players in terms of confidence. On the other hand, we have to become balanced, because any superficiality or arrogance in this situation can hurt you. Mentally, then, what happened before can work both ways sometimes."

Talking about Tau specifically. They are experienced, though not as much as your team, and they are the closest thing to a home team at the Final Four. What are CSKA's key points when facing this Tau team, which is almost?

"Tau is in a situation very similar to the one that CSKA was in when we went to Prague. They haven't won yet despite going a lot of times to the Final Four. If we let them be hungrier than us, they will win. I think this is more import than tactics or Xs and Os. They have a great, great desire to win in the Final Four in Spain. If we let them become more motivated than us, we will have trouble."

In recent months, you have also been the "teacher" in an innovative new on-line coaching clinic with the Euroleague Basketball Institute. How has it been for you to connect the European game with young coaches around the world?

"For me, it has been extremely impressive the quantity and quality of the questions that we have received - and that's even before the on-court clinic we are going to have in Barcelona at the end of June. I have been trying to keep up with the students, and I have been impressed with the way all of them are writing, asking questions and exchanging opinions. It's a nice experience and I am looking forward to meeting the students in Barcelona for a weekend of work on the court."

Euroleague Basketball is celebrating 50 Years of European Club basketball this season. You, along with your player Theo Papaloukas, are the only ones in the 50 contributors list that will be competing for the Euroleague title in Madrid. How special is that?

"We cannot forget that from CSKA also coach Aleksander Gomelskiy, even if he is not with us any longer, will also be honored. This is a special recognition for the club and for Russian basketball. For me, it's a tremendous honor. I was really moved by the nomination and by the fact of being chosen by some of the greatest people in our sport who were on the selection panel."

Most of those greatest-ever contributors to European club basketball will be in Madrid at the Final Four. What would it mean for you and the club to win again under those circumstances?

"It would be extra special, for sure, to win again, a great honor to do so during that celebration. But it will be special not for basketball reasons to see all those people for European basketball history there."
Simone Pianigiani interview

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Hello coach. How much does reaching the Final Four in your Euroleague debut as a head coach mean to you?

"It means a lot, of course, because we deserve to be here. We are happy to have made it to the Final Four, but also because we had the chance to show that we can play against any team in Europe face-to-face. We challenged the best teams in Europe to be in the Final Four. This is most important for us: that we are in Madrid not because of a special situation or because we were in really good shape for one month at the right time. We made it because we played strong all season long, overcoming tough moments like Kaukenas's injury."

With no stars and relatively little experience at this level, few people chose Montepaschi as a Final Four team before the season started or even in the middle of it. How did you manage to surprise everybody?

"I think that the most important reason is that there are great persons in the team with great work ethic. They work in the right way and listen. If you play like a team, you can face anybody. Maybe sometimes it is easier against some teams that you know what to do in order to beat them, just stopping what they are good at. If you play like a team, you need big effort on defense but also on offense everyday to improve your systems. There are also a lot of people in the club working really hard around the team. Not only do we have good people in the team, but also around it. That's very important to stay at the top level. You can win or lose, but if you play like a team and stay together, working in the right way, everything is easier for everybody."

At what point this season did you realize that your team was good enough to reach the Final Four and compete for the Euroleague crown? Was there a particular game or moment that convinced you?

"From the beginning, since we were able to compete against CSKA or to beat Tau Ceramica in the regular season. We already thought in the regular season that we could compete against the best teams. Obviously, we didn't think on the Final Four because our philosophy since the beginning of the season was to take one game at the time and try to discover our potential game by game. When you see that you can play at the same level as those teams, it can only be good for the players and their confidence. Many of the players were Euroleague newcomers, so a strong start was important. Once we played against Panathinaikos in Athens, we started to think about the Final Four because we knew we could win our Top 16 group with a home win. Until that moment, we went game by game. Everything is possible in the Euroleague, like seeing top teams like Real Madrid, Olympiacos, Barcelona or Panathinaikos not making it to the Final Four."

Even though we call this your Euroleague debut as head coach, you were an assistant with two previous Final Four teams of Montepaschi, 2003 and 2004. From those experiences, what did you learn about preparing a team for the Final Four?

"First of all, I know there is a great atmosphere there. The Final Four is the most exciting situation for a coach in Europe. At the same time, I am happy that we don't play another Italian team in the semifinal, because we already lost against two of them in 2003 and 2004! We were unlucky against them. In any case, the goal is that this nice atmosphere around the Final Four will not affect the team. We have to stay focused and approach the game like any other. If we play like this, we are ready to fight in the best way. Of course, those teams that have experienced this atmosphere before, with all the media people around you and the best of the best in the European basketball world, have an advantage. I don't want my players to feel any extra pressure. From my experience, we have to enjoy the experience and think about basketball, and not about anything else around the Final Four. All that has little importance."

Montepaschi just missed the chance to play Maccabi in the 2004 title game. Now you have them in the 2008 semifinal, this time on a neutral court in Madrid, instead of Tel Aviv. What are your thoughts on facing Maccabi next week?

"Maccabi is maybe the only team that we never were able to beat. It is a great chance for us, because many times as assistant coach, we had close games against them that went down to the final minute and we always lost. If we are able to arrive in the same situation, with a close game until the final seconds, maybe we will have the luck on our side. It is always nice to play against Maccabi, because they have good fans and great tradition. It will be a good game and everyone is motivated to play against them."

Can you update us on the status of point guard Terrell McIntyre after his surgery and that of Rimas Kaukenas, too, as concerns the possibilities each have of playing in the Final Four?

"Rimas is working hard, but his injury was quite severe and it will be impossible for him to play in the Final Four. Of course, he will be there with us in Madrid to stay with his teammates. He is a very proud player but he cannot play the Final Four. As for Terrell McIntyre, he has to check his situation with our doctors and medical staff during this week. He is very important for us. He has a big heart and played with physical problems until the end of the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Even if he is not 100 percent, he will play because he wants to do it and everybody expects him to arrive in shape for the Final Four. We will have a final answer about his ankle by the end of this week."

Big man Ksistof Lavrinovic has been one of the most-effective per-minute players in the Euroleague this season. How important has he been to your success? Can you explain the strategy of using him as a sixth man?

