For the second year in a row, underdog Olympiacos Piraeus stunned CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague Final Four and once again the Russian club has to leave the competition without the title.
At the beginning of the season, four-time Euroleague champion and current head coach of CSKA, Ettore Messina, was meant to be the savior Moscow needed, but it wasn't enough to achieve big success in London. CSKA once again failed at a crucial moment, but Messina believes there's still some work left to be done in Moscow.
RealGM sat down with Messina in London to talk about what the future holds for CSKA, the Euroleague Final Four format, Viktor Khryapa and things that money can't buy.
RealGM: What was the first thought that came to your mind on the morning following the loss on Friday?
Messina: That we badly lost the game. I woke up with very few hours of sleep with the idea that we lost and we played poorly. We need to find a way to make players want to win. We cannot throw in the towel and there's a lot of work that has to be done. We need to find a way to convince them that there's some work to do.
RealGM: Last summer, CSKA president Andrey Vatutin told RealGM that his plan is to build a team for at least three years. Do you believe CSKA's plan remains the same even after Friday's loss?
Messina: Usually at the end of the season, regardless of whether we win or lose, I sit with the president of my club to talk about the situation and obviously the future. We discuss the adjustments that we may do or not, thus it is difficult for me to answer the question now. We will have some discussions at the end of the season, for sure.
RealGM: As you know, 14 of 15 players have contracts for the next season. Do you think that this group of players are still able to bring a championship to Moscow?
Messina: First of all, we talk about the team, which had a great Euroleague season. But we're talking about the team that collapsed again at the most important moment of the season, which was a shock. At this point, you can think two ways. First, let's make minor adjustments and we can solve the problem, or you might think let's change everything. I have no idea what the feel of the club is and I will make sure at the end of the season that at least they hear my personal opinion.
RealGM: Do you agree that building a team with long-term vision is better than rebuilding a club every single year?
Messina: It must be better with this, I agree. This team went through forced adjustment during last summer. We lost three key players not because we wanted. Two went to the NBA and one retired. Once that happened, we're talking about three players who were 70 percent of our scoring power, thus we had to make adjustments. All season long it seems that we were moving on and we were going on the right direction. And then all the sudden there comes a game like the one on Friday and everything looks like a disaster. You have to detach yourself from this very close field and think about it with cold mind.
RealGM: Leaving Friday's game behind us, Viktor Khryapa was one of the best players in the league all season long, but he wasn't selected to the All-Euroleague First Team. Was that a surprise for you?
Messina: I thought he deserved the first lineup and I think he was a great candidate for the MVP award as well. But that's out of my control. And even if this made him [Khryapa] upset, it's just something you have to deal with. He was absolutely a key player of our team. If not him, we wouldn't be in the final four because he was so consistent all season. He played a major role, for sure.
RealGM: Talking about the current Euroleague format, you play many games all season long and there's only one decisive game in semifinal and final. Do you think it is the way it should be?
Messina: I always said that [a series is better]. The experience in the 2001 Euroleague best-of-five final series was one of the best experiences that I had as a coach. Not only because we won, but also because those five great games got all the attention in Europe and South America or around the world. Comparing with the Final Four, just as you said, you have a bad day and you basically destroy your season. Same happens if you get injured. But I understand why they use the format of the Final Four. There are marketing reasons. However, as a coach, I always said that to decide who is a champion, there must be a playoffs.
RealGM: Looking at this season, did you like the decision to extend the Euroleague Top 16 phrase?
Messina: I have to say the second stage was great. All those great teams playing games every week… I really like the way it is. Basically, the Top 16 becomes a true regular season. The regular season is more like a qualification. I would put it like this.
RealGM: We've seen so many cases when teams that have money cannot achieve great results. What is the key ingredient in terms of building a championship team?
Messina: Chemistry. And you also have to find the right people before the right players.
RealGM: Can you buy chemistry?
Messina: No, but choosing the right people is very important and maybe sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit in terms of talent. But you have to make sure you have the right people.
RealGM: Do you see those right people in Europe that you would want to have in your team?
Messina: Yes, but we do not want to be affected by a very bad game and start thinking that what we did was all wrong and what the other do is all good.