On the verge of playing in the Euroleague Final Four CSKA head coach Ettore Messina decided to share his thoughts on the team, the opponents and historical flashbacks with the fans and the media.
Ettore Messina: We never experienced the lack of motivation this year
On the verge of playing in the Euroleague Final Four CSKA head coach Ettore Messina decided to share his thoughts on the team, the opponents and historical flashbacks with the fans and the media.

- It will be seventh Final Four in a row for CSKA and your eighth Final Four as a head coach. What do you feel being part of the tournament history?

- Every time it’s different. The more you go to the Final Four, the more you want to come back there. Like David Vanterpool says, it’s like an addiction. Once you experienced it, you want more and more of it. You’re ready to do whatever it takes. We’re lucky to be there again with CSKA, which is the first class organization that gives us the possibility to build a strong team providing all the support from the club. Still, it’s an incredible accomplishment. I’m even more proud of my team, because this is the second time when we return to the Final Four after winning the title. Only Maccabi Tel Aviv and Kinder Bologna were able to do that. The consistency shown by our club and by our players is extremely important. It gives us hope, even though it’s more and more difficult, considering how much effort other clubs take to go to the Final Four.

- What do you think is the secret behind this consistency?

- The most important thing is that we had very little change in the club management. Only two persons were in charge – first, Sergey Kuschenko, who was invited by Alexander Gomelsky, and then Andrey Vatutin. Second, we have an efficient decision-making process, with very few people involved in actually making decisions. Third, we try to be very careful while selecting players for our team. We try to invite great players who are also good people and who understand the meaning of playing as a team. Fourth, we had only two coaches over the last 7 years, Dusan Ivkovic (who built the team from the ground up) and myself. And last but not least, our owner. Norilsky Nickel supported CSKA in an incredible way throughout all these years.

- How difficult is to find motivation to go back to the Final Four year after year?

- It’s not that difficult. Having a chance to go back to the Final Four is already a big motivation. Even if you feel a great responsibility to go back there. It’s an incredible pressure to handle. Especially, in the first half of the season, when games are important, but they are not deciding. It might be even tougher if you forget about the perspective, your final goal. At that point, important games and important moments seem distant. This year the fact that we had many changes to our roster helped us. We had to go through many difficult experiences to build the team for those important moments. We never experienced the lack of motivation this year.

- Could you present the three other teams playing in the 2009 Final Four?

- They are the teams with deep rosters, probably even a bit deeper than ours (even though we are a deep team). They are very athletic teams, especially Panathinaikos and Barcelona. All three are excellent pick-n-roll teams, difficult to stop. They have different defensive philosophies, but all of them try to get the maximum out of the size and the abilities of their players.

This Final Four seems to feature top four European teams, which everyone expected to see in Berlin. It happened thanks to the change in the playoffs format: Pao and Barca lost one game at home, but were able to turn the series around. Best-of-five series are definitely better for better teams.

The game Panathinaikos vs. Olympiacos will be extremely attractive for everybody. I think it was in Zaragoza back in 1995 (when Zeljko Obradovic won the Cup with Real Madrid and I was there as a head coach of Italian National Team) that they had Pao against Oly in the semifinal, last time on that level. It will be a very balanced game decided by little things and by great personalities both teams have.
As for our semifinal against Barcelona, it will be a rematch of the game we played in Prague three years ago. Both teams have very few players left who participated in that game. We have Holden, Smodis and Langdon, and they have Navarro, Basile, Trias and Grimau. We’ll also meet our good friend David Andersen, who left us last summer for Barcelona. We are happy he made it to another Final Four. We will be glad to see him as a person, not so much as a player, because he is an excellent player who can be a major threat for us.

Both semifinals will be very tense and might be decided by one episode. The teams that rebound better and defend better will have better chances, as defense and rebounding gives your extra possessions, which is extremely important as nobody knows how you’ll shoot under the pressure of the Euroleague semifinal. It will be very interesting in terms of atmosphere, as two groups of Greek fans are expected to be extremely loud. This might somehow influence the other semifinal as well. It’s the first time we’ll play our semifinal first, but I don’t think this will change much.

- This Final Four will also feature Theo Papaloukas, another former CSKA player...

- Theo is another great friend of us, like David Andersen. He was our, like they say in the US, franchise player, especially in the last three years. After Prague he became one of the symbols of CSKA. We owe him a lot, but I think he also owes a lot to CSKA and his former teammates for his previous successes, both personal and as a team. We had a great time together, because he is a funny and lovely person on and off the court. I will be happy to see him. It will be very special if our ways will cross in Berlin.

- Can you compare this year CSKA to the CSKA that won the Euroleague last year?

- They are two absolutely different teams in terms of roster, style, personalities of the players, experiences we had, opponents we met. The team in 2008 was completely different from the one we had in Athens, which, in turn, was completely different from the one we had in Prague.

- Can you tell us about your future in CSKA? This summer you have the option in your contract to either stay or leave.

- At this moment, I have no idea. I’m much more relaxed than I was last year. I know that together with Andrei Vatutin we will decide what is good for the club, what is good for me. Once again the immediate results won’t influence our decision. I’m lucky to work for this club, because I had common understanding with Sergey Kuschenko, and now I have it with Andrei. I know we will talk with Andrei like two good friends as we did before.


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