"Ksistof is one of our key players. Everyone is important for us because like I told you before, we are a group and every single part is important. Lavrinovic makes our opponents change their point of view because he can play power forward and center. He can play in the low post and also shoot from outside, opening the court on our offense. This is also the reason why he comes off the bench, because he can change the game every time he steps on court. I also started with Kaukenas off the bench several times this season, because I like players that can change our offense and put our opponents in trouble. We start with Benjamin Eze because he is a strong player, a good defender that knows how to read the pick-and-roll. This is our basic situation. Then we use Lavrinovic at four or five, depending on how we read the game. He can come off the bench in the right moment and change the game."

With your own experience at Final Four, what are you planning to tell your players in terms of taking advantage of such a rare opportunity?

"I don't want anything to change. I want to keep our philosophy - stay together and try to be better every day than the day before, enjoying to play every single game from pre-season until now. This philosophy helped us to get to Madrid and now it is not the time to change it, of course not. We have to enjoy, feel good and know this is not the right time to change anything. Enjoy and play hard, that is what I will tell my players. This is a great chance. Everyone wants to win the Euroleague, that's normal because this is professional sports. We have to be positive while we are in Madrid."

How excited are the fans in Siena about the Final Four and about carrying the flag there for Italian basketball?

"The atmosphere is nice. Siena is a small city and everybody is crazy for basketball. I don't know how many fans we have but people ask about tickets outside our gym every day! Everyone wants to come to Madrid and they all will be excited to follow their team in Madrid. This is great for us, not everyone will be able to come to Madrid, but everyone in Italy will watch on TV. It is a responsibility, but we are very proud of this."

As someone who was born in Siena and raised in Mens Sana Basket, have you let yourself imagine what it would be like to return home with the title? What would it mean to the club to verify its great work this decade with a Euroleague title?

"Our target last season was to win the Italian League and we did it. My main target this season was making Montepaschi become a top team in Europe, take Montepaschi back to the top level. We made it to the Final Four, which means we reached that goal, too. This is a great feeling to me, reaching these two targets in less than two years. Maybe it is not finished yet. How I would feel is difficult to explain, really difficult. I cannot explain it with words. It would be something very special. Last season was the best Italian League one ever for Montepaschi. We also broke our Euroleague regular season record and did even better in the Italian League regular season, too. We never got so many wins in the Euroleague before. I would like if we could do better than ever and at least reach the final. That is our first target and then, once we are in final... everything is possible."
Zvika Sherf interview

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Hello Zvika, and congratulations on a fine season so far. You stepped into the head coach's role in January and the team has been one of the best around since. What it was like to take over midseason and what did you change to help Maccabi get so much stronger?

"First of all, it's never good to take a team in the middle of the season, although I have done it successfully several times in my career. I think we had excellent players, although there were all kinds of injury problems that complicated matters. The first thing I did was to strengthen our defense. Then I started to explain to our players, especially the new ones, what Maccabi Tel Aviv is all about. What the expectations are. What the tradition is. What the Euroleague is. There are teams from certain countries that don't always know how to divide their energy between domestic games and the Euroleague. For us at Maccabi, the Euroleague is very important and we do everything we can to get to the Final Four. This is the club I grew up with and I am coaching here for the fourth time and I can tell you that the tradition here and playing in the Euroleague are very important. The crowd fills the arena for every Euroleague game no matter against whom. So we improved our defense, improved some things in our offense and got some players back. And we had some nice results. For us to get back to the Final Four is very nice."

After advancing to the Final Four, it was revealed that you had told the players before your first game in charge, back in January, that Maccabi would play in the Final Four. How could you have been so certain then?

"I wanted to fire them up. That was one of my ways to increase their confidence and to make the team stronger."

From the very beginning, you began playing Terence Morris more, and he responded with a terrific season. What did you see in him when you took over that made you think he could anchor the Maccabi froncourt?

"Terence Morris is a player that brings our team together in many ways: offensively, defensively, rebounding. He's a very competitive player. He always wants to get better and to work more for the team. And we didn't have many options at the power forward spot. So he began to play more and more. Eventually, by the time of the series against Barcelona, he didn't play as good because he had carried a lot on his shoulders until that point."

Another player having arguably his best season is Yotam Halperin. How important are his contributions to Maccabi's success?

"Yotam Halperin is a boy that grew up at Maccabi and for many years was marked as a bright talent. But he didn't always hold up under pressure. This summer he played for me on the Israeli national team and he had an outstanding European championships. When I took over at Maccabi, I told him he just needs to keep playing that way. In the two or three games that Yotam didn't play well, Maccabi lost. And I think that says everything."

What differences are there between coaching a team to this stage of the European season now and the first time you did it, more than two decades ago?

"Then, just like now, it was exciting. But the basketball has changed. The athleticism has changed. The speed of the game has changed. There were no three-point shots then. Now, we play with quarters. Then you'd go a whole game with five or six, maybe seven players. Over the course of time, the amount of games has grown. Also the amount of injuries has grown. If you look all around Europe, players suffer many more serious injuries now than before. Also then, you would build your team at the start of the season and you couldn't make changes after that. Now you can make changes before this stage and that stage and sometimes it's good and sometimes not so. So basketball has changed, but it's still basketball. I loved it then and I love it now."

Like your counterpart in the semifinals, Montepaschi Siena head coach Simone Pianigiani, you started coaching in the Euroleague in your 30s. Unlike him, you now have years or experience to fall back on. How important do you think that experience will be for the Final Four?

"I started to coach at a very young age. Pianigiani, I think, was an assistant coach for many years first. I started coaching youth when I was 17 or 18 years old. So when I was in the Euroleague at age 32, I had more than 10 years of head coaching experience. Pianigiani was an assistant under Carlo Recalcati and others and he has his own experience from that. I think that experience can play a very important role, but that you have to give young coaches plenty of credit."

On the other hand, many of your key players – Morris, Esteban Batista, Omri Casspi, Will Bynum and Alex Garcia come to mind – are playing their first Final Four. How can the club's long experience in this event help them in this new situation?

