|It is every coach's dream to be lifted by his players at the end of a final, because that means your team has won that competition. Only one coach, however, has been hoisted by his players after two Eurocup finals – Rimas Kurtinaitis. Before he helped BC Khimki Moscow Region win the Eurocup trophy this season, Kurtinaitis previously lifted the trophy with Lietuvos Rytas in 2009. Khimki fans who saw their team lose that title game in 2009 rejoiced this time with Kurtainitis as he gave them this season what he took away back then. A recent contract extension secured Kurtinaitis’s place on the Khimki sideline for another season, in which the team will play the Turkish Airlines Euroleague for the third time in four years. Kurtinaitis, a World champion and Olympic gold medalist as a player, is building a very successful coaching career, too. As the team battles on hoping to win the Russian League title, Kurtinaitis continues to look ahead, as he told us in this Eurocupbasketball.com interview. "As a coach, you always want to work at the highest level and the Euroleague is the best competition in Europe. I am happy to be there and know that the competition level will be different from this season; it will be much better," Kurtinaitis said. "We want Khimki to compete at the highest level not only in the Eurocup, but also in the Euroleague."
Hello, coach. Congratulations on winning the second Eurocup title in your career. How does it feel to win the competition again?
"Of course, it is a great feeling. We worked really hard all season to win this title. From the very beginning of the season, winning the Eurocup was a big goal for us. I am very happy for my team, because most of our players had never won a European competition. Three years ago, my team Lietuvos Rytas beat Khimki in the Eurocup final. I guess Khimki made a good decision by signing me as head coach! I am glad that I could help Khimki win the competition three years after that final. Two Eurocup titles with different teams is a great result."
Looking back, which of the two Eurocup titles that you have won is more special?
"For me, both have the same importance. Being Lithuanian, it was important for me to be successful with Lietuvos Rytas, and now I am also very happy to help Khimki win the Eurocup. I would not be able to say which of the two titles is more special for me. We managed to get the job done with both clubs and like I said before, the most important thing is getting great results."
What did you feel when Vitaly Fridzon lifted the Eurocup trophy? How does that feeling compare with what you felt when you won big titles as a player?
"I felt great! We had been waiting for that moment for months! Of course, it was important for me to be successful when I was a player, too. I did my job well as a player and won a lot of titles with 11 more players, of course. I got to become a coach and am happy to be able to explain to my players what it felt like to win. We have won titles again, which means that the way I am doing things is the right one – because we are the Eurocup champions."
Looking back at the semifinals, Khimki was down by 10 against Spartak in the fourth quarter. What did you tell your players in that critical moment?
"You know, we played a lot of close games this season, similar to that semifinal against Spartak. It was not a special situation to be down by 10 early in the fourth quarter; we have been there before. What I told my players is that we had enough time and that if we focused on the game and played hard until the last second, we would have a chance to win the game. We had enough time to rally – and that’s what happened. I knew it was possible because we were not lucky on offense in that game against Spartak. We were not playing well in defense and changed it a little bit. I knew we could make shots that we had missed earlier in the game. It was not a catastrophic situation, we were having bad luck. I told my players to be patient, play hard and we would be OK."
It is never easy to play twice in two days. What was the message to your players before facing Valencia Basket?
"For me, it is not important to play two games in a row or in three days' time. The most important thing is that both teams are in the same situation, and this is what happened. Of course, we had a long season, playing three different competitions. We had a lot of games, but arrived to the Eurocup Finals in good shape and ready to play on consecutive days. The problem may be the quality of our game, but at the same time, we had not played well against Spartak. We knew we could play much better and that is what I told my guys – if everything goes right, we will play much better against Valencia, defense and offense, and that's what happened. We had total control on defense in the final minutes and got a great result. My players put in a great effort and a lot of energy to win the game and that is what matters most in a final."
Your biggest leader and Eurocup Finals MVP Zoran Planinic fouled out and Valencia managed to tie the game. How did your team manage to hold off that rally and win the game?
"We have a lot of guys, like five of them, who can take leadership, especially at the end of the game. We don't have just one strong player, but a lot of them who can do it. In those minutes, with Zoran out, Chris Quinn played very well and became our leader. He took full control on offense and scored critical points. It looked like Zoran fouling out could have been dangerous, but we played with a lot of concentration, all of us."
Congratulations on your contract extension, too. How does it feel to be able to coach Khimki in the Euroleague?
"As a coach, you always want to work at the highest level and the Euroleague is the best competition in Europe. I am happy to be there and know that the competition level will be different from this season; it will be much better. There are really talented teams like Barcelona, Panathinaikos and CSKA Moscow, just to name three of them. At the same time, we don't want to just participate in the Euroleague; we want to win something. Our initial goal will be making it to the Top 16 and then we will see what happens. We must change our team a little bit, see which positions we can make a little bit stronger. We are looking. It is a tough job; completing the team is most important thing in basketball. We will see, we want Khimki to compete at the highest level not only in the Eurocup, but also in the Euroleague."
How was the celebration after winning the title?
"We had no time for celebration! (laughs) Some guys went out to a party because they had Monday off. Us, the coaching staff, sat down and talked about what happened. It was a short celebration because we had to face Lietuvos Rytas in Vilnius and at home three times in one week. There was no time for celebration. We will organize something once the season is over, but not now."
Do you feel that you have changed Khimki's history for the better?
"I think so, especially since we also managed to win the VTB League against CSKA Moscow last season. It was a good title for Khimki, but this is even better. I am happy that that we won the Eurocup, as this is an international level of competition. We were strong enough to win a European title, and that will be part of Khimki's history forever."
What's the next goal for such an ambitious club as Khimki?
"It will be very difficiult, but we are looking to get back to the Russian League finals and to try to beat CSKA, one of the strongest teams in the Euroleague, especially this season. CSKA has a good coach in Jonas Kazlauskas and very good players. Everybody wants to be first and to challenge for titles, to change Russian basketball history, since CSKA has won the league title for the last nine years. We are looking to change this, but it will not be easy."