In a room steeped in centuries of history, eight central protagonists to the four teams aiming to celebrate at the end of the weekend gathered Thursday at the Salo de Cent in the Barcelona Town Hall for the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four official press conference. The head coach and one player representative from Panathinaikos, Montepaschi Siena, Real Madrid and Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv sat alongside Euroleague Basketball President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu and Barcelona Mayor Jordi Hereu at the dais as a packed hall full of reporters and cameramen documented their thoughts in a spectacular setting. With more than 700 media members on hand for the Turkish Airlines Final Four, the Salo de Cent was filled to capacity with the audience hanging on every word. Built in 1369 and renovated in the 17th century, the Salo de Cent is one of the city’s most storied sites. Here is what they said:
Barcelona city mayor Jordi Hereu:
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the city of Barcelona, a city that loves basketball. I want to welcome you to this historical building, built several centuries ago to represent the city. This is a press conference in which six languages - Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Greek, Hebrew and English - will be spoken. Using so many languages expresses the international relevance of this Final Four. This building was built in the 14th century and has been home to the city of Barcelona government since then. The city has been in touch with the world from the Mediterranean Sea since then, forming connections with many cities and countries in the Mediterranean world. We welcome you 600 years later. Barcelona speaks to the world through sports and basketball. I want to welcome all the fans, players, coaches and team managements of Panathinaikos, Montepaschi Siena, Maccabi Electra and Real Madrid to a city which has loved sports and basketball for many decades. It is a great pride for this city to host the Final Four and to have the Euroleague headquarters in Barcelona. I would like to thank Euroleague President & CEO Jordi Bertomeu and all the people that make this magnificent project work. Barcelona is honored to host so much basketball excellence. We have programmed a lot of side events to complement the Final Four in several neighborhoods, from the Raval to Montjuic. I love basketball in Barcelona; we've have had great basketball clubs for many decades. We follow sports with a lot of passion. We love sports and basketball, beginning with youth teams, but are also honored when all the best teams in Europe come to play the Final Four. It is not the first time we have organized the Final Four, but we are as excited as the first time. Welcome again to a city that loves basketball."
Panathinaikos guard Dimitris Diamantidis:
“I’m no one to give advice because everyone knows what to do. As my coach said, we are proud to be here. I hope everyone enjoys this show and it will be a great show. I hope that at the end we will deserve to win the title.
“It’s clear if you watch the videos that [Panathinaikos and Montepaschi] has its philosophy. We’ll try to bring everything out to the court. I don’t agree with Vassilis [Skountis] that [Siena] are a copy of Panathinaikos. We have to do our best to give 100% and to overcome the obstacles of the game.”
Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic:
“In name of Panathinaikos, I want to say that we are happy to come to the Final Four again and to build the fans of basketball all over Europe. We hope it will be celebration of Basketball and we hope to play a good game. We want to say good luck to the other great teams. They are the best in the Euroleague this season.
“Basketball is first of all a players’ game. They are the most important. I am happy and proud that I have this great player [Diamantidis] close to me. He is a captain, a leader. He knows what to do to be in the final one more time because in my mind we have only this game against Siena.
"It is very beautiful to play the Final Four in Barcelona, because I have a lot of friends that will come to see the Final Four. I am very happy to be here, it is a city that loves basketball. I am very glad that my team came here. It cost us a lot, we had to battle all season, especially against Barcelona. Everyone thought Barcelona was the favorite not only to win the playoffs, but the Euroleague. It is a good team, it was the defending champion and had played really well. The bottom line is that if my team can play the Final Four in any city in Europe, I will be happy.”
Montepaschi Siena forward Rimantas Kaukenas:
"First of all, I am happy to be back to a team like Montepaschi Siena and have the chance to enjoy a second road to the Final Four. It was not easy, we had a lot of ups and downs, overcame difficult moments and the actual road to the Final Four helped us to improve, get better and learn how to play with my teammates, which is really enjoyable. The Final Four goes down to a couple of games, the sum of all our work, all our struggle and all the beauty -- everything that we went through. Sitting and watching from the bench like I did in 2008 - Kaukenas was injured - is the most difficult part of it. There is nothing much you can do -- cheer people up and help in any way possible. I hope to be more help this time."
"There are similarities between Panathinaikos and Montepaschi, but also differences. They play in a very clear way and the team is very prepared tactically. I cannot say who is the favorite or how the teams will play -- it all goes down to one game, the semifinal. We have our identity, know the way we want to play and our approach. I am sure that Panathinaikos has its own way too. We have to come to play our game and we will see the difference at the end."
Montepaschi Siena head coach Simone Pianigiani:
"I am very proud to be here. I would like to thank the city of Barcelona for the great organization. This has always been a special place for sport and we are proud to be in this city, with great clubs and a great organization. I am really happy to be here and proud of our fans, who helped us to make it to this Final Four. We will see what happens, if we can make it to the final. We will try to do our best and are honored to be in the Final Four, with great games. The Euroleague level is really high and all of us had a tough road to get here. I am happy and proud of my players and everyone working in the club. It is a magic atmosphere, impossible to see anywhere else but in this extraordinary event."
"Luckily, it is not the first time I've played against coach Zeljko Obradovic and Panathinaikos, a team that has won so much in the Euroleague's modern era. A coach like Obradovic makes you think things over, but this is what you expect when you play at the highest possible level. Everyone had a tough time to get here, but I think we have shown in the last two years that we can play at their level. We can win or lose but can definitely compete against them. We have a great respect for Obradovic and the entire Panathinaikos team. We managed to beat them in the Top 16 three games ago but they beat us in the playoffs two years ago. The games between both teams have been great and we have played a good number of times. Panathinaikos and Montepaschi play as teams, in every sense of the word. It will be a great basketball game, I am sure."