"Lack of experience is not too much of a big deal. In some cases yes and in some cases no. Sometimes experienced players feel they've ‘been there, done that,' while inexperienced players may be nervous, but often excited with a great desire to win. But Maccabi has great experience and great tradition and as a club we are trying to prepare everyone for the Final Four."

What do you know about Montepaschi and what do you see as the keys to the semifinal game against them?

"Montepaschi is a team that throughout the season has played very consistent team basketball, and aside from the injury to Kaukenas, not much has changed there. In the regular season, they did very well in a very difficult group. And they came through a tough Top 16 group - with Panathinaikos, Partizan and Efes Pilsen - in first place. We are still gathering information and analyzing it to see how to tackle this team, but I have no doubt that Montepaschi is a very good team."

This Final Four will be a tribute to history, including two of the 50 greatest contributors that you coached, Miki Berkowitz and Panagiotis Giannakis. What does the 50 Years of European Club Basketball celebration mean to you?

"When we had the ceremony honoring the greats from Maccabi, I stood beside Yotam Halperin and Lior Eliyahu. I told them, ‘Except for two players, I coached all these guys. Everyone but Tani Cohen-Mintz and Tal Brody.' I want to see basketball reach the popularity everywhere like it is here in Israel, where it's even with soccer. Or at least a close second. That needs to be our goal. That basketball is a close second to soccer, or even as popular. Basketball is an amazing game that needs to be played in more communities and to get more children playing."

As someone who coached the great Maccabi teams of the mid-1980s, with players like Miki Berkowitz, Motti Aroesti, Kevin Magee and Lee Johnson, how would your team today fare against those teams?

"That's one of those questions I'm asked often and I don't think you can really make the comparison, because every style is different and every class of players is different. I'll tell you this. I received a telephone call from Miki Berkowitz after we defeated Real Madrid in Spain in the Top 16 and he told me, ‘That was one of the best games I've ever seen Maccabi Tel Aviv play.' So I leave it to Miki to make that comparison."
Neven Spahija interview

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Congratulations on a great season and your first Final Four. As someone who has been in the competition many years, how do you feel about this accomplishment for you and your team?

"It's a great feeling. I have no words to explain it enough. First of all, I've had six years in the Euroleague and nine as a head coach, and this is my first time in the Final Four. All of us who coach do everything in our professional lives with the idea of participating in the Final Four. I am happy and I think that our team deserves it. We had problems with injuries and with being a completely new team, but in the end, we succeeded, and because of that, I'm happy for myself, for the players and for the club, of course, which can be proud to make it four times in a row. Everyone sacrificed to make it happen."

This Final Four is unique because of the 50 Year history celebration. What will it mean to coach your team with some of the greatest players in European history watching in person?

"It means a lot. I have attended other Final Fours, and it's always a very big event. To be on the bench when all of the basketball community is watching must be a great feeling, especially now that you know this event can be seen all over the world. With all of these former stars in the gym also, it will be something unique this time."

One of the biggest legends being honored, the late Drazen Petrovic, was your childhood friend. Do you feel you will be sharing this stage with him a bit at this Final Four?

"It's very difficult for me still when someone asks about him, because I feel so strong about Drazen and what happened to him. I can still say today, after so many years, that I miss him a lot and that all of us in basketball miss him. That he will be honored at this Final Four, in a city where he played one of his special seasons for Real Madrid, will be emotional for many of us."

Let's talk about your team. Having a new coach and several new players can sometimes mean unsteadiness in a team. What did it take to maintain Tau's very high success rate?

"First of all, we did it with the quality and personality of the players. Sometimes, to put the best players together does not mean you have the best chemistry, especially if we are talking about a new coach with new players. But every day that we worked hard on the court and off the court made me stronger and made us better. Especially now, we are very happy. After qualifying against Partizan, we had a bad Spanish League game against Barcelona, but the team reacted immediately, with a good week of practice and two other good Spanish League games. We have one more domestic game before the Final Four, and if we can play that game as well, it will give us big help going to Madrid."

Was there a key moment of the season when you knew your team had the right stuff to be in the Final Four and compete for a title?

"First, when I became the head coach, the team was already made by the club. I was the one who signed last, but I said to my owners, this team is good enough to compete in every competition that we play. And I was right, but I just didn't know how good and how fast we could find chemistry in the team. I think key moment was our last King's Cup game in Spain, and the game immediately after that, when we won our Top 16 opener against Lietuvos Rytas in Vilnius. It was very, very, very important for the team to come back so quickly after such an important loss in the cup final and win such a tough game away. Only a team with personality could do that, so I think that was our key moment this season."

It's your first Final Four, but your team's fourth, all in a row. What influence does that streak of four in a row mean to the expectations of your team?

"Expectations are always high, but not one team that qualified for the Final Four can say that it's good enough only to be there. Because of that, we want to win: me, the players, the fans and all of the club. We also know it's going to be very, very difficult. The Final Four is the strongest competition possible at this moment in Europe. Like always, we will try to do our best to take the cup, especially because we are playing in Spain in front of our crowd. I know we'll have a lot of fans with us and with such strong support we have a better chance."

In the semifinal, your team faces CSKA Moscow, a team you lost to twice in the regular season, once at home loss although they were missing several starters. What do your players need to learn from that experience?

"Already in our second game against them, in Moscow, we played much, much better, even though we lost. CSKA played the first one, in Vitoria, without four players, and showed us how strong they could play under any conditions. We had won a lot of games in a row before then, and after the defeat, we played with much more experience than before. Very simply, those games showed us what we have to do better."

CSKA's roster presents all kinds of problems to opponents. How do you choose what to focus on when preparing for them?

"There is no one thing. I think that CSKA, along with Panathinaikos, has the best roster in Europe, but why I consider both the best teams right now is they have the best coaches with the experience on this level. CSKA has a coach and players who have been to a lot of Final Fours and won. Because of that, there is no one simple thing that you can resolve and be sure to win. There are too many things, and you have to be ready to answer everything if you want to win against CSKA."

Do you have a philosophy for playing knockout games like those in a Final Four?

"Not really, no. There is only one philosophy: go step by step. You have to concentrate and focus and think about only one game. After that's over, you can think about another. Anyway, in such a semifinal, if you win, you don't need such big preparation for the final. First, there's not enough time. Second, when you are in a final, it means so much that players are always going to do their best to win it. Because of that, we will go step by step and concentrate on CSKA first.

