Vassilis Spanoulis: Why he retired, Obradovic's lessons, and facing Olympiacos as a coach

2022-10-11 21:14

Vassilis Spanoulis talked about his goals as a head coach at Peristeri, why he decided to quit basketball, his relationship with Zeljko Obradovic, and his coaching habits.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Vassilis Spanoulis gave his first major TV interview as a head coach, where he talked about a wide range of topics: his emotional ties with Olympiacos Piraeus, his relationship with his coaches including Zeljko Obradovic, how he decided to put an end to his legendary career, and much more.

The 40-year-old retired player and current Peristeri BC head coach was a guest at the 'Pick and Roll' show on COSMOTE TV. 'Kill Bill' spoke about the ease with which he 'killed' the player inside him, referred to his coaches and mentors, and explained that basketball has changed, which means he should also manage his athletes with care.

"It wasn't hard at all to 'kill' the player inside me. I ended it, I had nothing else to give to basketball," Spanoulis initially explained.

Points this season

Points made: 86,0
Accuracy: 45,2%
Place in standings: 8
Record max: 86
Record min: 86
Best scorer: Miro Bilan

"My children got to watch me play. My career was like a fairy tale, I achieved more than I could imagine. I had to step aside for the young guys and for the good of Olympiacos; in order for the team to be renewed," the three-time EuroLeague winning player said about the way he decided to call it quits.

"It was easy because I was full. Players should know when their time is up," he added.

"It was very easy for me because I was full. I didn't miss it, I didn't have second thoughts, everything came naturally and with calmness. I have never missed playing basketball because I am blessed and grateful for what God has given me. I am very happy to have started a new career. I wouldn't do anything if I wasn't sure," Spanoulis maintains. 

Talking about the decision to become a head coach, Spanoulis said he wanted to create something new from a different angle.

"Inspiring and improving players, building teams is very creative; it's the closest thing to what I did as a player. You're on the court all day, you have to be a good manager, a good psychologist. I have done it all my life, it doesn't look difficult to me and doesn't wear me out. 

I'm a man who can help the team do nice things. Not everyone can win a EuroLeague or a championship. It's about how much you want it, how committed you are and how smart to constantly improve, to listen. There are guys who can make a career in basketball because it's up to them to succeed. That's why we're here to help them," he stressed.

As a coach, Vassilis Spanoulis wants things done in a certain way, like all coaches. But he's already set his priorities straight: "I want us to press on defense, play tough, with a lot of fast-breaks, with defined roles and with freedom on offense. I want the team to enjoy basketball, for everyone to come to the court with joy."

Spanoulis believes there's a fine balance between coercion and joy in the coach-player relationship. "I like to give my players the freedom to improvise and create, that's my personal opinion. We need that in modern basketball."

Having served under the orders of some very demanding tacticians, Spanoulis knows how it feels for a player to have his coach yell at him and vent his frustration whenever things go south. 

"The most important thing is that players don't take personally what I tell them. They must understand that you want to improve them. You have to yell at someone, but you also have to make them play.

The analysis should be done up to the point where the player can be focused. Things have changed, you can not tire the player with too much information," the Larissa-born coach thinks. 

Asked about his routine as a play-caller and the first thing he usually looks at whenever he's handed the box score, Spanoulis said he always tries to be focused.

"I try to make the plan, to convey it the right way to the players so as not to confuse them. I try to be calm, and trust everyone. We set limits for ourselves, not for others. I usually look at rebounds, turnovers, and three-point shooting percentages," he revealed.

But Vassilis Spanoulis was asked about some thorny issues, like his relationship with Zeljko Obradovic and the lessons he picked up while being coached by the Serbian mastermind for four seasons (2008-09, 2007-10) at Panathinaikos. 

"Mr. Obradovic is an amazing coach," Spanoulis conceded. "He was brilliant, incredibly hardworking, he took his players to another level with what he said and taught."

Now, the two are colleagues. But it's common knowledge that they've never spoken since V-Span left PAO for their main rivals Olympiacos back in the summer of 2010. Obradovic took it as treason, stating that the player never picked up the phone to clarify his intentions on staying with the team or not, after the Greens had made him a lucrative offer.

The two had an unforgettable meeting in the opening press conference of the 2017 Final Four in Istanbul, where they barely exchanged a word and didn't even look at each other. A couple of years later, when Spanoulis became EuroLeague's all-time top scorer, Obradovic was on the other side, coaching Fenerbahce and applauding his former player for his achievement. 

"The future will tell whether we'll make up or not," Spanoulis commented. The former international guard recalled that in 2017, during the same Final Four, he and Zoc got into the same elevator.

"It so happened that I became the EuroLeague's top scorer in his presence. I thank him for what he taught me about basketball and life, but people don't need to know more," he added. 

On the other hand, Dusan Ivkovic "was a teacher" for Spanoulis, who joined forces with the late coach at Olympiacos from 2010 until 2012.

"He was tremendous from an organizational standpoint, we had an incredible relationship, he was a teacher on and off the court. He would boost your morale, and he helped me explode as a player," Spanoulis argued.

The EuroLeague legend recalled an incident during the 2012 Final Four, when Ivkovic showed him a CSKA Moscow play at half-time.

"He tried to wake up the team through me, so that everyone could go back to the game. But I had a good relationship with everyone: Sfairopoulos, Bartzokas, Blatt, Trinchieri. We always talked, they listened to me, and I listened to them," Spanoulis remembered. 

However, the coach that changed his course was Panagiotis Giannakis at Maroussi in the early '00s.

"I took a lot of things from him and I thank him very much. I was very lucky that I had excellent coaches who helped me in my career. I still remember the plays we used at Maroussi."

At one point, Spanoulis was rumored to take up a position in the Greek national team. The federation's president, Vangelis Liolios, approached the retired player and tried to engage him in a project regarding one of Greece's youth squads.

"There were some discussions," Peristeri's head coach admitted, before calling Dimitris Itoudis "an excellent choice for the national team."

Peristeri stand currently at 1-0 both in the BCL and the Greek league. But their next opponent is no other than Olympiacos, who's hosting the team from Athens' western suburbs at the Peace and Friendship Stadium next Sunday. Spanoulis makes no effort to conceal his feelings for his former team. 

"Olympiacos was and is my second home. We lived so many moments, went through so many difficulties, we did so many great things that I really don't know what to think. I won't be nervous when I go there, but for sure the moments will be touching.

There's no way that some memories won't run through my head," he pointed out. 

Spanoulis is also confident that the Reds' current version is up to something big.

"They're an excellent team, perhaps the one that's most ready in the EuroLeague at the time. They've proven it. They're one of the favorites to go to the Final Four and it's important that they represent Greek basketball all over Europe."

Would coach Spanoulis like to have a player like Vassilis Spanoulis? Absolutely.

"I know that I'll always have a good locker room, and that the team will always practice at 100%. It's important for a coach to have a player who can 'translate' what he says. A leader has to be managed differently; you've got 15 guys who have to be managed differently but they're all equal."

At the end of the day, all that coach 'Kill Bill' asks is honesty and respect. "For their own good and for the good of the team".


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