"Our first Final Four was in this building in 2003 but the most important thing is that this is our fourth time in the event since then. Basketball has changed a lot - we used to have one and even two Italian teams in the Final Four in the past. Now we are here with teams from big capitals like Athens, Tel Aviv or Madrid, and other Euroleague teams have great investments in places like Barcelona or Istanbul. Being here is just special by itself. I believe that we lost the previous three semifinals due to small details. We have to go down to small details and take care of them, hoping that finally these will turn in our favor."
Maccabi Electra center Sofoklis Schortsanitis:
“Hello. I believe first of all that everyone needs to enjoy playing at the Final Four. Being here and playing can take a great mental and physical toll on the players and coaches. We need to not let our guard down, to always execute the plans our coaches design for us and to play hard and I believe that is what will lead us.
“Coach Blatt speaks in such high words and I always try to justify them. Everyone at the Final Four is in great shape. Maccabi is here because we have great unity as a team. Everyone helps to be the best on the court and to be in the best shape. We have a lot of impact players and I will be there to help them and they will be there to help me.
“It’s true Madrid is great rebounding team. Each team has quality and lots of areas they are good at. They have great depth, a great frontline. We are a team that supports each other and helps others to do their job. We will do what we have done all year, keep working, keep working and try to beat the other team. This is what I am going to do Friday night too.
“Like coach said before, before I signed we had a great talk in Cyprus. The thing he explained that he wanted from me and what his goals are, the way he talked made an impact. We have a great coach-player relationship. He demands and yells and I put my head down and listen. What helped me is that he demands a lot and gives me confidence because he believes that I can actually do it. The best thing he did was build my confidence and help me be one of the main guys on the team. That is one of the great things that happened this season. And also putting together a great group of guys that I can connect to and play with to the top of my ability.”
Maccabi Electra head coach David Blatt:
“We from Maccabi Elactra Tel Aviv are also proud to take part in this great event, the celebration of European basketball. It is great to be here as one of the coaches alongside three of the great coaches in our game, Zeljko Obradovic, Simone Pianigiani and Emanuele Molin and to do battle in a great and sporting atmosphere. How great is it to be at this press conference in this great and historic building. It will be great to do battle in what will be a great Final Four and to see the great things they can do on the court. I hope this will be an event to remember.
“I don’t know that most of the fans will be Maccabi fans, but I am happy for everyone that came to support us. I know they will give their all, as they have always done. People know that our fans are caring for the club for its history and what it’s done. I’m very happy for our fans that invested to come and support us as I am for the fans of all the teams that will be here. This is not about one group, but the fans of basketball. We hope to share that with all of you.
“Personally I never felt it was a risk [to sign Schortsanitis]. From the moment I sat with Sofo and spoke to him, I had nothing but a great feeling. He can tell you from the summer when we spoke in Cyprus, where we both were with our national teams, we had a great conversation. And from then it has been nothing but a wonderful process. He was always known as a great impact player and a winner. This is not his first Final Four. He has always accounted for himself. We are lucky to have such a good guy and good player. I hope to keep seeing him do well with us.
“First of all Real Madrid is a big, active, agile and aggressive rebounding team. No team made the Final Four because they are strong in one area. All have quality, depth and numerous resources whether it’s the players they have at their disposal. Each game develops in a different way and you are never sure which will be the factor that will decide the game. [Schortsanitis] is one of our many go-to guys, but the job is not his alone. Rebounding is a team thing. Most important games and particularly Final Four games due to the pressure are generally lower level games than free-flowing unimportant games. They can be determined by possession characteristics and one of them is rebounding.
We hope Sofo and the rest of players do their job and overcome Madrid that has capabilities in that area and others.”
Real Madrid forward Felipe Reyes:
"Good afternoon everyone. It took us a lot of effort to reach this Final Four. We are a young team with little experience in this kind of event. We only have two players who have been there before and have previous Final Four experience - this is the fifth time for both of them. Along with coach Lele Molin, they showed us the path to follow to face these two intense days of games and try to achieve what everyone wants - the Euroleague title. These are tough games and the best advice, above all, is to play the way we know we can play, like we did most of the season. If we play as team and are together on and off the court, we can do it. We know it will be difficult, the playing level is high, there are three other very good teams, but if we are together and work as a great team, we can make it."
"Playing the Final Four in Barcelona is great for any Madrid fans - and winning the title would be even better. I am in my first Final Four, however, and it is very special. I really don't mind playing it here or in any other European city. I wouldn't mind winning the title in Barcelona or just anywhere. Being at the Final Four is a maximum goal for a basketball player and yes, seeing Madrid win the title in Barcelona would be special. The most special feeling is to win the Euroleague title, no matter where."
Real Madrid head coach Emanuele Molin:
"Good afternoon everyone. First of all, we are very proud to have taken a historical club like Real Madrid back to the Final Four. Madrid is back to this event, the most important one in European basketball. We arrive here with a lot of excitement and I would like to thank everyone that worked hard to achieve this success. The help of everyone, especially from our fans, has allowed us to reach this moment. Our goal is show our young face in this event. We are a young team that hopes to compensate its lack of experience in these games with a lot of excitement. We managed to get here by giving all we have and hope to play good basketball at the Final Four. This is a basketball party and an important experience for us. We have talked and understand what a club like Real Madrid needs to get back here."
"There is a big difference between being assistant coach or head coach. I have been Madrid's head coach for just a few months and it goes down to the essence of it - basketball. As assistant, working for top teams in Europe and great coaches like Ettore Messina and several others for a long time. Making basketball decisions every day makes it completely different. It is like sitting at a difference side of the table. You can share your opinions as assistant and then the head coach can take it and transmit your opinion to the team - or not. Making the final decisions is different and more difficult, from my little experience in the last months."