You started with the Euroleague in 2000-01. What do you think about the evolution of the competition during the rest of this decade until now?

"I am so happy because I am one of the persons who supported ULEB at that most important time in the beginning, when they recruited the teams and I was coach of Cibona. I do feel proud of my work and my opinion at that time, because after the NBA, we now have the strongest basketball competition in the world."

Finally, what would it mean for you to take Tau Ceramica to win the Euroleague trophy in Madrid next weekend?

"As I said before, I have done everything in my career with the idea of coming to the Final Four someday. But, of course, not one of us can say that just going to the Final Four is enough. To win the Final Four is a dream for all of us, the best thing that we can do in our careers."
Pretty decent interview. Somewhat enjoyed, even thoguh I'm not a big " Euro" baller.
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The great Sabas commenting his inclusion among the 50 greatest basketball contributors in Europe and some other issues: [url=""][/url]
Die Liebe wird eine Krankheit, wenn man sie als eine Heilung sieht.
: BASKET-SPOT : - Global Basketball
[quote name='"Adrian Wojnarowski":1q17cgzm']Having celebrated his 19th birthday with his mother and younger brother at a restaurant in Rome, basketball's most important young player climbed inside a Volvo wagon for the drive home and started talking about the biggest rookie burden since Kevin Garnett. Life isn't so different in Italy, Brandon Jennings said with a laugh on his cell phone. They speak English. There's Burger King and McDonald's. The Hard Rock Cafe has good burgers and good music.

"The only difference is that we don't have a dryer," Jennings said. "We hang our clothes on a line."

Back in the States, Jennings understands what they're waiting to hear: Oh, I made such a mistake with a leap out of Compton, California, to Virtus Roma of the Italian League. They won't let me play my game. I'm all alone. The Euroleague is no place for an American teenager trying to do his purgatory year before entering the NBA draft.

Back home, the college basketball propaganda machine is waiting to issue its typical "I told you so's" about how life in its warped system is somehow still beneficial. Jennings heard it all on his way out, and still hears it across the Atlantic Ocean. Just understand something: He's a point guard learning to see the floor, to open his mind, and the education of Brandon Jennings is well underway.

"I know what they have all been saying, because I even heard it from my friends, that I'm going to be a bust. And a whole different culture is going to mess up my game," Jennings said. "I would've loved to have gone to college, and I'm sure I would've learned a lot there, but I'm learning a lot more over here.

"I know this is a real big thing. I'm the first high school kid to jump straight to Europe instead of college and I know a lot of people, a lot of kids, are keeping up with me to see how I'm doing. If I do what I'm supposed to do here, and come back (to the US) better for it, I have a chance to change basketball."

He is thinking globally, but acting locally. For Jennings, a slicing, explosive 6-foot-2 lefty, has to be a grown-up in Rome. He has to survive the physical and mental toll of a long Euro season. He doesn't have to always play great, but he has to never back down. He has to leave behind the AAU culture, the one-on-one mentality of grassroots American ball and immerse himself in a Euro game that rejects those false basketball gods.

Jennings is an experiment that has repercussions at every level of basketball. If this goes right, European franchises will be inspired to invest in the next year's high school class. Kids who don't want college - and maybe don't belong - won't have to play that foolish one-and-done game. Sonny Vaccaro made this deal happen, and promises there's a line down the street and around the corner wanting to follow a Jennings success story.

As much as anything, that makes Jennings pro basketball's most important rookie since Garnett re-started high school stars going straight to the NBA in 1995. Thus began more than a decade of decay in college basketball that was eventually addressed when NBA commissioner David Stern instituted a one-year wait on high school seniors wanting to make the leap to the pros. Jennings has a three-year contract for a guaranteed $1 million, but he also has an out to enter the NBA draft after Year 1 and 2 of the deal. Under Armour just gave Jennings a four-year endorsement deal, banking that he could do it all, and more.

"To me, this is the best path to get ready for the NBA," one Western Conference general manager said. "But the thing is: You better be a mentally tough kid to pull this off. This isn't going to be college, where they're going to hold your hand and never make you figure out anything for yourself."

Virtus coach Jasmin Repesa introduced his young millionaire to pro ball in the first week of training camp, insisting that he had to play hard all the time. Alone in that locker room, it hit Jennings again: This is the best thing that ever happened to him. As money goes, the NBA Developmental League can't come close. As coaching and competition go, the Euroleague is mostly superior. There are no NCAA limits on practice time. There are no AAU bagmen pretending to be assistant coaches. Jennings will get coached and get benched and get the best-paying professional apprenticeship in history.

"We just got back from a three-day road trip to Serbia, and it was three days on the road with older guys, where I had to work to fit in," Jennings said. "This is the pro life. Nobody is babysitting me. The biggest thing for me is this: I have to prove myself. I want to let these guys know that I'm here to help them win. I don't want them to think that I'm just some hotshot American kid trying to take all the shine here so I can set myself up for the NBA draft.

"Here, it isn't like what basketball was in the US, where everyone just sits back and watches the individual player. It's team first here. People come to watch the team play, and the team win. What I want to do is build relationships with my teammates, with my coaches. That's what people are wondering if I can do "

As it turned out, Jennings's four-year contract with Under Armour will pay him comparably to the top three picks in the 2008 NBA draft. Between sneakers and salary, sources say, Jennings is making over $1 million a year. Under Armour hired Kris Stone, a magazine publisher and architect of the Elite 24 High School event in New York, to start a basketball branding division and he immediately made a shrewd investment: Let's compete with Nike and Adidas to sign the teenager who could become his generation's trail blazer. New basketball company, new basketball frontier. Stone had a history with Jennings, a relationship born out of his All-Star game, and always believed this was the right talent, the right kid, to make this happen.

