The ornate, chandeliered La Salle de Fêtes at the Paris city hall, Hôtel de Ville, served as the spectacular backdrop on Thursday for the Opening Press Conference, the first official act of the 2010 Final Four, where a new Euroleague champion will be crowned this weekend. The head coaches and one player from each of the Final Four teams - CSKA Moscow, Olympiacos Piraeus, Partizan Belgrade and Regal FC Barcelona - answered questions from some of the 491 media members accredited for the weekend. Here were their responses:
Regal FC Barcelona head coach Xavi Pascual:
“Good morning. We are happy to be here for the second consecutive year with you. We are happy that our club remains one of the four best teams in Europe and is here in such a beautiful city like Paris, which we hope stays as beautiful for us on May 9. We are satisfied with the season we are having. We had a very good run in the Euroleague and in the Spanish League. That allows us to come here with confidence, calmness and the desire to take a step forwards in the semifinal tomorrow. We hope to do our best and make such a great basketball event like the Final Four even better.
“CSKA is the most experienced team in Paris. They have a core of player that has been to a lot of Final Fours, winning the semifinals. We believe in our way and in what we are doing. We have prepared and are aware of their talent. We come here with confidence, looking forward to the moment and to playing good basketball, so our fans can enjoy by helping us gett this very important win. As Pashutin said, every game has its own different script. We don't know what will happen tomorrow. If we did, we would be fortunetellers.
“Last season, we had the lead for the best part of the game, but that margin disappeared in three minutes with three good plays by Siskauskas. We didn't have the patience to think about the next offense or the next defense. That belongs to the past now, so we don't know what will happen this season. CSKA has its won characteristically behind its four outside players - Holden, Planinic, Siskauskas and Langdon. That won't be much different from last season. We have to set the pace and be able to control difficult situations. We have to control our emotions, the atmosphere and expect not to lose control if we are down in the game. A lot of variable things can happen in a game like this.”
CSKA Moscow head coach Evgeny Pashutin:
“We enjoy being here. A lot changed at the club this season, so getting here is a big success. Coach Ettore Messina left and we brought young players into the team, but our main guys remain Siskauskas, Planinic, Holden and Langdon. They took more responsibilities this year. It was a tough season, but I am proud and glad to be here. The Euroleague is the best competition in Europe and the Final Four is a basketball celebration. You can have a very good season, but lose one game at the Final Four and run out of chances. Everybody has to have a good game to win. We are prepared for a very important game against Barcelona.
“Barcelona is a great team, but we know how to prepare against them. I hope that CSKA will be successful against them. The semifinal is the most difficult game for me, because everybody is thinking about the final. If you don't respect your opponent in the semifinal, you don't get to the final. We have prepared and fought for this all year. Everybody says the game against Barcelona will be a great game, they played well this season, but it comes down to one game. Our job is to be tactically prepared and find the way to win this game. Two great teams will play each other and that is good for everybody. We will see who wins, but we will do our best and give the maximum to win it.
“CSKA is a big club in Russia and has a huge tradition in Europe, with eight consecutive Final Four appearances. We had big pressure from the beginning and I would like to thank Andrei Vatutin and the club management for trusting me and protecting me at the beginning of the season. We found the way to be in the Final Four. CSKA has no target other than winning all competitions - the Russian League, the Russian Cup and of course the Euroleague. We have to protect our tradition and raise it. Barcelona is a completely different team from last season, even though their coach and most of the players are the same. They play much stronger. Lorbek, Morris and Rubio gave them more power and confidence, plus they have a deeper roster this season than last year. Every new game is a new small life. Even if you play today, you never know about tomorrow, you could be in trouble. You have to be ready."
