Ettore Messina discussed Play-In, young players in the EuroLeague, Milan as last chapter

2023-09-28T18:25:05+00:00 2023-09-28T18:25:00+00:00.

Cesare Milanti

28/Sep/23 18:25

Olimpia Milano’s head coach talked to Eurohoops ahead of his 5th Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season with the red-and-white team

By Cesare Milanti /

MILAN, Italy – Entering the fifth Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season on Olimpia Milano‘s bench, Ettore Messina is one of the few head coaches out there who can count on more than thirty years on his back guiding high-level teams in all of Europe.

The list says it all, starting from his latest experiences: Milano, the Italian national team, assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid, Treviso, Virtus Bologna. Without the opportunity he received to become assistant coach of Udine back in 1982 when he was only 23, though, nothing would have turned into reality.

Opportunity, therefore, means a lot to the legendary Italian head coach, also relating to his players all throughout the seasons. “It’s important that the players become aware of what opportunity means. If you come to a team full of tons of very good players and you don’t mentally accept the idea of earning yourself some space, well. My duty is to try to give opportunities equally”, he first commented on this topic in an exclusive interview with Eurohoops, during Olimpia Milano’s EuroLeague Media Day.

“The opportunity to play depends on how you play, on how you practice. If a young player practices, practices, and practices, you have to give him the opportunity to step on the court. Some players give us more margin of error, and some others less. There’s an irrational part in it, related to the trust you put in somebody: I can trust some players more than others, based on impression”, he added before touching on the previous experiences that can define a player’s tale. “Past is another part of the story. [Nicolò] Melli proved thousands of times to be able to make crucial plays even in difficult moments, so it’s obvious I expect him to deliver”, he said.

Explaining what he means by giving opportunities to the players he trusts the most, Ettore Messina put out a direct example from the past. “During Game 5 of the 1998 LBA Finals against Fortitudo, when I was coaching Virtus Bologna, [Sasha] Danilovic was playing very badly and I was taking insults because I kept on keeping him on the court”, he said. “For what he had been proving thousands of times in the past, I was sure he would have brought us to victory. I took that risk. He was great – and lucky – in taking that shot, but everybody forgets he was decisive all-around in extra time. You always give opportunities to the best players, to the ones you trust the most”, the 63-year-old coach added on that.

What does the future reserve for the EuroLeague?

Also considering the pre-2000 era, this will be the 22nd EuroLeague season for Ettore Messina, who’s ready to begin another year with yet another change in the competition format. Starting from the 2023-24 season, in fact, we will see the introduction of a Play-In Tournament.

The 7th and 8th classified teams at the end of the 34-game Regular Season will face each other, just like the 9th and 10th seeded teams. The winner of the first encounter will advance to the playoffs, while the loser will go up against who wins the second encounter, completing the postseason picture.

Olimpia Milano’s head coach seems to appreciate this idea, considering his previous opinion on the EuroLeague Playoffs. “I’ve always said eight playoff spots for 18 teams are too few. I compared it with the NBA where they are 16 out of 30, and now with the play-in, there are even more teams involved in the playoff race”, he first said.

“I wanted more teams in that first to give more opportunities to head coaches and players to compete for the biggest goal and then to give recognition to clubs and owners who invest a lot of money. To make the EuroLeague you need a very high budget, and the teams who remain out of the playoffs or even the 18th-seeded team still spend a lot”, he went on to say about the economic effort EuroLeague teams must make to be competitive.

At the end of the day, then, making those four teams from the 8th to the 10th spot brings even more equality, according to Olimpia Milano’s head coach. “Give a little bit more recognition to whoever makes these kinds of investments, giving the opportunity to qualify for the playoffs, maybe recovering from a bad start, was the right thing to do”, Ettore Messina added before proposing an innovation in the format. “If it was for me, I’d make the playoffs for twelve teams: I’d take the first four straight up and do a preliminary round of the remaining eight teams. But everybody says with this schedule it’s impossible. One day it will be done, maybe”, he added.

Talking about the present and future of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, an important issue is related to the lack of generational change among players in the European competitions. Ettore Messina believes a large reason why must be linked to the NBA’s attraction for the youngest hoopers in the Old Continent.

“For years, in my eyes, we’ve lost the occasion to establish a deeper relationship with the NBA. I don’t know if the NBA is our competitor or ally, this isn’t the topic to discuss. But I’ve always thought we have to do everything to make young players remain in Europe if we’re not talking about players like [Luka] Doncic or [Nikola] Jokic, for example”, he said about players who moved straight to the NBA without passing through the EuroLeague.

Among the hundreds of players he has coached all throughout his career, there was one Argentinian who established himself as one of the best foreigners ever in the NBA only after making his presence felt in Europe, where he won – as well as other Italian trophies – the 2001 EuroLeague as Final Four MVP.

“Manu Ginobili moved there at 25 after establishing himself as an élite player in the EuroLeague, following the examples of others in the past”, Ettore Messina said. “There should be the opportunity to keep players who have been drafted, with the reciprocal intention of helping them develop in a league that can give a lot to the players. Over the years, instead, this growing goal for the NBA became the G-League or even Australia’s NBL”, he touched on the developing markets that are working mainly with International young players.

This, according to Ettore Messina, is something to be discussed to prevent future lack of new generations. “Talking about his topic first inside of the competition and then with the NBA it’s a must-do thing now because otherwise, we will keep seeing young players immediately moving there when drafted, attracted by the economic opportunity. If you’re an interesting and skilled young player and you are given the opportunity to sign a two-way contract, which is already an important one during one player’s career, you take it. It’s a development problem. Otherwise, it’s likely we will be a high-level league composed only of already established players”, Olimpia Milano’s head coach also commented.

The national team’s success and not moving anywhere

Prior to the start of the 2023-24 season, the 2023 FIBA World Cup caught the attention of many. Touching on how much the growth of a domestic league influences the success of the respective national team, using the example of the latest World Champions Germany, Ettore Messina doesn’t necessarily think they are strictly connected to each other.

“The majority of players who belong to the German national team grew up abroad. The Wagner brothers, [Dennis] Schroder… they left the country early. There are players like Maodo Lo and [Johannes] Voigtmann who grew up at home, but if you think of how many still play in the NBA, there are a lot. The growth of a domestic league is surely something that can help a national team become better, but not the only aspect to take into consideration”, the former Italian national team’s head coach commented.

“With that being said, you need twenty players, not thirty or thirty-five. We’ve had years with a strong national team, but behind them, we didn’t have players ready yet. In my eyes, the level at which they play those twenty is way more important, because if you have a national team where the first 10-12 players play at a high level and those who follow don’t play in their clubs, you have a problem. If all those twenty play in the EuroLeague or in the NBA, you have a super strong national team”, he went on adding.

Finally, after such a long and eventful career, Ettore Messina knows well this will be the last chapter as head coach. “Are you asking me if I’m tired?”, he first joked by smiling when asked how he is feeling entering the umpteenth year of a long path. “This is my last team, for a whole bunch of reasons”, he admitted.

However, there surely will be enough reasons for him to not be bored during his 5th season with Olimpia Milano in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. “When you work for Giorgio Armani, in Milano, you already have enough motivation, I assure you. You wake up in the morning like the famous gazelle: you wake up and run, because you need to make something good out of it”, the 63-year-old Italian legend stated.


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Un post condiviso da Turkish Airlines EuroLeague (@euroleague)

PHOTO CREDIT: Olimpia Milano

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