The heat is hot and the air is dry but the action is about to finally kick off at the Euroleague Final Four in Madrid. Emmet Ryan was at the Barclaycard Centre to talk to the players who will take the floor on Friday.
Thursday was a mild improvement from Wednesday, with temperatures hitting just 32 degrees today instead of the 36 degrees of 24 hours ago. Fortunately the arena here is air conditioned so matters were much more humane indoors. This is the day when we see and here from the players before the big games tomorrow. After a long season, it all comes down to two days of one and done ball. That’s a heap of pressure to put on anyone but the mood in the early going was remarkably chilled.
First out of the blocks to meet the media were CSKA Moscow and the mood was a world apart from last season. Unlike Milano, the CSKA players were beaming with confidence and seemed far more at ease around the media. Some kept to a comfortable spot for just a handful of reporters while others, most notably Andrei Kirilenko, embraced the scrum around them. Kirilenko was the star attraction for the media and he seemed content in the spotlight. This is his third stint with CSKA and a Euroleague title so late in his career would surely be the crowning achievement for the Russian big. BiE also heard from Aaron Jackson and Sonny Weems ahead of the clash with Olympiacos on Friday.
There are approximately 130 Greek journalists in town for this weekend and it was no shock to see matters become a touch more crowded when the Reds had their time with the media. As one Greek hack said to me before the session started, when a Greek team comes to the Final Four the press goes all-in. A buzzer indicated the changeover from CSKA to Olympiacos and that was when business picked up courtside. BiE, with a good dash of help from Sam Meyerkopf of Euroleague Adventures, got the thoughts of Othello Hunter and first Bryant Dunston.
The late game tomorrow features the hosts. Real Madrid will have the crowd on their side but also a heap of pressure. Facing them will be a Fenerbahce team that heads into this game with less pressure but how would that affect the mood on a Real team that has lost the last two finals?
Marcus Slaughter, Jaycee Carroll, and Jonas Maciulis were all calm but clear in their views about what to expect on Friday night.
For Fenerbahce, just getting here is a big deal but by now the players are just plain sick of being asked about how important it is to make a Final Four. For Oguz Savas, Emir Preldzic, and Jan Vesely, the storylines about having nothing to lose and playing with house money meant little.
From the opening tip tomorrow evening through the final horn on Sunday and beyond, BallinEurope is going to be bringing you wall to wall final four coverage. Keep track of us on Twitter and YouTube for more.