|Ergin Ataman led Besiktas to the EuroChallenge title in 2012|
By Dimitris Kontos
Turkish BEKO Ligi leaders Galatasaray Medical Park did not compete in the EuroChallenge and, of course, they are not among the contenders at the upcoming Final Four in Izmir.
Yet there are few people as qualified to express an opinion on the season-ending event of the competition as the current head coach of the Istanbul powerhouse, Ergin Ataman.
For a start, the 45-year-old Turkish tactician is a reigning EuroChallenge champion until the night of Sunday 28 April, when one of BCM Gravelines Dunkerque, Krasnye Krylia Samara, EWE Baskets Oldenburg or Pinar Karsiyaka succeeds Besiktas Milangaz, the club he led to the title last season.
Ataman certainly hopes that this year's Final Four hosts are the ones to take over possession of the trophy.
"Of course I want Karsiyaka to win the EuroChallenge," he told fibaeurope.com.
"It will be very good if a Turkish club wins a European competition, the EuroChallenge in this case or (if the opportunity arises) the Euroleague or the Eurocup."
As a resident of an enormous metropolis like Istanbul, Ataman knows that titles can be like buses: you wait for one for what seems like forever, and then two arrive at the same time.
But the coach does not base his optimism on wishful thinking; his team have faced Karsiyaka twice in the BEKO Ligi this season and he has a very good idea of the Izmir side's potential.
"I think Karsiyaka will be the favourites in this Final Four because this year [in the EuroChallenge and] also in the Turkish league they are showing very good, team basketball, with very good defence."
"Under coach (Ufuk) Sarica they've won games against big opponents this year, they've beaten us (Galatasaray), Fenerbahce, Banvit, Besiktas."
Karsiyaka have claimed three of those four big scalps at home and, crucially for Ataman, they will be playing the Final Four in front of their crowd, in Karsiyaka Arena.
"Their fans are really very good in creating a tough atmosphere for any opponent," he explains.
"The team are playing better basketball, much more intensely on their home court.
"So I think they will be the favourites to win the cup."
|Ataman is full of praise for Pinar Karsiyaka head coach Ufuk Sarica|
JUST PLAY YOUR GAME
Ataman has a long-standing relationship with Sarica, as the now Karsiyaka head coach worked as his assistant first at Besiktas and then at Efes Pilsen, after the end of his highly-decorated playing career.
"Sarica has so much experience, as a player and also now as a coach, with Efes Pilsen previously in the Euroleague and he knows his team very well," Ataman says about his former collaborator.
Even so, someone who's been there and done that must have a piece of advice on the secrets of winning the EuroChallenge?
"If he asked my opinion, I would tell him to play the Final Four like every game they've played on the home court against us or Fenerbahce," Ataman offers.
"There no difference if you are playing against European teams, it's still a basketball game, it's always the same."
"You must not think all the time that you are playing for a European title, you need to play your regular game.
"If you play your normal basketball, you will win the cup."
To earn a shot at the cup, Karsiyaka would first have to prevail over Oldenburg, who are marching second in the German BEKO Bundesliga, in the semi-finals.
But the title contender which Ataman considers as the most fearsome opponent is Russian side Krasnye Krylia.
"I think that Samara is a good team, [can be] dangerous," he said.
"They have very good players, good American players and a very experienced coach in Sergey Bazarevich."
"Russian basketball is now very strong and it is an advantage for them that they play at that level and also in the VTB League."