We made it to the Final Four! From Day 1, it is good to see how everything has evolved, from having a successful regular season, finishing number two in the EuroLeague and having the home-court advantage in the playoffs, winning against Baskonia to reach one of the goals that we set since the first day of the training camp: making it to the Final Four. And like I have been saying in the last couple of weeks, this is unfinished business. It is very tough and everybody talks about how tough it is to go to the Final Four, but we don’t want to just be there, we want to win. It is not the same format as the playoffs, this is win-or-go-home, so obviously we need to take one game at a time and get ready for a battle against Zalgiris.
Getting to the Final Four was one of the goals and we are happy and pleased to be there, but now we are preparing to play a good game against Zalgiris. It will be my first Final Four and I want to have success in Belgrade, a city with a lot of history for some of our players and our coach. Our storyline will be right there, and we will be focused and ready to go. We have a lot of confidence and I am excited for this opportunity. I have some friends who will be coming to support us and a sea of blue-and-gold will be in Belgrade, too. We will get great support from Fener fans; they have been there for us, also on the road, all season long. It has been great to have that atmosphere and play in front of them, at home and on the road. They will give us a lot of confidence. We have to put the distractions away so that we can be ready for the moment when the time comes to do well on the court and get the wins that we expect.
It all starts with our game against Zalgiris. They have been playing great basketball, especially in the last month. Both teams know each other; they beat us in our home court early on in the season and we got them back at their place. They are a really hard-nosed team defensively, fundamentally sound, but we will be ready and well-prepared. We will go there with confidence and will try to play Fenerbahce ball on offense and defense, I am confident in our team.
Some of our players won the EuroLeague last season and most of the new players are very experienced, just not in the EuroLeague Final Four. A lot of us have played big-time games at our respective levels. I played in the NBA playoffs and guys like Brad Wanamaker, Sinan Guler and Nicolo Melli are very experienced and though they didn’t play in the Final Four, they played big games at different levels. We have to control our emotions, all of us, and can’t take where we are for granted. There is unfinished business until we play in Belgrade. Every team will have pressure and I guess that makes the Final Four so unique. It is similar to college basketball in the NCAA, which is also win-or-go-home, but you have a best-of-five playoffs series before the Final Four. In any case, you have to put all of your stuff on the line to play those important games and win it. It is not easy, but I really believe we can do it.
There will also be a great matchup between Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow. I have a good friend in CSKA, Kyle Hines. They have a lot of experience, but Real Madrid is getting healthy and has a lot of talent as well. Fans will see two competitive games in a historical city like Belgrade with a lot of fans anxious and excited for the games to start. These are going to be great games to watch. Not only did we play in Belgrade during the season, but we actually played some pre-season games there too, so I am familiar with the atmosphere Serbian fans can create. We have a lot of guys who are connected to this city and I expect some Serbian fans to support our team. I am sure it is going to be an overwhelming week and I hope it will be a successful one, too.
We all know how we got here, how hard we worked and how much intensity and effort we put in to make it to the Final Four. We know that we cannot do things too much differently and must play our game as a team, not as individuals. We know what we have to do, the EuroLeague title is on the line and this is what we will go to Belgrade for. When you sign for a team like Fenerbahce, you want to go to the Final Four and win. The first destination is getting there and the next is to win, which would be very memorable. We want to win for our family, our teammates, our coaches, our fans, our city… and the list goes on! Everything will be taken into consideration when we play our game against Zalgiris. We have to take one game at a time.