For his first continental crown in 1992, Obradovic took a Belgrade team, Partizan, to Istanbul and won it all. Now, chasing his 10th EuroLeague title, Coach Zeljko Obradovic takes Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul to Belgrade. Obradovic can become the first person or club to win 10 EuroLeague titles and this will be his first opportunity to do so in a city he considers as his own. A EuroLeague champion with five different teams – Partizan, Joventut Badalona, Real Madrid, Panathinaikos Athens and Fenerbahce, Obradovic is set to coach in his 17th Final Four and looks for his 12th championship game appearance. In short, Obradovic is the biggest winner in 60 Years of European club basketball history. All the other coaches at the Final Four – Dimitris Itoudis of CSKA Moscow, Pablo Laso of Real Madrid and Sarunas Jasikevicius of Zalgiris Kaunas – either played for him or worked with him in the past, so if a Final Four in Belgrade was already special for Obradovic, the circumstances have worked to make it even bigger for him. Obradovic is happy to see all three of them at the Final Four and said as much in this EuroLeague.net interview. “These are people that I admire a lot – almost everyone knows the relationship I have with Itoudis, Saras and Pablo, and I am very happy that they achieved this, being in the Final Four,” Obradovic said. “I am not talking about just great friends, but also about people who love basketball and worked very hard, so congratulations to all of them for making it back to the Final Four.”
Hello, Coach. Congratulations on making it to another Final Four. How special will it be to fight for the EuroLeague title in Belgrade?
“First of all, thank you. My team is going to play in Belgrade and that is very special for me. It is a great opportunity for me to see a lot of friends and after living outside my country for so long, any moment I have the possibility to be there is very important for me. So I am very happy to go to Belgrade to stay a few days there and play the Final Four with my team.”
Fenerbahce lost some important players, but got three more regular season wins than last season and the home-court advantage in the playoffs. Has the team adjusted better to the new EuroLeague format?
“I don’t think it was a matter of adjusting. After losing some important players, we had to react in the summer. Everybody – our president, our sponsors, [general manager]Maurizio [Gherardini] and people in the club – talked to each other and tried to put together a competitive team at all levels, especially in the EuroLeague. We are happy because we managed to do that. I have to say that all the steps we took in summer were good. It was very clear that we needed time to see how the team could react during the season, and in the end, we managed to get the results we got.”
This is your fourth consecutive Final Four with Fenerbahce, a team that had never been there before you arrived. Was it difficult to instill in your players the right mentality to reach the Final Four on a regular basis?
“Well, everybody had a big desire to get there, a great ambition in the club, our fans and the people who worked there – and we managed to achieve that. Making it to four consecutive Final Four is very positive and I believe acknowledges that right now, Fenerbahce is one of the best teams in Europe when it comes to its organization and the club’s level. And we are happy about that.”
All other three head coaches in the Final Four worked for you in the past. How satisfying is it for you to see that former players and assistants also reach the highest level?
“I am very happy for them. These are people that I admire a lot – almost everyone knows the relationship I have with Itoudis, Saras and Pablo, and I am very happy that they achieved this, being in the Final Four. I am not talking about just great friends, but also about people who love basketball and worked very hard, so congratulations to all of them for making it back to the Final Four.”
You face Zalgiris Kaunas in the semifinals. Saras has done an extraordinary job since he became a head coach. Did you expect him to be a coach and such a good one?
“Years before Saras started to coach, I was asked about it and I said that he wouldn’t have a problem coaching because he understands basketball perfectly. He thinks fast and only needed time to understand what being a coach means. And right now, he is a great coach and he proved it not only this season, but also last year. His team improved a lot and you can feel his influence on Zalgiris’s game. Once again, congratulations to him for what he did all season. He is a very smart person and knows what he has to do.”
What do you like most about Zalgiris, as a team? What are their strong points?
“We know their strong points; both teams know each other and I believe that they are a team that understands what it needs to do at all times. Once again, this is thanks to Sarunas. All of his players understand that and like I said, they are playing each possession with a high level of concentration. Put it all together, that is what allowed Zalgiris to be in the Final Four.”
What is your take on the other semifinal, the battle between CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid?
“It is a very attractive game between two historic teams in the EuroLeague, the ones with more titles than anyone else, Madrid and CSKA. Two teams who have been in the Final Four in most of the last few years. It will be very interesting. Both teams are really talented and I believe that this is a Final Four in which people can see very good basketball.”
Belgrade hosts the Final Four for the first time. What can EuroLeague fans expect from the city if they visit it for the first time?
“I think that Belgrade is a very interesting city. People are very nice and I am sure everybody will feel good there. I believe that Belgrade’s nightlife is very popular in Europe. There are many restaurants, a lot to see and I am sure that everybody will enjoy it a lot.”
How about the locals? How much impact can a top-class basketball event like the Final Four have in a basketball-crazy country like Serbia?
“I think so, because everyone who loves basketball will be watching the games in the arena. You know the great basketball tradition we have in Serbia. People understand basketball perfectly and it is the country’s favorite sport. People will feel the Final Four in every corner of the city.”
If Fenerbahce wins, you will be the first one to win 10 EuroLeague titles, clubs included, and it will be in your own country. Would that be, in a way, to go full circle?
“The only thing that matters right now is preparing the team well to play a good game against Zalgiris. Everything else is a mistake. My players and all of us are trying to think that way – getting ready to face Zalgiris. Whatever comes next, we will have time to think about it later.”