Vaccaro sold Virtus and Jennings on the Under Armour partnership, negotiating the contracts and shoe deals. To Vaccaro, the godfather of the basketball shoe deal, this feels like it did when he put Nike and Michael Jordan together in 1984. "This is almost like what Michael did, because he could've gone to Adidas, which was still part of Converse," Vaccaro said. "Nike was practically nothing. I told Brandon and his mother: If you hit with Under Armour, you're the man there.' "

Now, the telephone calls of intrigued parents are flooding into Vaccaro, who always has been able to see where it was all going before everyone else. "In essence, the age limit has been broken," he said. "If Brandon can come back in one piece, the others are going to go. For the right kids, we won't have to play 'pretend' anymore with college basketball."

Outside the NBA, the most intriguing games in the world this season will be the two meetings of Jennings and Virtus Roma with Ricky Rubio and Spain's DVK Jovenut. Those are the nights everyone in the EuroLeague will want to see, the best two young point guards on the planet playing far, far away from the college game.

"Yeah, yeah, I hear all about that," Jennings said. "I've got a lot more to worry about than that, because there are so many great players over here. I better get used to playing with grown men, and I better learn to adjust to the Euro system. I can't just be 'that guy,' worried about the hype of those games with Ricky Rubio. I know everyone is watching to see what happens with me all the time, not just then "

He just turned 19, his basketball burden is immense, and Brandon Jennings swears that he understands the truth. Like his laundry, the kid hangs out on a line in Italy.[/quote]

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Fan Mail with Å ar?nas Jasikevi?ius on Euroleague website. Some really nice comments abou NT by Å aras.

Quote:Hello Sarunas. Is it more difficult to find a steady role in a team with such a big roster as Panathinaikos? Thank you,

Stelios Vourakis - Greece

"Yes, at times it's very difficult to find the rhythm. This is our advantage, as you know, having 12 players and lots of rotations and keeping bodies fresh. I can even imagine this system making my career longer, because it's not so taxing on my body and Coach Obradovic protects my minutes, knowing that I and other guys play year-round with our summer commitments to national teams and stuff like that. But at the same time, it can be a disadvantage. One game you start, one you don't, or you're in the game more one time, less the next. If you are not playing well from the beginning, someone can take your spot. This is a disadvantage for me, personally, because it almost feels like you don't have time to really enter the game and get involved in it sometimes."

Hello Saras. I want ask you a simple question. Where would you like to end your incredible career?

Edgaras, Lithuania

"My dream is to end my career with the Lithuanian national team jersey. This, for me, is the most important team in my life. I have been very lucky to play for Panathinaikos, Barcelona and Maccabi, and each will always hold a special place in my heart, Barcelona and Maccabi maybe more so right now because I haven't yet had European success with Panathinaikos, although I hope that will change this year. But I am very happy here at PAO. People really go out of their way to make me comfortable. They want me to be happy in Athens, and as a player, I have a lot of appreciation for that."

Saras, I really want to know: Do you miss your days in Tel Aviv? In that period of time, it seems to me that I and all fans in Israel observed basketball as an art. And you conducted the orchestra. Thanks,

Uri Levy - Israel

"Yes, I really do. This was the best time in my life, basketball-wise, and maybe even in my personal life. Obviously, our achievements speak for themselves, as far as what we won and the beautiful way of playing. But what I really remember most are our trips and bus rides: six or seven guys in the back of the bus talking randomly about whatever topics, not just basketball: relationships, marriages, whatever. There were seven or eight of us back there babbling like women for two hours at a time. You don't find groups of men doing that. We had long dinners together with our wives and girlfriends, too. We were really close. It was perfect. So, yes, I miss those days, but I'm also very conscious of how hard it is to put teams together like that one, and I really believe I will not experience this anymore in my career."

Hi, Saras. What is your biggest achievement with the national team and at the club level in your long basketball career? All the best,

Alex - Nicosia, Cyprus

"At the club level, there's nothing better than winning the Euroleague, and on the national team, nothing better than winning the bronze at the Olympics or the gold in the European championships. The biggest thing for me is playing for the national team. I love my country and playing for the people there. I'm absolutely crazy about them. There is nothing better than playing preparation or exhibition games for the Olympics or whatever in gyms around Lithuania with 5,000 crazy people loving every minute of it. That's what I'll miss the most."

Hello Sarunas! I am a fan of Panathinaikos and a big fan of you and I also play on the Greek national team for men under 19. Where do you find your imagination to give such unbelievable passes? I try to use your style in my games!

Akis Kondylis - Greece

"It's in the good genes, probably. Both my parents were athletes. But I also watch a lot of videos, whether my own or those of Magic Johnson, John Stockton, people like that. I try to do some things that they did. In the end, I think I am blessed with some talent to play this game, no question, but certain things come to you naturally and others come from learning the game and watching how others play it."

Hi Saras. Are you thinking of joining the Lithuania national team for the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey? I hope so, because you have so many fans like me in Turkey waiting to see you. Thank you and good luck.

Betul Tancagi - Turkey

"I'm not thinking about it, to be honest, I'm not thinking about the summer of 2009 yet, so I'm not going to think about 2010 now, either. The thing with the national team is, you know, all my brothers-in-arms are leaving. The players of my generation who've been with me on the team most of the last 10 years have announced their retirement or might. It's just like, in a lot of ways, the decision is kind of being made for me far as the national team, although it will be the hardest decision in my career, to let go of playing for my country."

Hello, Sarunas, from Lithuania. Do you think Panathinaikos is now strong enough to win the Euroleague this year?

Mindaugas Noreika - Lithuania

"Look, we've been very inconsistent. We play good basketball, but we don't shoot well and we have too many turnovers a lot. If we fix those things, we can battle with the best teams. We have talent. We've lacked a little motivation, but that won't be a problem in the Top 16. The best thing is that our players are internationally known and respect, but they all play for their countries and don't rest in the summer, and sometimes it's difficult playing year-round at your best. Now come the tough games, though, and I like our team's chances, I really do. We must change some things and we have to continue with our good attitude on defense. We can't turn the ball over so much and we must make some shots in key moments. We're able to get good looks at the basket, but a lot of times, we're not making the shots. If we do that, we can fight with anybody."

Hello Saras, I want to ask you which game on the Lithuanian national team was most momentous to you?

Erlandas Paplauskas - Lithuania

"I always said there are bad memories and good memories. There's nothing better than the final when we won the European championships in Stockholm or our third-place bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics. There was nothing worse than the semifinals at the Athens Olympics and the 1999 European quarterfinal we lost in Paris. In basketball these days, it's difficult to win all the time, because so many countries are good. I am just glad that in my time we had some success."

