EUROCHALLENGE FINAL FOUR
|Sergey Bazarevich: "We played all those games aiming to win and we want to keep it that way."|
By Dimitris Kontos
The physical appearance of Krasnye Krylia Samara's head coach Sergey Bazarevich has not changed that much since the 1990's, when he was the playmaker first of the Soviet Union and then of Russia.
True, his hair is now a bit shorter at the back but he is still sporting that emblematic moustache - albeit, at 48, it is trimmed and turning grey - and still has the same slim figure.
None the less, Bazarevich is these days one of the most well-respected Russian coaches, and no longer that skinny point guard with the instantly recognisable posture and almost unorthodox, but extremely effective, playing style.
He is well aware that if his side defeat EuroChallenge Final Four hosts Pinar Karsiyaka on Sunday, they will become only the second team in history, after David Blatt's Dynamo St. Petersburg in 2005, to conquer the title undefeated.
But the Moscow-born tactician holds a view on the EuroChallenge final, and basketball in general, as intriguingly genuine as his game looked back in the day.
"People keep asking us the same question all the time, if we feel the pressure and so on," Bazarevich says shrugging his shoulders.
"But what should we do then? Do we maybe have to lose to take the pressure off?
"We played all those games aiming to win and we want to keep it that way."
Against Karsiyaka, who give up an average of 68.7 points to their opponents, Krasnye Krylia will need to overcome the best defence in the EuroChallenge this season.
Then again, maybe not.
"I don't look at it in that way, you don't necessarily measure the best defensive team according to the points they allow," Bazarevich explains.
"I think it's wrong to count it like that, if you count points per possession then maybe you can judge which is the best defensive team.
"This is one point where statistics lie; they say numbers don't lie, but this is one of the cases where they do.
"For example, in the VTB League Spartak St. Petersburg look like the best defensive team on paper, but they use all of the 24 seconds on offence so their games go to less possessions."
Taking the title game to a lower number of possessions would seem to fit Karsiyaka just fine against a team that scores 83.9 points on average, the second-best offence in the competition.
"I don't know and I don't want to guess how they plan the game," says Bazarevich.
"I've seen them play really fast previously but yesterday [on Friday, in the semi-final against Oldenburg] the pace of the game was slow, or perhaps more careful.
"But in that game there was a lot on the line, so maybe it was an exception."
"In any case, we don't want to change our style of play.
"We are used to run, and we want to run.
IT'S NOT A FINAL IF NOBODY CARES
Krasnye Krylia's coach has more experience of big international games than any other participant in Sunday's final, including his opposite number at Karsiyaka and former Turkish international, Ufuk Sarica.
He has played at two Olympic Tournaments, two World Championships and two EuroBaskets and has one silver medal from each of the last two competitions to show for it.
Bazarevich's playing career at club level spanned almost two decades and took him to five countries outside Russia, including Turkey where he suited up for Yildirim, Tofas Bursa and Türk Telekom.
It's more than safe to assume he has a very good idea of what his players should expect when they enter a deafeningly loud, packed with 5,000-plus local fans Karsiyaka Arena on Sunday.
"You know, we understand this and probably it's even better like that," Bazarevich offers.
"I mean, obviously they have an advantage because it's their fans and they get this energy from them.
"But to play in a final where it's not like that and nobody seems to care, would be even worse.
"We will see during the game [if it affects us] but I think we have experienced players who know how to play, so I believe we will get through this."
There are plenty of things the Samara coach likes about Karsiyaka, beyond the atmosphere in their home arena, and he is not short on praise for the Turkish finalists.
"They have talent, a very good scoring point guard [Robert Dixon] who also runs the team well and creates a lot [for his team-mates]," Bazarevich admits.
"Then they have athletic bigs and a good inside presence, especially with [William] Thomas and good shooters, their three-point percentage is even amazing I would say."
There is one more vital ingredient that Bazarevich sees in his side's opponents.
"Karsiyaka have a group of supporting players who really enjoy their basketball," he explains.
"I know how it is for them, I've played in Turkey and I know how the Turkish players really get this energy from the crowd.
"But here, we have a chance to win the title and that is something else.
"If you step on the floor, you want to win; why did we work so hard to get here and play in the final otherwise?"