Credit: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

On the verge of a historical title-defense journey in Euroleague, Ergin Ataman answered the question of Ismail Senol from Bein Sports. If Anadolu Efes win, they will be only the third team to complete a back-to-back in the competition after Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv and Olympiacos Piraeus.  

3-pointers this season

Points made: 9,8
Accuracy: 36,6%
Place in standings: 2
Record max: 22
Record min: 4
Most made 3FGs: Shane Larkin

"I don't feel much pressure about winning back to back based on the fact that there are so few teams managing to do so," says Ataman.

"The only pressure will come from being required to play in front of 20,000 fans in Belgrade and playing against a good team. I don’t get fazed by historical milestone achievements,” he added.

The defending champions did not have an easy path to the semi-finals as many people had serious doubts about Anadolu Efes repeating previous years’ success. Efes won half of their first 18 games, and the prospects were not bright. 

"If we got these results early in the season in my first year at Efes, I would not be able to keep my position on the bench, which would be normal," Ataman admits. "There is a great amount of investment here, and anything less than Final Four would be a failure. But of course, I had some credit from the previous seasons."

"I never lost belief in my team, but rather, I felt disappointment. We were having trouble finding our regular offensive fluidity in the practices as well as games. It was far from the level that we had in the last 3 seasons," Ataman reveals.

"To be honest, we found the bottom and then recovered from that point. Of course, we started to play better, and the injured players recovered. But the Russian teams being expelled from the league helped us to a great extent. Otherwise, we were in 8th and 9th place."

Ataman also opens up about criticizing players publicly and the heated moments in the dressing room in times of crisis.  

"I am quite sure that sometimes the players hate me. We have our discussions and heated moments as well. Sometimes I don’t want to see their faces for 2-3 days." Ataman jokes. "But all in all, there is a mutual respect and a strong bond."

"I was frustrated by the results at times, and I felt a need to share my opinions with the public. In that way, I was intending to put the public pressure on players’ shoulders. These are not young players, they are star players. They needed to feel that pressure. It was not about criticizing players, it was implementing a strategy to reinvigorate them," Ataman says.

Ataman also gave some details on visible on-court tensions among the players but emphasized the thin line between giving players the responsibility to solve problems from inside and intervening with some measures. 

"This team used to win, but when they failed to repeat that at the beginning of the season, they lost their temper from time to time. That's normal. It can also happen in a family as well like the brothers or sisters quarreling," Ataman revealed. 

"Those arguments on the court are always there to find the best way possible. Off-court, there are no problems at all. I remember there was only one game against Darusafaka where the discussion was carried to the timeout. (visibly Micic and Moerman). We took immediate precautions and kept them on the bench for the entire second half.

We lost the game that day, but still, we have a tolerance to on-court discussions, but if it gets to a point where the entire team was affected negatively, then we take some measures," Ataman reveals.

In addition, Ataman spoke about his coaching mentality and how he's managing a star-studded team.

"You know, there are some types of teams that play without the stars due to budget constraints. Trinchieri's Bayern is a good example," Ataman noted. "In that type of situation, you need to bring some variety and do different things. But most of the time, they are stuck somewhere in the final stretch." 

"However, if you have stars, then you should not put them into straitjackets or force them to play in rigid structures. We don't have regular players. We have stars.

Of course, there should be some clear-cut principles to connect the team into one coherent system and a big goal, but the players should have some initiative. If not, then you deprive them just to make sure that you are the boss. If that's the case, the underdogs can come and beat you," Ataman added. 

"You should not confuse your players," believes Ataman. "When the player is forced to overthink, then their overall effort gets down. They should be doing whatever they got used to doing. This is not a console game, you need to listen to the players, their needs, and gut feelings."

A good example could be the 3rd game in the playoffs series against AX Armani Exchange Milan, where Shane Larkin vocally demanded to take big shots towards the end of the game. Ataman also brought one more angle on that.

"Of course, we had to listen to our gut feelings on that. By the way, Micic did not succeed in the late game scenario during the previous game, and perhaps, that was why he accepted to take a step back. But the idea is clear: if you try to control this star-studded team with a whip, you will fail," he expressed.

But also underlined a nuance: "For example, Micic was sending those 3-pointers from the logo last season as well. And he was hitting them. As long as he does that, there is no problem at all. Sometimes the defenses drop in so strictly to close the paint, so it becomes reasonable for him to shoot from distance."

"But the key thing is communication: He should not break the balance of another player who has a hot hand momentarily. I don't see any kind of a clash regarding player egos or things like that." 

Ataman also joked about his potential clash for the technical fouls with Sarunas Jasikevicius, where the Turkish coach lost ground towards the end of the season.

"I want the referees to be fair and not to be exerting double standards about technicals. Well, the technicals are one thing but to be ejected from the game is another. Why is it always me?" he said. 

In the end, Ataman also posed one question and reminded a firm prediction.

"When I was asked whether I won't use my last timeout in last year's final, I said: 'Well, I spare it for the next year’s final.' Let’s see if that comes through," he concluded. 

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