Hello, Saras. I hope you are well, and hopefully Panathinaikos will do great in the Top 16. Do you have some tips that a basketball player needs to follow on game day? Greetings,


"I don't believe in preparing on game day as much as I do in the days leading up to the game. You just have to work more than the next guy. Obviously, talent is important, but you just have to work more than the person next to you to do something for the team. If you only do it for yourself, it's not as important. The best player is always the one who makes the team better. I get more pleasure from a good pass than from scoring a basket."

Dear Mr. Jasikevicius, after your prosperous career playing in Europe and the USA, could you describe your feelings playing in small team like Olimpija Ljubljana as opposed to giant ones like Panathinaikos or your NBA teams? Kind regards,

Mitja Krizan - Ljubljana, Slovenia

"I have been lucky to be surrounded with very good teammates, really. It's been one of the reasons for the success we had, just what good teammates we had, good people and so on. It's a little different playing in a place like Ljubljana, of course. There are not high expectations on a European level. Your team's always the underdog. You're not the hunted: you're hunting. That's what we wanted to do, hunt down and surprise big teams. That was at the beginning of my career and I couldn't have been more lucky than to be with Coach Sagadin, who is one of the best at developing young players. It was nice, but in general organizations are different, as you suggest. They do things their way according to the country. In some countries, it's easier to find some things, and in others, it's easier to find other things."

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I see he's got quite a lot of fans in Greece and Cyprus.
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
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Igor Rakocevic was elected as Euroleague January MVP.

Quote:In an era when teams rely less and less on scoring stars, it might seem more than enough to state that Euroleague Basketball's choice as January MVP, Igor Rakocevic of Tau Ceramica, is collecting points more efficiently than any player this decade. With the amazing month that Rakocevic just had, however, that would be saying too little. In addition to posting .75 points per minute so far this season - more than any Euroleague player's full-season scoring rate since at least 2000 - Rakocevic spent January harvesting milestones and records at every turn. He started the month by setting a new Euroleague mark for consecutive free throws made while posting his career-high scoring total, 31 points, in a crucial victory that won Tau first place in its regular season group. He finished January by marking his 100th career Euroleague game with 14 points in the first 7 minutes of what became a 22-point blowout victory with which Tau open the Top 16 in style. All told during three victories in January, Rakocevic averaged 23.3 points and 5 rebounds while matching the best three-game scoring span of his six-season Euroleague career. Those stellar performances made Igor Rakocevic a more-than-deserving choice as Euroleague Basketball's MVP for January.
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
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Igor Rakocevic' interview to the Euroleague website:

Over more than a decade at the top levels of European basketball, there has never been any doubt that Igor Rakocevic of Tau Ceramica, named January MVP by Euroleague Basketball this week, is a born scorer of the type that comes along very rarely. This season, however, Rakocevic has out-done himself. His 20 points per game lead the Euroleague rankings by a wider margin than any full-season scoring leader this decade. They also mark his highest average scoring in European competition. At age 30, Rakocevic says that not only experience but accomplishment have given him a new outlook on basketball. "I needed in my career to win something big like the league title in Spain last year, and after reaching that with the team, it gave me tremendous tranquility and confidence," Rakocevic told "I have started enjoying basketball much more than before."

Igor, before talking basketball, this is a difficult moment at your club after the news that Tiago Splitter's teenage sister died of leukemia. How much does this affect the team?

"It affects the team a lot, really a lot. When we found out this morning, it was really devastating news for us, because always family is the most important thing. It's especially sad in the case of Tiago, who is one of the best guys I have ever known in my basketball career. It's incredibly hard for him, I know, and hard for our team, yes, but Tiago is most important now. We must give our best to help him go through this hard moment in the best possible way."

Now, congratulations on such a great month of January. Everyone who always knew you were a great scorer sees something extra in your performance this season. What is it?

"Last year, after we won the Spanish Supercup and the Spanish ACB League title, I got a big boost in confidence and a big boost in my tranquility. I needed in my career to win something big like the league title in Spain last year, and after reaching that with the team, it gave me tremendous tranquility and confidence, and I have started enjoying basketball much more than before. It was a spectacular moment for me to win the Spanish title. This year, I am playing better all around, improving in defense and rebounding. I also think that playing the last three years with the same guys is hugely important. We know each other better, it's easier than before to play together. It's logical after so much time, but it's always getting better. My teammates are really incredible. We really work together as a team and know lot of tricks between us that we use during games. It helps a lot. I think I owe a lot to Coach Ivanovic, too. From the first moment here, he gave me a lot of confidence and freedom, and I think I have managed to return that confidence to him by playing good. It's everything I mention. Each thing helps a little bit and when all of them come together in the right place, it makes playing easier. I feel now I am a much better player than before."

How was the motivation factor among you and your teammates in January to first win your regular season group and then start the Top 16 strong?

"Those were very big motivations. We are really pushing hard this season in the Euroleague because we have already achieved practically everything we can in Spain. Now, we want to make one more step in the Euroleague. The first objective is, of course, to reach the Final Four, and then to make it at least to the final game. We would be happy with one more step than we made the last two seasons. So now it looks good. We are motivated for every game and we know our goal. It is very clear what we want, even though we also know it will be hard to survive against so many good teams in Europe."

Igor Rakocevic - Tau CeramicaAs great as you guys were playing all season, you still had that must-win game at Lottomatica in Rome, which started January with a huge overtime win. Was it good to be in that must-win situation?

"Yes, it was the key game of the first round in the Euroleague. We needed to win that game to be in first place for sure. We prepared very good for it and knew very clearly that it meant first place. What was funny, however, was that we had one of our worst three-point shooting performances in that game, but we did good in some other things and still won. We should have finished it earlier - we were up 10 points with 2 minutes left - but Roma is a good team and came back to tie. It wasn't easy, but we passed a good test in overtime."

In January's middle game, Tau had nothing to gain, but you took revenge against the only other team besides Roma that had beaten you, DKV Joventut, knocking them out of the Top 16. What was the motivation that night?

