Things I’ve seen, people I’ve met, thoughts I’ve had.
Best game attended: Olympiacos Piraeus-Anadolu Efes Istanbul (Playoffs, Game-5)
Not only because of the atmosphere at Peace and Friendship Stadium. Not only because the game was the most important of the season for both teams. It was, in fact, a great basketball game. Anadolu Efes put up a great showing for 25 minutes, then Olympiacos came back strong to finally win it. It was a shame to see Jordan Farmar sitting on the bench because of an injury, missing the last quarter. The game missed some fashion and great quality without him (and, of course, the Turkish side missed his talent).
Honorable Mention: BC Khimki-Olympiacos Piraeus
Khimki has been one of my favorite teams throughout the season. I watched a lot of their games during 2011-12 Eurocup victorious campaign as a commentator with Eurosport Italy, and I was curious to see them in Euroleague. I was not disappointed with the quality of their game, which was brilliant in terms of team identity, chemistry, execution and ability to read the game. They brought all those things to the table when the defending champions Olympiacos visited them in Top 16. And the Greek team answered with a marvelous second half, using their pick and roll play with intelligence and adapting their defense to stop bleeding in the paint, overcoming a 13 points game to force Khimki to their first home defeat in three years in the European cups. Just marvelous.
Best trip: Moscow, Russia
It was my first time in Russia. And it was a great way to celebrate that watching two top level Euroleague games (CSKA-Panathinaikos & Khimki-Olympiacos). I didn’t had time for sightseeing, just a little walk in the Red Square and a couple of coffees. However, it was great to sit down with 16 great players (4 for each team) and get a inside look on their team’s life (especially those that were traveling), spending almost a week there.
Best Interview: Vassilis Spanoulis (Olympiacos Piraeus)
When I sat down with him (we were in Russia at Olympiacos’ hotel, during a Top 16 trip) I felt that Vassilis really understands who he is. A big time player and an important personality for his club and the sports we all love in his country. He was concrete, lucid and pleasant to listen. In fact, I had the same feeling when I spoke with him a few minutes after the regular season victory in Milan (where the home fans rewarded him with a standing ovation) and also in other post game interviews (after the game in Khimki and after Game-5 against Anadolu Efes). He knows that talking to the media is a part of his work and he does it with style. It’s a true pleasure, as a journalist.
Best post game interview: Heiko Schaffartzik (Alba Berlin) after the game vs. Brose Baskets Bamberg
Quote: “We never got down in any way and when we received a punch we gave them two back in their face. And that is what made the difference today”.
My All-Interview 1st Team
Vassilis Spanoulis (Olympiacos Piraeus)
Quote about his work behind-the-scene to get ready for each game: “It is mental preparation, self-criticism, watching lots of videos of yourself because when you watch videos you face the truth, because if you don’t see it you could say that a moment in a game was not your mistake but someone else’s mistake. But when you see the video you see what is real. Of course you need character to pass difficult situations because in the end who is more mentally strong will take the titles”.
Roko Ukic (Panathinaikos Athens)
Quote about playing with Panathinaikos: “It is better to be the host than the guest in that gym [OAKA] and the fans give us support and they support us even when we lose. All that feeling is great even when you see all the flags up on the roof and you feel you are part of something important and that really makes you feel special”.
Kelvin Rivers (BC Khimki Moscow Region)
Quote about his role with Khimki: “To be honest with you I have completely no idea what my role is. I just fit in where I can you know. Whatever is needed whether it is to go and play defense or at times just try to take over when it is needed. I do what I know I can do and I do not do anything I am capable of doing”.
Andy Panko (Unicaja Malaga)
Quote about his Panathinaikos’ stint: “I always wanted to play in Spain, even in the summer, I told my agent that my priority was to play in Spain but when Panathinaikos came, I mean I got to be stupid to pass that up so it was a great opportunity for me to play for one of the best teams in the history of basketball”.
Ioannis Bourousis (EA7 Emporio Armani Milan)
Quote about his life in Italy: “Of course I like my Greek philosophy but Italian life is a lot easier. It is more relaxed. You know Italy. ‘Vai tranquillo!’ [in Italian], you know Italia!”
Coach: Rimas Kurtinaitis (BC Khimki Moscow Region)
Quote about the clutch-time decisions: “I don’t want to tell that those decisions are right, but they’re happy. I don’t know how to explain that, it’s just a feeling coming from inside. I do a lot of things just by feeling, as a former player. if you ask me why I made a substitution or why I call a play, sometimes I have no answer. I just feel we must do what I feel”.
My All-Interview 2nd Team
Marko Popovic (Zalgiris Kaunas)
Quote about his father playing basketball: “I remember him [his father] playing very well because my mum took me to my first game when I was three months old and since I walked into the gym at that time I have never left it. Basketball is basically in my blood”.
Earl Calloway (Unicaja Malaga)
Quote about his life in Malaga: “It’s very relaxing. Everything shuts down from two to five and they just go and enjoy life so that is pretty interesting. There is no stopping in America. A thirty-minute break and you are good to go”.
Rimantas Kaukenas (Zalgiris Kaunas)
Quote about a funny anecdote when he played in Israel: “A few times when I played in Israel there were some funny things because some people thought I was Dolph Lundgren! If I walked outside in the mall in Tel Aviv, people sometimes came to me asking ‘Are you Dolph Lundgren?’ [smiles]”.
CJ Wallace (FC Barcelona Regal)
Quote about a funny moment during a waiting in the airport when he was playing in Capo d’Orlando, Italy: “We had to keep ourselves entertained, we were a small team in Italy, you know we couldn’t buy fancy iPads and stuff like that so we played hide and seek and it wasn’t a very big airport so there weren’t a lot of places to hide and there was a store kind of near the base…and while the guy was counting I went in there and put on a helmet and had a bag and just kind of stood in the window for a little while. The lady that was working in the store was very nice, she let me get away with it but no-one found me for like 15 or 20 minutes and I won!”.
Kresimir Loncar (BC Khimki)
Quote about playing in Russia: “I have been here for a long time and I can speak Russian but it is not easy for a European player to come to Russia. I think that the players who come here in the first year can see that this is an unbelievable city. It is cold but it is cold in other European cities as well. If you want nice weather then you go for the summer to Ibiza”.