The 2021 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four features several past champions who could rewrite history with another title, such as AX Armani Exchange Milan's Kyle Hines and Sergio Rodriguez, as well as Cory Higgins of FC Barcelona and Will Clyburn of CSKA Moscow. But more so than any Final Four in recent years, Cologne features several players who return to the end-of-season event after having been oh-so-close to winning the EuroLeague crown in the past.
"I was here three times before in the Final Four and unfortunately, I didn't win any of those three," Barcelona's star forward Nikola Mirotic said. "For sure, I have a lot of experience from those three Final Fours. Each of them is different, but it's been a while, it's been seven years since the last one."
"The only reason I came back to Europe is to win the EuroLeague."
Mirotic, a two-time EuroLeague Rising Star award winner, was a EuroLeague runner-up with Real Madrid in 2013 and 2014 and does not hide that he returned to the EuroLeague last season with the intention to win the whole thing.
"Motivation is huge, it is difficult to express, especially because we've been having a really good year, and also a difficult year as basketball players, and having some issues in personal lives in my case," Mirotic said. "I do want to enjoy, I do feel very ready for this moment and I know that the team and I have a big chance to succeed."
Mirotic is not the only one feeling poised for success. One of his teammates last season was Malcolm Delaney, who is now playing for Milan and will face Barcelona in the semifinals. Delaney is also a Final Four returnee with his previous appearance coming in 2016 in a Lokomotiv Kuban Moscow uniform.
"The only reason I came back to Europe is to win the EuroLeague," Delaney explained. "Money and all that other stuff does not matter for me. I could have gone back to China and made more money, I could have still tried to go back to the NBA, but I think the fact that this would be the stamp on my resume would solidify everything for me."
During his career Delaney had a great deal of success, including individual awards such as being selected to the All-EuroLeague and All-EuroCup teams, however winning a EuroLeague crown would tilt the needle.
"Even though I think I am fine without the EuroLeague title, but I think all the years I have put into Europe, starting from EuroChallenge, making my way up to the EuroLeague, I've done everything I could do besides winning the EuroLeague title. So, yeah, if we win it, nobody can say anything to me," Delaney said with a smile.
On the other hand is Anadolu Efes Istanbul point guard Vasilije Micic, the freshly-crowned EuroLeague MVP, who has a different mindset heading into the semis.
"Beautiful things happen when you don't expect them."
"I never chase anything in my life," he said. "Nothing is a must for me, and I am totally okay with everything that happens in my life, even if it means I will never achieve winning the EuroLeague crown because I think that is just one part of our life."
This is a third consecutive Final Four appearance for Micic after playing for Zalgiris Kaunas in 2018 and Efes in 2019. And even though there are no signs of growing impatience despite a pair of missed chances, Micic has a great desire to go all the way, but with a mindset that he feels has worked for him his entire career.
"I think that approach makes everything easier for me," Micic explained. "If it happens, I would be thrilled. If not, we move on. It is a long journey and some of the greatest and most beautiful things happen when you don't expect them. The same is the case in winning the EuroLeague title."