We had a very good series against Kazan. Every year after the Final Four, the team is empty, drained. This year I was surprised how aggressively we started both games at home. We won both of them by good margin. The third game, in Kazan, was very difficult, as always. UNICS is the best defensive team in Russia after us. They could give you hard times by not allowing any easy baskets. Even though we had some problems due to injuries (Sasha couldnt help us after having played well in the first two games of the series) we managed to play smart and got away with the win that gave us a lot of time to prepare for the series with Khimki.
Going into the final, I was concerned about scoring ability of Khimki. We had another excellent week as Gosha Artemiev helped us to find the right balance between technical and physical preparation. We were much fresher in both second games of back-to-backs. We won game two by a big margin and we had an extremely convincing and dominant win in Game 4.
This series was a little bit affected by ejection of Khimki coach and my friend Sergio Scariolo. He was ejected in the second game after only 3 minutes, with the score 7:5, which is quite unusual. He probably had his own reasons to complain so aggressively. I dont want to make any comments on the subject.
In game three we were taken away the third free throw by Siskauskas and the free throws for the technical foul that was called on coach Scariolo. The commissioner made decisions that were not in line with what had happened on the court. But as it often happens, it gave us an extra motivation. All year long, I never seen the team play so together, so aggressively and so determined for all 40 minutes. If the game had lasted longer, we would have won by 50 points. The amazing thing was that the team never decreased the level of intensity.
It was one of the few times this year when I felt that the team was running like a machine, while most of the players were pulling us up. I didnt feel I had to do anything besides giving rest to players who needed it. They were playing with such responsibility, such aggressiveness, such great ability to read the situation. When you have this, considering the level of talent these players have, your job as a coach is done. You can just sit down and watch the game.
We won the championship and the regular season with overall record 30-1, which is the best record we had in Russian championship over the last 4 years. Im very happy because we won this trophy and fell one shot short of winning two back-to-back Euroleague titles with a new team, with the problems we had, with the injuries we had. I think its an excellent result. I think the players, the club and the fans should be happy about it.
It was very nice to celebrate the title on the road, where our fans made us feel like we were at home. Its quite a paradox. In Universal Sport Hall of CSKA their support vanishes somehow, especially during regular season games in the Russian league. But in Khimki gym they were really cheering and supporting us, and the game looked like an Italian league game or a Spanish league game. It felt great to win the game in front of our fans who came to Khimki to support us.
This post was written right after the celebration party which had some sense of melancholy as players and coaches were leaving for their vacations, for their national teams. The individual programs for the summer have not been made yet. All of us are waiting for the decision of the club owners what will be the program of CSKA for the next year. Then we all will make our decisions. At this moment, we have no idea.
My personal decision wont be easy for many reasons. Its a mixture of feelings. First of all, after four years here, during this season, I felt many times that maybe the team needs a different voice to push them, to help them, to lead them. Maybe the team needs some fresh energy that maybe I wont be able to provide.
The second thing is that, even though my family and myself had very good time in Moscow, its not so easy to stay far away from home for a long time. We have to consider this, even if I dont want it to be the prominent factor.
Third, I was happy when I came to CSKA because I knew I had a chance to compete for the Euroleague title. I left Italy, together with my family, for the first time in our life, because my wife agreed that it was a good thing for me to pursue this dream to try to win Euroleague again. Obviously, I need to know the goals of the club for the next season to make an informed decision.
This is how I feel and Im trying to be straight and honest with you, as I always did. Its not one factor that would be decisive, but a combination of the three things. I also have discussed this with Andrei Vatutin.
Honestly, I feel that the most important part is always the relationship with the team. This year there were too many moments when I had to push the team even stronger. I did that because I always want my team to be as strong as possible, and to win as many games as possible. At the same time, this is not something I like to do. I dont like to go home thinking about my relationship with players, after I was too harsh with them. This year it happened too many times.
I had the same kind of situation in Bologna once. It was the summer after the season 1999/2000. But that year we had an unlucky season. We ended up losing two finals: the final of the Italy Cup and the one of the Saporta Cup. We had many injuries that year.
This year we won Russian championship and came close to winning another Euroleague title. I value this title very much, because even those players, who werent happy about their playing time, never backed off in terms of dedication and commitment to the team goals. This is something that I will keep as a very good memory about this season.