"There were some rumors that we read saying that it depended on our game which of the other two teams entered the Top 16. We just made sure to do our job professionally, to come out and play our best and see what happened. We came out, played a very good game and beat Joventut clearly in the second half. Like I said, we did our job professionally."

To open the Top 16 last week against Asseco Prokom, you scored 14 points in 7 minutes of a big win. Some people were thinking early in that game that you might look for a scoring record. Not you?

"No, because usually in the games where we lead by 20 or more in the first half, our coach wants to give more playing time to players who normally play less. Players like Pablo Prigioni, Tiago Splitter and me get substituted earlier and play less in those situations. Those games are very good to help teammates who need playing time for their confidence to have good games. Then, when the big games come later, they will be able to contribute and help the team more. When we are clearly going to win after the first half, we try to make sure the other players get their confidence, too."

How much of an effect has your new coach, Dusko Ivanovic, had on your strong season?

"He has for sure had a very good and significant effect on my game. Of course, he's a good coach, very honest and righteous in what he does. It doesn't matter if he likes you or not, where you are from or what he thinks about you off the court: if you do what you should on the court and do thing how he says to do them, you are going to play. It's very hard to practice for him; every practice is run at the maximum level, which is very hard. But it turns out to be very effective, too. A lot of our players this year are doing really good. The other big quality Coach Ivanovic has is that he pays a lot of attention to details. I have seen this kind of work before playing for coaches like Zeljko Obradovic, and it's true that the details are as important as anything. They are the difference between a good team and a great team."

How does a scorer keep scoring when whole defenses are focused on stopping him?

"It is really hard. It's very important for a shooting guard to understand that there are going to be some games when you are not going to make your shots. Once you understand that even if you miss shots, you can still have a great game doing other things, that's when you become a real shooting guard. It has happened to me a lot of times this year that in the first half, I score 2 or 4 points because my shot is missing. But I keep playing defense, rebounding and helping, and in the end, it always turns out good, it always comes back. That is the key. To be able to score you have to be mentally very strong. I think shooting guard is one of hardest positions to play on a team because you depend a lot on the point guard and on screens from the big guys. And the other team's defense might decide to help or not with your defender, to double-team you on pick-and-rolls. You have to recognize all of that. But you have to know that you don't have to enter every game and start scoring. You have to enter relaxed and play basketball and be very, very focused."

Despite all that, you rarely look stressed on the court. Why not?

"It's because, as I said, once you receive in your career everything you tried for, you get that kind of confidence and satisfaction, and it shows on your face. I am really happy now with how my career has turned out. I had some problems when I was younger in my family - my mother died when I was 18 and that hurt a lot - and also outside. I didn't enjoy sometimes to play basketball. All of that has changed in the last three or four years and now I am super happy with everything and enjoy playing more than ever."

Igor Rakocevic - Tau CeramicaIn that case, at age 30, what do you consider the goals you have left?

"The only thing lacking my career now is the Euroleague championship and the Spanish Cup. I know that winning the Euroleague is a huge goal to have, but I hope that this season or another soon, I will reach it. This season, I will be happy to reach one of those goals. Of course, I would be happy to win any of the three - Euroleague, Spanish League or Spanish Cup - with Tau this season. Any one of them would make my career happier, but my goal is to add one more title this year, and hopefully one I haven't won before."

After being in the last two Final Fours with Tau, what have you learned about what it takes to win the Euroleague?

"I played two times in the Final Four so far, and I tell you, it gives you incredible experience. Those games are seriously something special Every detailed is covered. There's a lot of tactics. There's an incredible intensity to those games. Now, we have a lot more experience since a lot of players on our team have been to at least two Final Fours. Now, we know what's waiting for us if we enter the Final Four again. We had a little bad luck in the last two years to face in the semifinals the teams that became the champions. Although we came close to beating CSKA last year, we needed a little more quality to our game. I think it would have been easier to play the other teams in the semifinals. This year, if we make it, maybe things will come out different for us. In any case, we have a lot more experience now and if we get the chance again, we're going to respond better than last year or two years ago."
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
[Image: vspa.jpg]

David Hawkins' interview to Euroleague website:

Three months ago, no basketball expert would have predicted that Armani Jeans Milano would be where it stands now: alone in first place and unbeaten in its Top 16 group. In fact, few would have thought Milano could even reach the Top 16 after starting 0-4 in a shortened,10-game regular season. Since then, however, Milano has won seven out of eight games, ended champion CSKA's undefeated season and made itself a contender to reach the quarterfinal playoffs. The team leader in Milano's transformation has been defensive ace guard David Hawkins, who leads the team in scoring (14.3 ppg.), assists (2.8 apg), steals (1.8 spg) and free-throw shooting (85%). In his third Euroleague season, Hawkins belongs solidly among the elite do-it-all backcourt players on whom the best Euroleague teams tend to rely for heart, soul and big minutes. Now, as Milano travels to face mighty Tau Ceramica to mark the halfway point of the Top 16, experience tells Hawkins that he and his teammates must seize the moment. "Right now, we're in a position that can't be better," Hawkins told "So we have to capitalize on it. We don't want to look back with any regrets. We've got to go out, leave everything on the floor and take this opportunity we have, because it's a great one."

Hi David. You've been around the Euroleague a few years. How difficult is to get to the position Milano has reached now, 2-0 in the Top 16?

"The Top 16 is basically when it gets real. You have the teams here that are built to get to the Final Four, and you have sleeper teams like us, I guess, who can surprise people. In the Top 16, you can't take any games off. Every game is important. The fact that we started 2-0 is a great thing, but now we have to capitalize on that, if possible, and try to put a lock on first place. We'll try to do that with 100 percent of what we've got."

Few people realized, back when the team was 0-4 in the regular season, that Milano was capable of winning 7 out of the next 8. How much did you guys know?

"Basically, that was a tough moment for our team. We had a lot of bad breaks early in the season and hadn't been lucky at all with injuries and everything. We had a tough start in the Italian League, too. And what was important is that we didn't push the panic button. We knew we were shorthanded, and besides out first loss at CSKA by about 30 points, all of our other losses were close even though we were missing guys. We had to keep working and keep believing that things would turn around when we got healthy. And eventually, that started to show."

