The press conference prior to the final is already a tradition for Real Madridfrom not playing in a Final Four in 15 years (until they qualified in 2011), to participating in their first final in 2013, precisely against Olympiacos, and since then having gotten into in six of the last ten, with two titles. The same routine for the Greek team, which has two trophies (three in total: 1997, 2012 and 2013) and five finals of the last eleven. The best of the last decade.
Four great protagonists to talk about the final, the two coaches and their two stars, Edy Tavares and Kostas Sloukas. Georgios Bartzokas was already the coach of the red army in 2013, in the victory against Madrid, although not in the 2015 defeat against the whites at the Palace. The Greek went through Barça in 2016-17, but without success in a difficult moment for the Barcelona club. Chus Mateo returned to the merengue entity, then as Laso’s assistantin the 2014-15 campaign, that of the perfect season with the full of conquests.
Of the players, Sloukas, in his ninth Final Four, aspires to his fourth crown (two in Piraeus and one with Fenerbahçe), while Tavares is chasing his second cup and who knows if the MVP, like Doncic in 2018. The four know well what a Euroleague final is about and they transmit it that way.
Georgios Bartzokas: “We know how Madrid attacks and the impact of Tavares”
The Final Four, the failure… “We are very proud to be part of this event as a team, because of how tough the Euroleague is. I have discussed it with Chus Mateo, you have to survive difficult situations to be there. None of the four teams that reach the Final Four can fail, but now it is necessary to take one last step. We will try to do our best against a fabulous rival”.
The danger of Madrid. “We don’t have to remember anything to be focused, we know the danger of Madrid. A club awaits us that has reached the final despite having many absences, we saw how they played yesterday, how they came back against Partizan in the playoffs from 0-2. That shows the talent of their players. Nothing will be easy in the final, for sure”.
“Wake up, Bartzokas!” A fan told him before Monaco. “Basketball is a sport with many ups and downs, many emotions. A fan told me in the first part that he had to wake me up, that he thought he was asleep. Sometimes the ups and downs are hard for the players to deal with.”
They won the 2013 final against Madrid. “Basketball changes a lot, a game of the same level now compared to 2013 is very different. Sloukas and Papanikolaou were at that match and Llull, Chacho and Rudy were playing in Madrid. The teams are different, although the same clubs, very big, everyone in Europe knows both entities. I have a lot of respect for Chus Mateo and for Madrid, but I have a lot of confidence in my team”.
The party plan. “Today we have a meeting after lunch to prepare for the game. We know how Madrid attack, we know the impact of Tavares, they are very strong in rebounding and splitting balls. You have to continue like all year round, with as few changes as possible”.
The importance of the national block in both squads. “If you have a group of national players, they know the culture of the club, of the fans, they can better defend the interests of the entity, but it is also evident that there is a lack of production of local players, and that is a major problem right now. Same in Europe. The kids are more interested in being with the screens than going out to play basketball. Only great talents come out and then they go to the NBA, it’s difficult, and I’ve also been training in Russia and Spain. In the end, Madrid ended up with El Chacho, Llull and Rudy and we with ours. You need, if not national, a group of seven or eight players who have been together and then go signing each summer.
Memories of the 2013 Final Four in London. “I have good memories of that Final Four because we won the title, in the semifinals we dominated CSKA and in the final we came back 17 points against Madrid. But you can’t go forward looking at the past, I don’t like living in the past. Also, I didn’t realize then how important the title was until I got to Athens and there were 20,000 people waiting for us. Now we are different people, ten years older, and I want to enjoy the current inertia”.
Management of withdrawals from Spanoulis and Printezis. “We don’t have a huge budget as a club, but we do have a good organization and we know how to choose competent people, in the squad, but also in the technical team. Since the club’s first title in 1997, basketball and the Euroleague have changed a lot, before 15 games were played. The club manages these situations of change well”.
Kostas Sloukas: “Tomorrow is my saint’s day, I want the title, I’m looking forward to it”
The great objective of San Kostas. “We have been thinking about this day since August and now we are very happy to have achieved it. The road has been very long and difficult and we have the last 40 minutes left, we will fight for every possession. Tomorrow is my saint according to the Orthodox Church, my best gift would be to get the title”.
Manage the pressure. “I am looking forward to the final, as if it were my first Final Four, but during the preparation you do what you have done all year. You have to think about the most basic things and focus on the mental part”.
The importance of titles. “When I arrived at Olympiacos and spoke with the president before signing, I had in mind to get trophies, that was my biggest goal.”
Chus Mateo: “Olympiacos is a basketball machine”
The rival, a basketball machine. “I congratulate Olympiacos on their classification, because they are a basketball machine. It’s a pleasure to be here in my first year as head coach. It has also been a very complicated road for us, in which there have been injuries, problems and bad moments during the season, but we are in the final. It has been the toughest season in recent Euroleague history and we have to dream. It is a pride to have come this far and we are not going to stop ”.
The hobby. “I appreciate the support of those who have come here, the fans who have traveled, and the rest who are looking out for us and I tell them that we will leave our souls, that is always linked to this team. We will have our options.”
The competitiveness. “We have a competitive gene, but also Olympiacos, with people like Sloukas and Papanikolaou. If something has brought us here, it is knowing how to be together and knowing how to bring out our best moments in difficult moments”.
The national block and chemistry. “Of course, the players who have been in the team the longest are important, but playing as a block is more important, you have to combine experienced players with others who are in their first Final Four. Staying together in difficult times, playing together is the most important thing. We have very good chemistry.”
The comeback against Partizan. “We were five wins away from the title and at 0-2 we were still five wins away. We focus on that. When things were very bad we kept thinking that we could come back and we did”.
Moustapha Fall, 2.18, in front of Tavares. “Fall is the size of Edy and a great passer, he knows the game a lot. It’s going to be a very nice duel for the viewer, hopefully Tavares continues at the same level, because for us it is absolutely key. A very beautiful individual duel that we hope will fall on our part ”.
Lasso’s memory. “Pablo Laso showed us the way, for the last eight years I have been working with him, we have been together. He got the team to reach the Final Four after a long time, the way he worked has made us continue working the same way. I am very happy and proud to have been by his side for eight years. I wish him the best, and now we have to think about the game and the future.”
The absences of Deck, Poirier and Yabusele. “There are casualties, but the players we have in the team have to be enough to leave our skin and do our best.”
Edy Tavares: “The balls they give me in attack are gifts”
The way to the end. “This is a very important objective and it has been difficult to get here, with a new coach who has helped us a lot and a team that has endured, that has fought together. I will try to enjoy the game, Olympiacos did fantastically and we followed them a lot”.
The hobby. “I would tell our fans that I have great ambition to win, that we want to make them proud, whether we win or lose.”
The physical demand due to the absence of the injured. “In the team there are casualties throughout the year, it is a bad thing that Vincent Poirier is not there, we share the position very well. I always have to worry about defense and then the balls they give me in attack are gifts, that’s how I understand it”.
Moustapha Fall, a great adversary. “He does a lot of things well, like I do, he’s my size and I know it’s going to cost me a lot. I will do my best to stop him.”