Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul point guard Kostas Sloukas comes off a historic season not only for his club, but a campaign in which he went to his fifth Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game and won his third continental crown in the past six years.
At only 27 years of age, Sloukas is a member of a very select group of players in basketball history with as many titles, and he has plenty of time to challenge for more. "My life is basketball," Sloukas told Igor Petrinovic of Euroleague.net in this interview. "When I was a kid I dreamed of playing basketball and of course winning titles. But I did not even dream that by 27 years of age I would have three EuroLeagues and five Final Fours."
Hello, Kostas. You know better than most people what it means to start the season as a defending EuroLeague champion. Is it different when you know that every opponent wants to take that trophy you won?
"Of course it is different, and of course it is more difficult. This season we expect it will be more difficult than the previous season because we are EuroLeague winners and everyone will want to beat us. So, we will have to be more concentrated and fight more in every game because we have to defend our title."
A lot of teams changed their rosters this summer. Which teams do you consider your biggest challenges to defending the EuroLeague title?
"CSKA Moscow is always a very good team. Barcelona is a very good team. The Greek teams are also very good. Another Turkish team, Efes, can do things. Armani, too. There are at least 12 teams that can play very good, have quality, and that can beat us. We had a chance to see last year that the EuroLeague is really competitive and very difficult."
Fenerbahce lost two key players, which means you will have an even bigger role going forward. How much are you looking forward to the challenge?
"I have to say I haven’t look at the upcoming season like that at all. Of course, we lost two leaders, experienced and really talented players, but we brought some other quality, and importantly, EuroLeague players. And the most important thing is to understand the philosophy of the coach, and of the team, and everything will be okay. We just need to work hard on the court. As far as me, I always try to do what the team needs from me, and what coach needs from me. That’s most important for me."
At 27, you have already won the EuroLeague three times. What were your biggest basketball dreams growing up?
"My life is basketball. When I was a kid I dreamed of playing basketball, and of course, winning titles. But I did not even dream that by 27 years of age I would have three EuroLeagues and five Final Fours. In this life, I worked hard for this, and I feel blessed I played for good teams and great coaches, and I got the opportunity to achieve good things. I keep going, and it is important to try to improve myself day by day. This is basketball, sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t, but you need to continue. And the dream that I had since I was a kid is to be healthy and to play basketball, to be on the court. Here at Fenerbahce, I feel good. We have an amazing crowd, a good team, and for me, the best coach in Europe. So I am very happy."
Each time you won the Final Four, who was the first person outside the team that you called or found in the crowd to share those moments with?
"No question, it was my family and my best friends. I have many friends, but there are not a lot of the best, best friends. So, immediately, after the wins I shared it with my family and two or three friends, like my best friend Stavros. I wanted to share it with him because I understand he is happy when I am happy."
You were recently at the farewell game for Dusan Ivkovic, who gave you the opportunity to play in the EuroLeague at a very young age. How grateful are you to Coach Ivkovic for that opportunity?
"He is a really good coach, and I don’t have to speak about him, his titles speak for him. At the beginning, he did not want me on the team, but afterwards he changed his mind, and he slowly started to trust me. I learned a lot from him in the one year I worked with him, and I improved my game that season."
You have the privilege now of playing for another Serbian coaching legend, Zeljko Obradovic. How are they similar and how are they different?
"Each of them has his own way, but I think Obradovic is a genius how he understands what players need on the court and what to tell players on the court and off the court. How he understands basketball, the way things work in basketball work. He is a genius. I cannot say enough about him, again, his titles speak for themselves. Nine EuroLeagues, that is incredible, I don’t think anyone else can achieve that. I think of him as a genius, not only in basketball terms, but also as a person. Of course, he is a tough coach. Sometimes he reacts, or he screams, but this is a part of his tactic and part of the game. He needs to be like that so players understand what he wants from them. But the way he speaks with players, it is incredible."
You came to Fenerbahce for a bigger role, and you found it. How proud are you now of that decision, which has clearly paid off?
"Finally, after two years I am very proud. It was a tough and difficult decision for me. I left Olympiacos, where I was for seven years. I had great memories and won two EuroLeagues. But with 100 percent certainty, I can say now I made the right decision to come to this family and to fight for this club, to play for this coach and these teammates. Really, I am very proud and I want to succeed more with this team in the next three years."
In 2002, Ibrahim Kutluay was the first Turk to win the EuroLeague with a Greek team. Now, you are the first Greek to win it with a Turkish team. How does that feel?
"First and foremost, I am proud of myself and my team because we are the first Turkish team to take the Euroleague title. With this, you know, my teammates and me and our coaches will be in the history books. That’s important. And to win one big title like that makes you happy, because all year, every day and every hour you work for this."
Before you moved here, you knew Istanbul as a visitor. Now that you live here, what are your favorite things about this city?
"The city is really beautiful. I knew that. I have to admit, I hate the traffic, there is a lot of traffic, but the city is unbelievable. There is plenty of sightseeing, good food, people are polite and very kind. It is one of the best cities to live and play basketball in."
Istanbul has been the right place for you two times, in 2012 and again last year. Would you like to see the Final Four played here every year?
"To be honest, if possible, yes! Because I took one title with Olympiacos, and one with Fenerbahce. However, I know that would be impossible. When thinking about it, you can say we prepared for the games well, and we had some luck because in those kinds of games you need luck to win. But I can tell you that last season we had pressure as a team to win the EuroLeague. And we achieved it. But this year will be even more difficult because, like I already said, everyone will want to beat us."