First off, I’ve been in the shoes of some of the CSKA players, the experience of losing numerous Final Fours in a row. It’s a tough hill to climb but make no mistake about it, this obstacle can be overcome, it has been done before. I won’t speak on the difference and similarities between the teams, but I will speak on what I think it takes to consistently be in the Finals with an opportunity to win a Euroleague title.
Coaching…I give CSKA an A in this category. The best coaches in Europe have paraded the sidelines of the Red Army team and have done a helluva job. During my tenure there, it started with Dusan Ivkovic, a great coach who knew how to win and has won everywhere he has coached. CSKA now have Dimitris Itoudis, a phenomenal young coach who has graced the sidelines as an assistant coach of past Euroleague champion Panathinaikos. In this regard, CSKA has been an A in my opinion as far as coaching. The one year we didn’t make it to the Final Four in 2011, I believe management will admit to making a mistake when it came to bringing in the right coach to lead an older, experienced team.
Pressure…This is the most over-hyped and over-used statement used in the media at Final Fours when teams expected to win end up losing. Most times the players don’t feel this pressure until the game is over. Once they’ve lost they know they have to answer the hard questions about failing to succeed. Pressure is usually from within. The guys in the locker room have worked their tails off to get to this point and that is an accomplishment in itself. Now, they just want to finish it out with a Final Four victory. Pressure, in my opinion causes winners to perform even better. Honestly, all the players at the Final Four feel some kind of pressure but I think it’s misused to say a team won or loss because of the outside pressure. Real Madrid was the best team in the Euroleague this season and they went out in the Final Four and showed the world what they already knew, they were the best. CSKA I believe was the 2nd best team in Europe. They didn’t perform well and it had nothing to do with pressure. Congrats to Real Madrid, they performed!
Heart…This is the most under appreciated intangible at the Final Four in a close game. When the talent is equal or maybe even a little less, and one person, one team comes together to fight harder, to give more, to refuse to lose it’s a magical thing. This is something that can’t be measured when it comes to VICTORY. My story for this is back in 2006, when Maccabi Tel Aviv was going for their Euroleague 3-peat with a loaded team. They were the better team on paper. We are walking into the gym for shoot-around the morning of the championship game where Maccabi is finishing up practice and David Vanterpool (the guard with the assignment to defend the great Anthony Parker that night) is yelling, the champs are here, again, the champs are here as we walk into the arena. David had heart, that guy knew he would give everything he had to win the game that night and he made sure we were with him. No huddles, no meetings, just him yelling, “THE CHAMP IS HERE”.