Olympiacos Piraeus head coach Panagiotis Giannakis:
“Hello everyone. I would like to thank the organizers and the city of Paris for welcoming us today. It has been a wonderful season, not only for us, but also for the Euroleague, as we saw a lot of interesting games. We put a lot of effort to reach the top. This is our second consecutive Final Four, despite the barriers and difficulties we faced. We managed to get here and we are also aware that the four best teams in Europe are here in Paris. They all can play very well in stressful times. Experience has helped us to be strong and ready to overcome barriers, always finding the answers. We have a talented team and faced some difficult times, but overcame them. We have to be ready for our first game in Paris against Partizan.
”Coming back to Bercy [where Giannakis won the Euroleague title as a player in 1996] has been a wonderful experience, a great feeling. I just hope our fans will have the same feeling on Sunday. Our goal is to show everyone that Greeks teams, as well as our country, have done a tremendous job and thanks to that we will be able to succeed. When I played the first Final Four, it was a great time for basketball in my country. Thousands and thousands started to play thanks to that, especially in Greece. Our country is now famous in basketball. We had a lot of success at the time. Basketball has changed a lot in recent years. Young players and tactics improved a lot. The future will hold better tactics… And also better basketball.
“We represent Greece as a basketball team and are here to reach our goals to give people enthusiasm and success. Basketball has always been a privilege for Greek society. We have shown people our ability to play, our patience and ability to overcome difficulties. If we set our mind to it, we can win. We have reached the Final Four: it was difficult but we made it. We hope we will keep on playing good basketball.”
Partizan Belgrade head coach Dusko Vujosevic:
“Good afternoon. First of all, I would like to thank everyone for bring here. We all understand that the Final Four is the highlight of European basketball. I am extremely proud to be here. We worked a lot, of course, and that led us to be here. It is also special to have the Final Four in Paris. This is the city that never sleeps, with a lot of life, the best place to organize this kind of competition. Regarding the games tomorrow and Sunday, we are ready and in good shape, extremely confident about the challenge we are facing. It is difficult to say in advance who will win - in any sport, but also in basketball. I am very happy to be here, in Paris, with Partizan.
“I was at the first Final Four, when the Euroleague concept changed. Before that, the best two teams fought on a neutral court. The Final Four was then created and I think it was good for everybody, taking the competition a step higher in Europe. I coached against Giannakis - then a player - in the third-place game. I remember his wonderful character, defense and winning mentality. Basketball has changed a lot from those days. Motivating my players is not a problem at the Final Four. Motivation is the key to success. Partizan is a young team and its players come from everywhere in the world and play basketball with all of their emotions. They have shown they can play good games together. We had a wonderful season, our best one. It is a great satisfaction to be here at the Final Four. We also won the Adriatic League, which features all the best countries in the former Yugoslavia. All eyes will be on us, but that doesn't have to stress us. You don't know what will happen and that is the beauty of sports.”
Regal FC Barcelona guard Ricky Rubio:
"Every time I jump on the court, my opponent tries to defend me and he doesn't think about how old I am. No matter if you are 15 or 35, he wants to kill you. The most important thing is to be yourself. I have great teammates at my position who taught me a lot this season. I learned a lot from them. We are all very happy to have reached the Final Four. This was our initial goal and now we have to enjoy it. We play against a tough opponent in CSKA, with a lot of experience. We have to believe in ourselves, knowing that if we play our game, we will have options. Let's see what happens tomorrow.
"We have to enjoy this moment. Experience is important when the game is on the line, you are more calm if you have it. But first you need to work hard all game long to stay in a close game. Langdon, Siskauskas and Holden know what this is all about. They have played many Final Fours. I had to watch them all on TV, but now I can compete in one at age 19. I am looking forward to it. We have to enjoy the show. Everyone wants to enjoy and focus on the game against CSKA. We practice every day, every week to be the best team. You don't need any extra motivation. If you need that, it means that you don't know where you are. This is the Final Four."
