By John Rammas / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ergin Ataman era with Panathinaikos in the EuroLeague will start in nine days, but the Turkish head coach already knows how to make expectations regarding his new experience with the green-and-white Greek powerhouse.
Talking to Eurohoops during the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Media Day in OAKA, in fact, the former Anadolu Efes coach admitted he wants to take his new club up to another level.
The past with Efes and the ambition with Pana
Coaching for almost 30 years, the 57-year-old experienced leader still knows how to find motivation to go on sitting on EuroLeague benches. “I like it, I enjoy it. It’s a way of life for me to train on the court, so I keep going. And now I continue in a great team, with a great history, which gives me more energy”, he first said on his motivation to keep coaching.
Considering the basketball history he wrote in Turkey, winning back-to-back EuroLeague titles with Efes, Ergin Ataman kept it clear when asked if he could top that in Greece. “Better in terms of glory than Panathinaikos? Definitely no”, he answered. “The team has already won six Euroleague titles with great coaches and players coming through here. After too many years of absence from the Final Four and last year’s 17th place in the Euroleague, it will be a big challenge for me and everyone on the team to bring Panathinaikos back to the highest level, just as this team, this stadium, these fans in OAKA deserves”, he then explained.
Talking about the new Panathinaikos, Ergin Ataman said that his contract length will be sufficient to succeed. “For us coaches, two years is enough”, he first said laughing. “We may need to present work in two months or immediately. No one will be sitting around waiting to see what you’ll do in year two, starting with me. We built this team for immediate results. Yes, there are a lot of new players, but we have completed the basic preparation stage, we have played games in the preseason and we still have a few days before the start of the year in the EuroLeague. I hope that we will be 100% ready to fight for our big goals”, he said.
The biggest goal, however, remains traveling to Berlin in May 2024, saying that a successful season is defined by “qualifying for the Final Four”. Ergin Ataman explained it: “Obviously for the team that finished 17th last year in the Euroleague, qualifying for the playoffs will be a good result. Not for me. For me, the goal, the main goal, is to qualify for the Final Four. But we have to go step by step. You must first finish in the top six to qualify directly for the playoffs, otherwise, you will need to play in the play-in tournament. If you go through there and make it to the Final Four, everything is open after that. Single semifinal, single final. Everyone’s big expectation, starting with me, is to make it to the Final Four”.
Kostas Sloukas’ leadership and warning to Olympiacos
Among the 11 new players brought in by Panathinaikos for the 2023-24 EuroLeague season, there’s also Kostas Sloukas, of course. “Definitely yes”, he said when asked if the 33-year-old point guard would be the leader of the Greens. “He will be our captain, he is our player with the most experience in the Euroleague and one of the best point guards in recent years. He has played in so many Final Fours, while last year he lost the title in the last second. He will be the leader of this group”, he added about Sloukas.
Touching on Olympiacos‘ decision to part ways with him, Ergin Ataman commented that Kostas Sloukas’ move to the red-and-white team’s fiercest rivals is not a rare thing to see. “I have a lot of respect for Olympiacos, but that’s the way sports are, things happen. It also happened in the past with [Vassilis] Spanoulis from Panathinaikos to Olympiacos. It has also happened to many players in football. It may be an emotionally intense situation for the fans, but these things happen in professional sports”, the Turkish head coach explained.
Heading to the first game of the EuroLeague season which will be the Greek Derby, Ergin Ataman went on talking about Olympiacos‘ head coach Georgios Bartzokas. “He’s a very good coach, I respect him a lot, he is a good friend of mine. I think he will always remember how he lost to Efes in the semifinal in 2022 with bad luck, with Micic’s last shot, and how he lost in a similar way to Real Madrid in the final in 2023. If it was me, I’d be nervous if I had such an opponent coach. That’s why I said it”, he explained when referring to his “Bartzokas should be worried” sentence.
“Also, they know how they dominated the last two years in Greece. But, from the first day I signed for Panathinaikos, no one knew that we were preparing such a team, but they did at Olympiacos. They know me very well and they know that Ergin Ataman did not come to Panathinaikos just to get the position, just to work at Panathinaikos. He came to win. This is causing stress for the team that has dominated the past two years. I want to say that Olympiacos has done a great job, especially with Bartzokas in the last two years. They have my utmost respect for their results. They were unlucky in the way they lost in the final, they deserved to win. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what they will do against Panathinaikos this year”, he finally stated on their rivals.
🎤 Interview: John Rammas
🎥 Camera & editing: Stathis Pavlidis