How the Greek Super Cup MVP award can help Moustapha Fall overcome a lost EuroBasket final

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2022-10-04 16:00

Moustapha Fall, fresh off his MVP award in the Greek Super Cup final, talks to BasketNews about his EuroBasket experience with France, and Olympiacos' chances to repeat last season's success. 

Credit: Olympiacos BC
Credit Olympiacos BC

Moustapha Fall is one of those guys that can't go unnoticed, on and off the court. The French center, who has literally become one of Olympiacos Piraeus' towering figures, also manages to steal the show in the Reds' locker room. 

To grasp how well and quickly Fall adjusted to a completely new environment, country, and organization, one must look no further than the Greek club's announcement last February.

It took Olympiacos less than five months into the 2021-22 campaign to realize that his starting center could cater to the team's needs for many more years to come. That's why, without further ado, the two sides sat at the table and agreed on a contract extension until 2025.

In Rhodes, Fall had to carry his Greek Super Cup MVP award for more than half an hour after the accolade had been presented to him by the Greek league's president Vangelis Galatsopoulos.

First, he posed for photos. Then, he briefly let go of the award to join his teammates on the podium for celebrations. When he got his hands on the award again, it was the fans' turn to get their fair share of photos.

And then came the media. Since the press conference room was waiting for the winning side to make their post-game statements, Fall carried his MVP up the stairs into the room and placed it on the table. When he showed up again for a couple of interviews, the award was still in his hands. 

It was Olympiacos' first-ever Super Cup win that coincided with a comfortable 67-52 win over main rivals Panathinaikos BC Athens. Seated next to Fall in the press room, coach Giorgos Bartzokas questioned the significance that the season's first title may hold for his team. However, the French big man offered a slightly different assessment. 

"For sure, it's not the biggest trophy of the season, but it puts the team on a good start. For the newcomers to win right away and for us to keep going from last year, it's a good feeling," Fall told BasketNews at the Kallithea Palais des Sports in Rhodes.

That's where the games of the Greek Super Cup were hosted - an indoor arena with a capacity of 1,400 spectators, which did little justice to the four (Kolossos Rhodes and Promitheas Patras, the other two) contending teams.

Olympiacos and PAO fans were the only ones that made their presence felt during the weekend in the sunny and warm city of Rhodes, despite the fact that the rules prohibited any tickets from being purchased by those without a permanent residence on the island.

The guideline was to keep the atmosphere and the environment in the arena sterile, to the extent that fans weren't allowed to wear t-shirts with their team's name or logo.

When all was said and done on the court, what mattered for Olympiacos was another trophy, the club's third in almost seven months, after the Cup and the championship title. Last year's EuroLeague semi-finalists won both games in convincing fashion, as they blew out Promitheas Patras 92-65 in the semis and PAO by 15 in Sunday's final.

Overall, Olympiacos haven't lost a single game in the preseason. In their outings against EuroLeague teams, they beat Fenerbahce Beko in Istanbul twice and blasted Crvena Zvezda in Cyprus by almost 40 points. 

"It's too early to see, but we've kept our main guys, making some good additions," Fall thinks. "We can be pretty good, although every team got better. I don't know where we're going to finish, but we're going to have a good season."

Considering that last season, Olympiacos won both titles in Greece while making the EuroLeague Final Four, how will success be measured this year? Will anything less be considered a failure?

"Honestly, I don't think that far," Fall replies. "For now, I'm thinking about Friday's game against Barcelona. But obviously, we always want to win trophies. That's the goal," he adds. 

His words echo what the club's co-owner and president, Giorgos Angelopoulos said when asked about Olympiacos' goals in the next campaign.

"Olympiacos have strengthened, but what matters the most is to win the domestic titles," the 48-year-old businessman responded. 

However, many say that Olympiacos overperformed last season, and that's why it will be hard for them to make it to another Final Four.

Fall disagrees, arguing that his team consistency made the difference.

"I don't think so. There's no overperforming or underperforming. You do what you do," he explains.

"And we went to the Final Four, playing great basketball all season long; we were solid and came one shot away from making the EuroLeague final. Nobody can take that away from us."

Fall and his teammates are aware that they weren't the favorites for a Final Four spot last year. That doesn't make them any less eager to silence those who doubted them. 

"This year, we're going to try to do the same thing just to prove them wrong," he firmly says. "There are a lot of good teams, and it's going to be a hard season, but we have a very good team. I trust my guys, the club, and the fans to support us throughout the whole season. I have no fear."

