The final series against UNICS was extremely difficult. Even though it ended 3-0, we had 3 difficult games and we won all of them only in the final quarter. Both teams were affected by the loss of an important player (Stombergas and Torres) and what's more, weather conditions were terrible. It was very hot in Moscow and Kazan which was very tiring for players, coaches and even fans during those games.
What made the difference in the final series was not technical or tactical preparation, but mental toughness. With all due respect to UNICS, my players managed to stay extremely focused and concentrated, especially in crucial moments. We always did the right thing to win the game. This is another proof of the professionalism and great personality of the players we're happy to have in CSKA.
This title makes me extremely happy, because one year after winning the Euroleague and Russian Championship, my team had another very good season. This year we won every competition, except Euroleague where we were just 3 points short. In 2 years' span, we won 7 of 8 competitions, including two regular seasons of Russian Championship, two Russian Cups, two Russian Championships and one Euroleague title.
I'm really happy to be part of it. I want to thank my players and my staff, the doctors and physiotherapists, Gosha Artemiev and, obviously, Zhenia and Lele [Eugeny Pashutin and Emanuele Molin. sports.ru]. Their contribution was very important.
We had a long season as we had NBA Europe Live Tour early in October. We started the preparation on 31st of August to face Clippers by the beginning of October. I was speaking about it with David Vanterpool the other day and he remembers that we played a lot of exhibition games in September in Italy, where we had the camp. My players worked very hard. Even though it was only an exhibition game, we remember how important it was to all people involved, starting from our management and our first fan Mr. Ivanov. I think everybody was proud to show the Americans the level of basketball we have here. All my players, Europeans and Americans, were extremely motivated to play well.
Immediately after that we had the final tournament of NBA Live Tour, with the replica of the Euroleague final CSKA against Maccabi. There were a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure right from the beginning. It meant that we had to play and be strong all nine months of the season. And we did just that.
In the first part of the regular season we lost in Kazan. This made our season difficult as we had to recover the position. In January and February, we had a lot of games with UNICS, Khimki and Dynamo just to get back the first place in regular season, which proved to be extremely important. We could never rest for a moment, except the five days holiday we had at Christmas. Thus the season was even more difficult than the previous one.
This year we lost only 7 games as compared to 8 losses last season. Both times we had 56 wins which makes the overall percentage absolutely incredible. There was another interesting thing about this season. The fact that we were always winning in Euroleague worked against us and put more pressure on us, as everybody started perceiving us as an unbeatable team. We lost only 3 games in Euroleague this season, including the final that means that we proved ourselves to be a strong contender. However it's not realistic to be considered unbeatable. My players made a great effort to keep their feet on the ground. They never became cocky or spoiled.
In the beginning of February we lost David Vanterpool. This was very similar to losing David Andersen last year. David Vanterpool's injury affected the big part of our season. It also had an impact on himself, not only the player, but also the person. Who knows what would have changed if we had had both David and Oscar Torres in the Euroleague final?
The nicest part was to see how David and Oscar cheered up the rest of the team during the final series. There was no sign of jealousy or regret on their faces. That says a lot about the mentality in this club that starts from Sergei Kuschenko.
I had a lot of good moments this season. Going again to the Final Four, win over Clippers, win over Barcelona in OT, two games against Dynamo during regular season and game against Olympiakos in Piraeus were the best ones.
It was also an interesting year as we had changes in the club management. Andrei Vatutin got a more important role inside the club as well as Vera Vakulenko. Sergei had to stay more with big CSKA. Like with every change, this might have been difficult to overcome, but at the end we made it.
I was expecting our young players to progress more. I have to think it over this summer to understand why it didn't happen, why they didn't continue to progress. For sure, it's not easy to play in CSKA because of the expectations we have and the level of the game we play. It's not easy because of the level of your teammates. Your teammates are much-much-much better than you and they understand the game 3 seconds earlier than you do. All your mistakes might look stupid.