CSKA Moscow guard Trajan Langdon:
"First of all, I am extremely blessed and thankful to play for CSKA for the last five seasons. Every Final Four experience has been fantastic, but of course, those that we came out on top have been memorable. Having played the Final Four before, you know what to expect and all the pressure involved. Barcelona is a strong team that knows what to do at both ends. They do it every game. We are confident in ourselves. We’ll try to prepare well, play hard and make it a game. We will have to play very good basketball if we want to have the chance to win. We have seen Barcelona a lot in the last couple of days. It is a team that can play and hurt you in many different ways, half court or full court.
"They are a great scoring team and have a tremendous ability to put the ball in the basket with a lot of different players for different situations. They are also a good defensive team. You have to give them credit for that as well. They have great balance between starters and those coming off the bench. All the changes we had this summer didn't concern or worry us. With coach Pashutin coming in, it was a new start and adjustments were needed for the new season. We had two losses in our opening three games, but there was more concern outside than inside the team. We knew it would take a while and our confidence grew playing together. We needed playing time and practice as a team, and winning games gave us more confidence as individuals and as a team. We started the Euroleague season with 24 teams and there are four left, so it is a huge motivation to be the last team standing. We worked hard for a long time, so motivation is not a problem. For us, it is all about getting prepared and staying calm."
Partizan Belgrade guard Dusan Kecman:
“Truth to be told, Partizan is the youngest team in the Euroleague, and especially at this Final Four. It is a great success to be here with teams like CSKA Moscow, Regal FC Barcelona and Olympiacos. We will try to do our best to make even one more surprise. Nobody gave us many chances, but we are here right now. We have a lot of young kids, but I am sure we all will fight like wehave fought already. Nobody can take hope away from us. I am not the main player for Partizan. This is a team and depending on how the game does on, we can build our confidence as a team. For us, this is a great opportunity and of course, a big success. We will try our best to improve and play our best right now. Like Coach Vujosevic said before, you don't need special motivation for a game like this. For us, being at the Final Four is the crown of our season. There is no need for extra motivation.”
Olympiacos Piraeus forward Josh Childress:
"I think that the primary lesson that we learned in Berlin was to finish the game. We came down to the last possession and it didn't go our way. Experience counts. This is my second year in the Final Four. I am looking forward to a good experience for me and my team, and I hope we can come out with victory. My second year has been much better on the court, I felt much more comfortable with my teammates. I am happy that I came back and that I am here know. It has been a successful year and hope we can now take it to the next level. Motivation comes from within. Every basketball player is a competitor and wants to beat the best. The Final Four gives you the chance to play against the best teams in Europe and beat them. As a competitor, this is what you wanna do."
City of Paris, Deputy Mayor of Sports Jean Vuillermoz:
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Paris. I would like to welcome all of you to the Hotel de Ville. I would like to welcome the representatives of the Euroleague, Jordi Bertomeu, from the French basketball federation and those teams that made it to the Final Four - CSKA Moscow, Regal FC Barcelona, Olympiacos and Partizan. Welcome all, we are extremely honored to host the 2010 Final Four. I would like to thank the Euroleague for selecting Paris, a top city in world sports. You have chosen one of the best cities in the world to showcase your wonderful sporting event, with great expertise and quality infrastructures. I hope that you are happy and pleased with this choice. Bercy hosts the French League final every season and people go back home with wonderful souvenirs and memories. The Palais Omnisports offers over 15,000 seats for basketball and is a big part of Parisian sports history. We are hosting our fourth Final Four - 1991, 1996, 2001 and now 2010.
"We offer a lot of comfort to organizers and fans. The sad part of it is that we won't have a French team. For the time being our country does not have a team at this level, but France is a wonderful basketball country, with great training centers and nice resources for the future. Every young player has the chance to practice basketball every weekend, indoors or outdoors. This is why Paris is happy to be the host - but also wants to be proactive and live basketball for several days - from now until Bercy hosts the French League final later on in May. Paris, along with the French federation, will celebrate basketball with the Euroleague Final Four and the French championship. We will talk basketball in schools and also to disabled people. We will have competitions for children and activities in the city of Paris. I wish you all best competition and the best game, a lot of emotions and a lot of fun. Thank you."