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What makes year 2007 special to me

First of all, I’d like to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the fans. For me Christmas holidays were traditional – I spent them at home in Bologna with my family. We played in Italy against Siena before the holidays. So after that we had a full week for the vacations.

Also, the good thing is that we won the first game of Russian Cup quarterfinals against Triumph by 25 points. It doesn’t mean that we were going to relax, but it made it very difficult for the opponents to beat us in Moscow. The team has done a lot during the last month and a half, with all the injuries we had. Our guys have deserved some time to rest.

As for the last year, sometimes I review the posts on the blog – it helps me to go through all the games we played, all the difficulties we had. It was a very good year basketball-wise. We’ve won everything except for the Euroleague final game. But we played in the final for the second year in a row!

This season, despite all the team chemistry issues, all the doubts outside the team, we are taking the first ranks both in Russian league and Euroleague. We are moving on to Top 16 and to Final Four of Russian Cup. So we are perfectly in line with all our goals. And what is more important – we are playing with the character, good distribution of the ball, passing without making mistakes. For example in Vitoria, in a very difficult game against TAU, we turned the ball over only three times. And only one time in the first 20 minutes. We are showing great attention to the detail, very good concentration, and I want to thank our veterans, after almost three seasons together they still lead the team by their example.

It was also not an easy year. Again, injuries became a big part of it. The fact that we lost David Vanterpool for almost all the last season makes me sad. Not because of the result – Oscar Torres helped us a lot, even though he also got injured in Russian playoffs. But because he is a very special person to everyone in CSKA. We all stay in touch with him, we think about him. Somehow we started to miss him more as a person than as a player.

I exchange e-mails with him very often. He’s doing very well and does not think about returning to the basketball court yet. Even though he has some good offers from Italy including a very good one from Benetton Treviso which is struggling and needs some leadership on the point guard position. I think he is very happy now to stay with his family, do some other business and recover from his injury. Honestly, I am not sure if he will get back to playing basketball. He will be an excellent coach, I think. I am sure he will have an opportunity to start coaching career as an assistant in some good college or NBA team. He has some good connections there and he is a highly respected person.

So the injuries were the big part of our life, but at the same time they gave us an opportunity to refresh our game as well as our day-to-day life. Obviously we’d prefer not to experience this situation, but we try to find some positive moments in it.

The second important thing this year is watching how CSKA changed from the club which tries hard to achieve good results to the one which has to live up to its top status constantly. It seems like a small change, but actually it’s huge. I always try to observe what happens with the people, especially with the people around the team, even the fans. Somehow we’ve reached the point when we all feel that it’s normal to play in the Final Four, to be in the Euroleague final, to win Russian championship. Actually, these achievements should not be taken for granted, because all the teams around are extremely strong both economically and technically. It’s interesting that all our losses are bringing us back to normal evaluation of reality, like it happened after our loss to Panathinaikos in the Euroleague final. Of course, it was hard to accept, but it was logical under those circumstances.

The same thing took place after our home loss to Dynamo this year. I will remember this game for a long time as well as the first game against Dynamo during my first year with CSKA. It was such a big event back then, that it reminded me the games between Virtus and Fortitudo Bologna. It was the first time Dusan Ivkovic was facing CSKA after three seasons of coaching it. It was the first time I coached against legendary Ivkovic. There were a lot of questions about our new players – Vanterpool, Langdon and Smodis. The arena was full. We led all the game and won by 10 points, and it was such a big deal for us. This year even though both clubs had some new players and Dynamo invited coach Pesic, who is also very famous, the gym was almost empty. It looked like an ordinary game for both sides even though it wasn’t. Sometimes getting such a slap in the face reminds you who you are and where you came from. Two losses and all the injuries re-awoke everybody and gave us some sense of urgency. They made us forget what we’ve already achieved and made us try to do more.

So, the two events were important – the loss to Olympia in Lubliana and the loss to Dynamo (especially the atmosphere – it was shocking to play in an empty gym). After that came the injuries and the level of concentration raised up. Our veteran players — JR, Trajan, David — showed everyone an example to follow both on and off the court. No one can guarantee that we will be as successful again, but I think we are back on track mentally, technically both individually and as a team. Again, I started to feel great atmosphere on and off the court.

The third interesting thing about this year was our intense contact with NBA coaching staff. We always have a lot of scouts and other people who come to our practices and I don’t have a problem with that unless they are too many. We are very open. We don’t want to keep our young players behind the curtains. We give them a chance to be noticed.

Also, it was really outstanding to have an NBA coach like Mike Brown spending ten days at our practices and it was special to me to receive an invitation to be the guest of the Cavaliers during their Summer League. This year we had former NBA coaches like Dwayne Casey and Terry Stotts who came to Moscow for one week to see our practices and games, our program including the organization of the club. They decided to invest their time in exploring European basketball. It tells us that NBA starts to look at Europe more and more attentively.

I must say that to me all these events are re-emphasizing the fact that I didn’t work in NBA. And, honestly, I don’t think about it yet. The talks with all these people gave me a better idea about all the differences between coaching job in Europe and in America. It is not easy to adjust to these differences mentally. It would be a big jump for anyone. The difference between coaching here and in America is much bigger than a difference between playing here and in America. At the moment, it’s just great to enjoy the possibility to be closer to NBA while being part of CSKA. I hope that we will have some other possibilities in the future.

All in all, there are a lot of situations this year that remind me my first year here. First of all, it’s the injury of Smodis. Doctors say that it will take him 3-4 months to recover. It means he will not play Top 16, he will miss Euroleague playoffs and Russian Cup Final Four. With the injury of Alexey, it’s a tough situation, but the good thing is that we can try to live like we did after the disaster that happened to David Andersen two years ago. We hope we will be good enough to get back to Euroleague Final Four and to have a chance to win. CSKA used to overcome difficult situations like this one. If we stay humble and work hard, we will have our chance.

As for my personal life – it was good. It was like the previous three years – I had enough time to be with my family. My son is growing up and getting more and more passion for CSKA, for the players, for the game. Just one thing I would like to mention – the moment when I got sick and had to get back home to Italy in summer. I don’t want to make a big deal out of that, but I was sick for 20 days and I stayed in the hospital for 8 days. The bad thing was not feeling sick, but that doctors could not understand what was wrong with me. Like those losses that bring you back on Earth this sickness also brought me back to the reality, to the fact that we are lucky to live in this world and especially in the world of professional sport. You feel lonely when you don’t know what’s up with you, you feel like this day you are here and tomorrow you may be not. This gives you a completely different evaluation of the things that you do and it makes you think more about the people who are not as lucky as you are. What was very special, the way CSKA management and all the people in the office were close to me during these days. It was touching. I understand that a lot of people go through that and that’s a part of life. Of course, I’d prefer not to have such an experience again. But I consider this a luck to go through difficulties which don’t destroy you, but make you understand better the things that were good in your life and give them new meanings.

So it was a good year and let’s hope the year 2008 will be even better.

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