heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Theo Papaloukas, point guard with the Greek basketball club Olympiacos. With the Euroleague Final Four tipping off on Friday in Berlin, they discussed seven straight Final Four appearances, the specialness of the Final Four, leading current and past club Olympiacos to Berlin, and seeing former CSKA Moscow team-mates like J.R. Holden and Trajan Langdon and coach Ettore Messina in the Final Four.
heinnews: Theo, you are returning to the Final Four for the seventh straight time. What does this accomplishment mean to you?
Papaloukas: It means a lot of course! Continuity is what counts in sports. The Euroleague system means that big clubs will not qualify for the Final Four and only the best four are getting there. One bad night in the Top16 or in the play-offs and you are out! The fact that this will be my first Final Four with Olympiacos in my first season there is something that makes this qualification more important for me.
heinnews: What makes it so special to play at a Final Four?
Papaloukas: The word itself says it all. The four best teams of the season are there and there is only one that can win two matches and take the trophy. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve played in a Final Four, every time is exciting! The only thing that changes for me is that I know how to prepare myself mentally and enjoy it. To reach this level I have experienced three unsuccessful competitions and my big bet for Berlin is to help my younger teammates to enter the O2 arena with the right mentality. It is very difficult but it is part of my role in the team.
heinnews: How does the feeling of making the Final Four change over the years?
Papaloukas: Same answer! As I already said, what counts is to be prepared and enjoy the whole process. This way you can be happy on that Sunday night.
heinnews: Of the past six Final Fours, which do you remember the most and why?
Papaloukas: Every one is an experience. I remember Moscow because we got there almost undefeated and lost the trophy at home, by having an awful semi-final against Tau. It was a massive disappointment but now I believe that this night of sadness made us stronger and led CSKA to success in the coming years. Prague was also special. CSKA gave me the chance to feel as the decisive factor in their return to the European throne after 35 years. That was an amazing feeling. Athens was the most emotional Final Four, playing it at my hometown, but not in a friendly atmosphere.
heinnews: This time you’re in the Final Four with Olympiacos, how much does it mean for you to bring your former club back to the Final Four for the first time in ten years?
Papaloukas: It is a step forward for the club. It confirms that we are working on the right direction. We are a new team and we are improving. If you think that we haven’t been in a Final Four for ten years, we should be glad just for being there, but when you reach it, you want to win it.
heinnews: How strange does it feel not being in the Final Four with CSKA Moscow and team-mates like J.R. Holden and Trajan Langdon and coach Ettore Messina?
Papaloukas: If we play against each other I might get confused and go to their locker rooms… I love J.R. and Trajan. It is a big part of my sports family, we experienced everything together and I am really happy that I will meet them in Berlin. As for coach Messina, what I admire in him is that he adjusts his tactics depending on the players he has and always manages to reach his goal. We already talked and wished each other good luck.
heinnews: One of the reasons Olympiacos acquired you was because you have the experience of getting to the Final Four and winning it. So, what does it take to win the title?
Papaloukas: First of all, it was a common decision because after winning the Euroleague last season, I really felt that I needed new motivation and the only thing I had on my mind was Olympiacos. I appreciate the way the administration of the club works in order to bring the team on top of Europe again. As for the Final Four, all you need is to have the right mentality. Concentration is a key factor and the smarter one wins at the end.
heinnews: What does it say about Greek basketball that with Panathinaikos two teams from Greece made the Final Four?
Papaloukas: Unfortunately it doesn’t mean a lot for the Greek basketball, but only for these two clubs. If you look deeper and see the situation of some clubs in the Greek league, you will realize that the gap is very big and the situation is so difficult, that it will take a miracle to make it good. This seems to be the most competitive Final Four of the last seasons and in my opinion the best four teams will arrive in Berlin.
heinnews: After Final Fours in Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Prague, Athens and Madrid the past six years, what do you think about Berlin and Germany hosting the event this season?
Papaloukas: Germany and organization are synonyms, so we are certain this will be an excellent Final Four. The venue is brand new and Euroleague made the right decision to appoint the Final Four in countries that do not have the opportunity to see their clubs participate there. After all Germany gave the world basketball Dirk Nowitzki and I know that the German league is improving every season. As for Berlin, it is one of the most vivid cities in Europe and hopefully it will bring me luck!