At the same time, there was one thing that was really frustrating. I felt some lack of desire and aggressiveness in these young players. It's really upsetting me and, unfortunately, it's killing their careers. I hope that in the summer they will think what they have to do to improve.
There is a famous coach in Italy, Dan Peterson, an American coach, who says: «The biggest part of the player's mentality is the killer instinct». It means that you must have the aggressiveness without being nasty. A few days ago a journalist from Kommersant asked an interesting question: «What do you think these young players lack?» I replied: «They lack aggressiveness». She said: «You mean, being nasty?» No, there is a big difference. The aggressiveness is what pushes you to climb a mountain even if you are scared of climbing it. Being nasty means doing something bad to other people. We don't need players who throw elbows or play dirty. We need people who are aggressive enough to climb. These kids are just comfortable where they are and with what they are doing. They need to understand that what they have now can suddenly disappear.
When I talked about helping players to progress step-by-step, I assumed the players are hungry. They are pushing themselves. But I don't see that happening. Maybe, when I was younger it was easier for me to understand their way of thinking. Maybe, they don't understand what I expect from them and I'm not capable to understand how their minds work. Anyway, I have to think it over during the summer and try to find a solution.
I wouldn't change anything about this season. I never think this way. The season is gone. It was good. We had some tough moments. We were much more tired this year as we had to carry a heavy load of expectations. It was more difficult to keep the team in the right way, to help them to perform, to press them when it was necessary and to step back when it was necessary. I know I made some mistakes. Sometimes I pressed them when I should have stepped back and vice versa.
You would like to be perfect and you cannot. But you push yourself to try to be perfect, if you're champion deep inside. Now, next year we start another season and we'll see if we can make it to the final three years in a row.
Next season, we'll start with the exhibition games in China, but it will be a shorter season as it will finish earlier because of the Pre-Olympic tournament. We'll also have to face the consequences of Eurobasket-2007 and the effort that many players will put in there in order to qualify for the Olympics. We all wish good luck to David Blatt and the national team, because it won't be easy at all to qualify for the Olympic games.
I would like to thank our fans. Those who traveled with the team. Those who came to our home games. Those who followed up on the internet. We will try to be a strong team next year. We will probably make some adjustments. I don't know yet whether they'll be big or small. It depends on the contracts and many other things. CSKA will surely remain a strong contender in Russia and Euroleague. It will be another interesting season.
But please do not take for granted that we will make it to the Final Four. It will be our main goal, but it's the most dangerous thing to take it for granted. Now, our fans are accustomed to go to the Final Fours. They did it for five years in a row. It's almost part of their schedule for the year to save some money and plan a trip to the Final Four. Don't do it. Going to the Final Four is a big honor and CSKA's five-year streak is absolutely incredible. Let's opt to make it again and we will work hard for that. I hope that together with the fans we will be able to make it once again.
As for rumors that send me to NBA, I'll stay with CSKA for another year. It's 100%. I trust Sergei Kuschenko. We never spoke about it. I have my personal way of thinking. My idea is: if you have contract, until something very strange happens, bad or good, you have to respect it. I never asked to renegotiate the contract while it's effective. When you sign it, you agree to the conditions you'll have, the money you'll get and the team you'll have. It's not correct to use good results as a reason to renegotiate the contract, unless the club is willing to do that itself. In my career it happened sometimes. Mentally, I'm set to have another good season with CSKA.
Honestly, I didn't think a lot about the NBA thing. I'm very happy to live in Moscow. My wife takes Russian lessons. Now, she speaks much better Russian than I do. My son is going to kindergarten, where they speak English and Russian. Family wise, this year was much better than the previous one, because we had a regular life. We lived close to the center. Our child was going to kindergarten 3 times a week. My wife improved her Russian. To sum up, we had a normal family life. We found some good cafes and a pizza place. So, even the pizza is under control now.
I was very pleased to communicate with all of you who are really in to basketball and I sincerely hope we continue next season.