EA7 Emporio Armani Milan has endured a very difficult Euroleague season. Injuries to several key players disrupted the chemistry and balance of the team resulting in missing out on Play Off position. Coach Messina shares with us his thoughts on the recent Euroleague campaign and plans for the future
Its only natural to start our conversation by asking you about your recently finished Euroleague campaign. I presume the plague of injuries which your team has endured will be something impossible to ignore?
The first part of the season was really influenced by injuries. Starting with Billy Baron, out for six weeks. Kevin Pangos has missed 3 months or maybe more. Shavon Shields, well we basically never had him in Euroleague. We had him maybe for five or six games. So we were really hit by that and have never truly recovered. If you think that at the beginning of the season, I was supposed to have Pangos, Shields and Gigi Datome at the perimeter, but we have never had this group of players playing together. Despite of that, there were a couple of games which we could have won anyway. In the second part of the season, we won a bunch of games. At one point, we won 10 out of 15 games, so we had a pretty good run, and came close to making the playoff, but the damage was really done at the beginning of the season. This was something which we couldn’t predict nor effectively counterbalance. I would be much more worried if these injuries were muscle injuries because then we could have questioned our preparations or things like that. But when one player damages his tendons, another sprains his knee, these are the situations which you can’t control. Unfortunately, the situation was like that and now we are moving forward. This was our challenge all year long, and now we hoping to finish strong in the Italian playoff.
It has been confirmed that you are staying with Milano for the next season, so I presume you are re-evaluating the entire situation. In 2021 against all expectations, you finished 3rd in the Euroleague and Milano seemed to be one of the strongest teams in Europe. However, two years later situation is a bit different and you haven’t made the play offs. So, what is the way forward?
First of all-my situation. I’m very fortunate here, I have a long-term contract. My only point was to be sure that Mr Armani and the rest of the management team are staying with the project. These were discussions which we had after Christmas, and I knew then that we are going forward. I understand speculations about my future. Coaches in my situation may think about whether they want to continue or maybe retire. So, I want to make it clear, there is no plan to retire soon. We have a good togetherness with ownership here in Milan, players are working hard every day, the working group and ethic is excellent here and we are striving to be better.
What would define being better? I vividly remember from our last conversation your expression “perennial Final Four participants”. Getting better means being a perennial Final Four participant, right?
With the format of the Euroleague today, I don’t think that ‘perennial Final Four participants’ exists anymore. Nobody is a perennial Final Four participant.
There are only eight places in the play-off for 18 teams. Reigning champions Efes, added Will Clyburn, and they are out of the play-off. Real Madrid also may not make it.
Absolutely. One great club from Fener or Olympiacos will not make it to the play-offs. Fener is one of the strongest powerhouses technically and economically in Europe, on the other end the team which pleases everybody playing great regular season. Only one of them will stay in the competition. I would like to say that I would like to be a perennial contender. We need to add some athleticism, we need to have health and to add some shooting. That is what we need to do. Some contracts expire soon. We need to evaluate the situation and we will do it at the end of the season.
Well, it sounds like quite a substantial rebuilding project.
No, it is not going to be a big rebuilding project. Just adjustments.
There is a very interesting situation in the Italian league you and Bolongaare in a fierce battle for the top place in the regular season. How important is this competition for you?
The Italian league is always very important. Like ACB for Spanish teams or the Greek league for the Greek teams. We won the National Championship last year, and if we win this Sunday, we will clinch first place after the regular season. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it is something which we can build going forward. Imagine this, a team like Brescia which deservedly won the Italian Cup must fight this Sunday to get the last place in the play-off. So, the team which wins the regular season gets the Italian Cup winner. The team with a very good budget, very good players, an excellent coach, and excellent organisation. So, it is a very competitive league and will be a very interesting play-off. Of course, I hope we will win, but we need to go really step by step. I was really hit by something which was said by Jae Crowder or Bobby Portis from Milwaukee Bucks after their shock elimination by Miami. So apparently, they were already thinking about playing the final series for the NBA championship, and they missed it completely. You can’t think too far ahead. You must focus game by game, series by series. As soon you start thinking too far forward, you are losing focus, and you will get out sooner or later.
Changing the subject, a bit what is your view on the stability and economic sustainability of European clubs?
You are talking to a person who has already been five years here, I have been nine years in Bologna, I have been with CSKA for six years, I have been with the Italian National Team for five years, I’m obviously a big supporter of long-term projects and continuity. You can’t be shaking up everything after a bad season or bad losses and starting everything from scratch. I’m glad that we have moved towards a longer continuity. Most of the coaches in successful projects stay at least 3 years working with the club. I still understand that, in some cases cutting the coach positively affects the team. This is part of the job. Generally, I think that we are having more continuity nowadays.