David Hawkins - AJ Milano The turnaround game seems to have been CSKA at home, ending their win streak. What kind of night was that?

"It's true that a win is a win and you don't get two victories for any single one. But a win against a team like CSKA - with the history they have, their coaching and everything, makes them one of the best teams, if not the best, in Europe - does a lot for your confidence, for the city, for the people who support you. It was very emotional, even more so because we came back from down 20 down in the first half. To do that against a team like CSKA showed that we have character and that we can't settle for less. We're a good team, but with a great work attitude, we can be great."

In the Top 16 opener, Milano beat Olympiacos and your old college teammate, Lynn Greer. You guys held him to 6 points. Were you applying any secrets from the old days as his teammates?

"Not really, because I've known Lynn many years, but there's not much you can do to stop him. You can try to contain him and hope he has an off night. We tried to attack him and keep him busy on defense so that he couldn't put all his concentration on offense. I think he got in a little foul trouble that way and his time on the court that night was limited, so it helped. But you have to remember that a team like Olympiacos is not just Lynn, and we remembered that, too."

Going to play Tau on the road this week, do you see it as a chance lock on first place in the group?

"It's definitely a big possibility and a big opportunity for us. We just have to go into this game to win it. We can't go to Tau just to play because it's our next game. We have to play against Tau like we have against everybody lately. We know they are a great team, especially at their place, but that just means we have nothing to lose. We just have to go play."

Every one knows you as a top defender, too. This week you'll face the Euroleague's top scorer this season, Igor Rakocevic. How do you stop him?

"I know he's a great shooter and very experienced. And like I said, there is no way to totally stop a team's top offensive weapon. But it's not going to come down to one player, either. You've got to play great team defense. I guess he's going to get his shots up, but we'll try to make them difficult shots. We can't let him get into his game with easy buckets. We'll play him tough like any great scorer, but personally I will take it as a challenge to go up against the top scorer in the Euroleague. I consider myself a good defender, so it's a challenge for me. I can't reveal him, but I plan to stop him as best I can."

Head coach Svetislav Pesic brought took you to Lottomatica Roma a few years ago and then you played alongside Dejan Bodiroga the next season. How important were those two guys to your career?

"Pesic is knows as a very tough coach and everything, but I'm glad had a chance top play for a coach like him. He just gave me the truth, and didn't butter it up. He put defense first and said that if you play good defense, then you can play free on offense. But the first thing was defense, and that's pretty much where I made my mark at, while he allowed me to do my thing offensively. With Dejan Bodiroga, I was playing with one of the most decorated players in European history, and that was an experience I can take with me for many years. His professionalism, how he approached the game, the respect he had in Europe and worldwide, all were just amazing. No matter where we went, to the toughest gyms in Europe, he got a standing ovation every time. And he was a real class guy."

David Hawkins - Armani Jeans Milano You are a steals specialist, one of the leaders in the Euroleague year in, year out. Do you have a special feel for steals, do you practice to improve in this topic?

"It really takes a lot of something that's not really skills, but more about anticipation. Basically, you have to have the will to want to get the steal, even though seven times out of 10, you won't get it. The three times you will get it, you have to go get it, but the other seven times you have to be ready to go. A lot of coaches don't want gambling, but once you have that feeling and think you steal, you have to be free to try. It's easier to sit back on defense and let the play run, but I try to be as disruptive as I can. I guess I have a feel for the type of situation where I can gamble and when I can't. It's a lot of instinct."

Some years you have been asked to be a scorer, some years just a defender. Where is the balance for you at Milano?

"Well, my thing is defense. I take pride in my defense. I take it as a challenge. When I step on the court, I don't want anybody beating me or saying that David Hawkins couldn't check this guy. That's why great defenders are that way. They take it as a personal challenge. So I do that anyway. No matter what a team asks of me, they will get my best defense. But this year is a lot different from the last couple years in Rome, where I wasn't asked to score as much and last year wasn't needed to, because we had scorers playing down low like Erazem Lorbek and we played inside first a lot. This year, Milano is more guard oriented, so my scoring load is up, and I'm not shy about scoring, either."

Looking ahead, as perhaps the guy with the most recent Top 16 experience on your team, what does Milano have to do to keep this good thing going and make the playoffs?

"It's true that few players on the team have as much Euroleague experience as me. Coach Bucchi has a lot of confidence in me and tells me I am the leader on the team. Basically, we have to continue to do what we did to get to this point, believe in ourselves and work hard. No one expected us to be in this position in the Euroleague, not at the beginning of the season for sure. But we can't worry about what people outside are saying. We have to believe in ourselves and right now we're in a position that can't be better. So we have to capitalize on it. We don't want to look back with any regrets. We've got to go out, leave everything on the floor and take this opportunity we have, because it's a great one. I'm not saying we're going to win every game, but if we lose, we have to bounce back. I am trying my best to let the guys know that it's not every day that a team has this opportunity to move forward in the Euroleague. I'm going to try to get them ready."
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
[Image: vspa.jpg]

Zeljko Obradovic was interviewed by La Gazzetta dello Spor. Here are some interesting points:

Quote:I had quite a lot of offers from National Teams to coach them part-time until the 2012 Olympics. But I am done with National Teams. I am not interested. I want to stay in Panathinaikos.

Quote:No coach wants to coach 12 American players. But domestic players must not rely on their passports but instead work harder. The Greek players of Panathinaikos play for me because they are good enough and not because of their nationality.
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
[Image: vspa.jpg]

Novica Velckovic won the Euroleague February MVP Award
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
[Image: vspa.jpg]

Partizan-PAO game will be played in the new Beograd Arena which capacity is about 20.000 tickets. The tickets were sold in a matter of hours and we could have a new Euroleague attendance record ourselves on Thursday.
Respect and thanks for everything:

Alvertis, Bodiroga, Jasikevicius, Radja, Wilkins, Vrankovic, Fotsis, Rebraca, Kattash, Gentile, Koch, Middleton, Kutluay, Rogers, Papadopoulos, Becirovic, Tomasevic, Siskauskas, Pekovic, Lakovic, Vujanic, Chatzivrettas, Maljkovic, Spanoulis and many more to follow in the near future.
[Image: vspa.jpg]


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