Unics Kazan has entered the Eurocup Finals with the best record in the competition - 20 wins in 22 games - and the best defense in Eurocup history. In fact, the 64.4 points allowed by Unics over 22 games this season is not only 8 points fewer per game than the next-best defense this season, it's also the best points-against defense by any team in Eurocup history. This great success has allowed Andrea Trinchieri to win Eurocup Coach of the Year honors in his first season with Unics. After four seasons with Pallacanestro Cantu, two of them competing in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, Trinchieri joined Unics and now faces the opportunity to make history with what would be the club's second Eurocup title, if they can overcome Valencia Basket Club for the trophy. Trinchieri also faces a challenge: to become the first Eurocup Coach of the Year to win the competition. If he does, it will be through his team's signature defensive excellence, as he told us in this Eurocupbasketball.com interview. "I know many coaches with good ideas and systems, but I was lucky to have players who accept what I am demanding and asking them every day, who will listen to me. This is the most important thing," Trinchieri told Eurocupbasketball.com. "We decided that defense would be the core of our game. My players accepted it and we are working on that."
Hello, Andrea. Congratulations on winning the Eurocup Coach of the Year award. What does it mean to you?
"Thanks a lot. It is an honor. There were many good coaches in the competition this year and lot of them did a great job. It is an honor because this year's Eurocup is a tough competition, with great teams and great coaches. I cannot forget that I am who got this award, but behind the scenes, at the end of the chain, there is my staff - assistant coaches, conditioning coaches - and all of my players, who should accept this award, too. Without them, I wouldn't have done anything."
It is being a very successful season for Unics until now - 20 wins in 22 games. How difficult was it to do that?
"I disagree, because this award comes before the last, crucial step. I believe that in 10 days, we will be the Eurocup winners and that is the most important thing. It is a team sport despite all the individual awards, that is the main thing. We have had good chemistry all season long. Everyone has been on the same page of the book, sharing the same goals. It was tough but we always want to go beyond our limits in every game, be a better team and stay competitive despite the tough opponents we face and the fact that we travelled a lot. The good thing is what we accepted this and it was never an excuse: we want to win every game."
Unics based its success on defense, the best defense in Eurocup history. What allowed you to be so strong on defense?
"We developed our system and it is good to have many veterans in this team. Every coach knows that defense helps you win. Offense can help you to win one game, but defense wins championship games. For sure, it is the first thing we worked on and I was lucky. I know many coaches with good ideas and systems, but I was lucky to have players who accept what I am demanding and asking them every day, who will listen to me. This is the most important thing. We decided that defense would be the core of our game. My players accepted it and we are working on that."
You knew some of your players - particularily the Greek ones - coming into this team. Did that help you to adjust to the team better?
"Yes, a lot, because the Greeks knew me and I knew them. They helped me in practice and games. At this point, it is different from what we started from. We had to build a team, and had to do it game after game, week after week. We practiced hard and for sure, they helped me a lot."
Was the two-way semifinals against Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade your toughest moment until now?
"Yes, it was the toughest week because we lost control in a very specific environment: you don't play in front of 20,000 fans that often. We put ourselves in a bad situation because we played a very poor fourth quarter on offense. We were close to everything we fought for during the whole season. We wanted to go to the finals, the first step to winning the championship. You want to reach the final and once you are there, everything can happen. There is favorite or underdog. Everything can happen. It was a tough week, but we managed to work hard and make adjustments to come back."
It is not easy to see a player step into European competitions and shine the way Andrew Goudelock did. How hard did you work on and off the court to make him feel this comfortable?
"Well, going from Los Angeles to Kazan is also a huge change: in terms of basketball, lifestyle and everything. Maybe since I saw Trajan Langdon in his first season, he is the highest-level European basketball rookie that I remember in the last few years. He is a great talent who can score in different ways. He is trying to understand European basketball, and on the other side, he was helped a lot by our veterans: Chuck Eidson, Nikos Zisis and Kostas Kaimakoglou. He is great, but at the same time his teammates have helped him develop his game and be efficient on the court."
Let's talk about Valencia Basket Club. Which are the main strengths of this team?
"First of all, the liason between the team and its fans. They have a very special link. It is very unique the way they play at home, with so much energy, intensity and their fans behind them. They are very good team with a very good coach. I believe that the two best teams are playing the final. There are no favorites and we will need our best effort to play these games. We need great concentration and little things could be very important - little things make big things happen. We know that Valencia always gets great support at home."
Both teams have played against and studied each other. Could it be a factor in this series?
"I don't believe so because a final always goes out of the usual path. There are things that can be common to these two games, but the finals will be at a different level."
In fact, Valencia won three series without the home court advantage, starting really strong. How important will the opening minutes of the series be for its final outcome?
"Yes, but it won't be enough, because Valencia always has a perfect quarter. There is always one quarter in which they do something unbelievable. It is the first quarter most of the time, but sometimes is the second or even the third quarter, like in our earlier game in Valencia. I don't believe that a good start will be enough. It will be very important but not enough."
This is your first shot to win a European competition. How much of an honor would it be for you to win the Eurocup and take Unics Kazan back to the Euroleague?
"It would be a great step forwards for me and for the club. I believe that I should be in charge of all responsibilities and would like my players to enjoy this. I am sure that if they are able to enjoy the finals, it will be good for us."