Compared to last year, Olympiacos seem to have upgraded their front line by adding Alec Peters at the power forward position and Joel Bolomboy and Tarik Black at the center. Bolomboy left behind a four-year stint with CSKA Moscow, while Black was picked up from the free agent market. 

Despite his impressive performance at the Super Cup final, where he scored 12 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists, Fall isn't feeling in perfect shape. In early August, the Paris-born center sustained a thigh injury that put his EuroBasket chances in danger. 

"It's not long ago since I came back," he stresses. "I'm still trying to get my legs back from my injury because I clearly don't feel 100% ready."

Even though he remains Olympiacos' starting big man, Fall is expected to face tough competition. Joel Bolomboy had a great game (9 points & 9 rebounds) vs. PAO, while - under the Greek league's new rules - Tarik Black might see some playing time in domestic games despite him initially being considered the odd man out. 

"All of us have a different profile," Fall observes. "So, it's not really a competition. Everybody is bringing something else to the table. I try to play my game."

Credit Vangelis Stolis

After spending a full season with Olympiacos, Fall is getting ready for another go with the first club that has signed him to a multi-year contract since his first team Poitiers 86 (2011-14). It's no wonder that now he feels like a veteran.

"When I came back to the team a few days ago, I felt like I had never left. Olympiacos feels like home for me, and I'm glad I'll be here for three more seasons," he confirms. 

The 30-year-old big man kept in touch with Olympiacos' people while with France NT and at a time when his participation in the EuroBasket was at stake. 

"I even saw some assistant coaches from Greece at the hotel. I've always stayed in touch with the club and with my teammates. I'm glad to be back," he repeats. 

France reached the EuroBasket final game, losing the gold medal to Spain. Vincent Collet's squad faced several challenges, especially in their Round of 16 match with Turkey, where Cedi Osman missed a couple of free throws, and again in their quarter-final contest vs. Italy, where Simone Fontecchio failed to deliver from the charity stripe.

In May, Fall saw Vasilije Micic deprive Olympiacos of the possibility to fight for a spot in the EuroLeague championship game. Four months later, he saw the other side of the coin, another proof of how close failure and success can be in 40 minutes.

"We had a lot of luck," the Frenchman admits. "We forced overtime in two games, and then we had to go and get them. Nobody would give us the win. Actually, I don't know if it was luck because their missed free throws are a part of the game. But for sure, those two games could have turned out differently."

In the end, France came in second, which is, of course, better than nothing. However, the overall sensation was rather bittersweet. 

"We can say that the EuroBasket was a successful one for us, especially the way we were playing - because we weren't playing well."

That doesn't mean Fall is happy with his silver medal, especially after how Spain prevailed. 

"I'm not happy at all. It's a medal, and I know there are many people who would like to be in our position. So, I'm not going to act as if it's nothing."

Anyone who thought Evan Fournier was overreacting when he said that he takes his silver medal as an insult and all that he wants is to get rid of it will hear a different perspective from Moustapha Fall. 

"I don't think the same way as Evan," he clarifies.

"I won't say it was a failure, but we were definitely disappointed because we were close to winning gold, and we didn't. It was still a pretty successful EuroBasket, but if you lose in the final, it's the bad taste that stays.

I don't know how to feel about this one, honestly. When I'm going to retire, for sure I will remember that we won silver," he underlines.

"But now it's still too early, and this one helps," he says, pointing to his MVP award.

Credit ESAKE

Fall, an Olympic silver medalist in 2021, has expressed an opinion in favor of Joel Embiid joining France in the upcoming tournaments. 

"He is a player who can be MVP in the NBA every day. Seeing him play with Rudy Gobert can be something, especially since Vincent Collet likes to play big, he can play with two centers at the same time.

On the one hand, it can pose a problem in terms of ethics because we never do that. But, on the other hand, we play by the rules. It's the law of sport: if there's someone better than you, he plays; it's simple," Fall told RMC before the EuroBasket. 

Does he really think Embiid can be a good fit in a team stacked with big men like himself, Vincent Poirier, Rudy Gobert, and -potentially- Victor Wembanyama?

"I don't know, and, right now, I really don't care," Fall promptly replies.

"My focus is on Olympiacos and how to help the team as much as possible. When the time comes to think about the national team, I'm going to focus on France."

If focusing on his club obligations should ever be a problem, that MVP award he won in Rhodes will always be there to provide some assistance. 



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