Champions And The Value Of Quitting

02 May 2013
Krasnye Krylia head coach Sergey Bazarevich
Krasnye Krylia head coach Sergey Bazarevich has brought a winning formula to Samara

By Dimitris Kontos

One of the main reasons why football and basketball are the most popular sports on the planet is because, by nature, they follow the structure of a well laid out narrative and can often make for very good stories.

The EuroChallenge 2013 final made up for great drama with a totally unexpected twist, a real crowd-pleaser.

Krasnye Krylia fell behind by 17 points in the third quarter against hosts Pinar Karsiyaka before ticking all the boxes in a triumph-against-adversity blockbuster script, fighting back to beat an opponent who had the support of the 5,000-strong local crowd.

It goes without saying that Samara's famous 77-76 victory would have never happened had the Russian side's head coach Sergey Bazarevich and his players thrown down the towel seven minutes from the end of the third quarter and agreed in silence that this would be all for the day, it's now over and we might as well start packing for the trip home.

This narrative lends itself perfectly to a universally understood notion, found in many a popular story; it serves as a moral guide and can usually be reduced to a basic catchphrase, such as 'winners never give up the fight', or 'quitters are losers'.

For this narrative to function, we have to assume that Karsiyaka head coach Ufuk Sarica and his players as a group were in some way inferior, at least mentally, to the eventual champions.

But in fact, and despite what the logic of the simplistic storyline would have you believe, Karsiyaka didn't quit the fight either, at any point during that extraordinary title game.

What made the difference is that a basketball game, just like a story, needs to reach a conclusion and on Sunday, at the end of the 40 minutes of playing time, Krasnye Krylia were ahead on the scoreboard by the tiniest of fractions.

A few seconds earlier or later, a couple of possessions more or less, and the headlines could very well have announced that Karsiyaka were crowned champions, in front of a jubilant home crowd.

That would have made for a completely different narrative, but one that equally contains all the major ingredients of a major blockbuster.

So why were the Samara side the winners in the Izmir final, apart from that accumulation of circumstances that saw them leading by one point at precisely the point the clock showed the 40 minutes were over?

Bizarrely, they partly found themselves in this position because as an organisation they knew when to quit, rather than because they never gave up.

Just three years ago, in 2010, Krasnye Krylia lost to BG Göttingen in the EuroChallenge final and failed to make the play-offs in the VTB League.

The following season they finished in third place in their Eurocup Regular Season group with a 2-4 record and took only eighth spot in the Russian PBL.

Coach Mikhail Mikhaylov was replaced by Stanislav Eremine during the season, but the club's front office could still not see a change of direction happening.

It was time to start with a clean slate, the end of a cycle.

At the start of the 2012 season they handed the reins to Bazarevich, interestingly a team-mate of Mikhaylov's on the 1990's Russian national team, and he started building up a new roster, almost from scratch.

Samara's EuroChallenge campaign lasted only two games, as they fell in the qualifying stage to fellow Russian side Triumph Lyubertsy, who ended up reaching the Final Four.

Just like in last Sunday's final, their season seemed early on to be set for disappointment.

But also just like in Sunday's final, this time around, they were going in the right direction and it was time to persevere - this time, they had faith in their coach and every player who joined the team perceived this and would chase even a seemingly lost cause with conviction.

Vladimir Veremeenko (Dynamo St. Petersburg)
Vladimir Veremeenko was part of the 2005 Dynamo St. Petersburg squad that was last team prior to Krasnye Krylia to go through the EuroChallenge season undefeated

Just 18 months and 17 days after that disappointing exit to Triumph, Samara registered their 16th straight victory in the EuroChallenge and conquered the trophy undefeated in Izmir, the second team in history to achieve this feat after David Blatt's Dynamo St Petersburg in 2005.

Dynamo, for reasons entirely outside the control of their coaching staff and players, disappeared from basketball's elite and we never had the chance to find out if they would have continued along the same lines.

Krasnye Krylia, and to a great extent also the other three clubs that reached the 2013 edition of the EuroChallenge Final Four though, are blessed in the same way that Dynamo side was, but without similar issues off the court.

In Bazarevich, Sarica, Sebastian Machowski and Christian Monschau respectively, they have coaches with a clear vision for the club, hunger for titles and the technical capacity to deliver them - they have the right man for the specific job.

All these four teams, with slight modifications on their rosters, have the potential to do even bigger things next season and the ones beyond.

They now need however to persevere along the same lines and stick to the project their coaches want to implement.

This is not the time for quitting.



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