Stojko Vranković is no stranger to championship-level basketball: In 1996, he and Dominique Wilkins led Panathinaikos to its first-ever Euroleague title, played in two EL Final Fours with Aris Thessaloniki, and won Olympic silver medals with Team Yugoslavia and Team Croatia. The former Boston Celtic gave an interview to Sport.gr on the eve of the 2011 Euroleague Final Four in which he reminisces about past glories and makes his own fearless prediction for this year’s tournament (go ahead, guess who he’s got to win it all); an abridged and translated version runs below.
Who do you think will win this year’s cup?
Surely this is a very strong Final Four, but I think that Panathinaikos is the top team. I hope they win [the Euroleague title] for the sixth time and continue the good tradition.
From your experience with high-level basketball, what do you think a team must have a team in order to reach the top and does Panathinaikos need?
I saw the games Panathinaikos played against Barcelona. I had a good feeling … The team played very well both on defense and on the attack. PAO played with spirit and it is very important for a team to do that. Panathinaikos in my opinion has the quality and experience to take the title.
Siena, however, is not an easy opponent…
Siena is certainly a very good team. I saw the first game in which they lost by 48 points [against Olympiacos], which was totally unexpected by everyone. But Siena reacted very well, handled the defeat well and then came out very strong. It is a very good team with experience, but Panathinaikos is better.
No matter what happens, Panathinaikos achieved a successful season by making the Final Four. Leading this team again is Zelimir Obradovic. In your opinion, what is so special about Obradovic?
I think it’s great for Panathinaikos that they have Zeljko coaching them. It is truly a blessing. He is a great coach and this is reflected in his successes, but also generally in the way he works.
What can you say about Dimitris Diamantidis?
He’s a great player. If Diamantidis plays well, Panathinaikos plays well! Obviously, Panathinaikos has many other good players, but the barometer [of their success] is Diamantidis.
How do you feel about having been one of the leaders of the team that won the first European Championship for Panathinaikos?
I spent four years in Panathinaikos and I can tell you with absolute certainty that it was the most beautiful time of my career. That trophy was very important to us and to the Panathinaikos club. It was the first success and I am glad it has been followed with more. It was a really great time.
Would you like to return to the team someday in another capacity?
Panathinaikos has a significant place in my heart and I’m available. If I can help a little, I’ll do so with pleasure!