Joe Arlauckas hosts the Efes title-game star on the podcast's season finale
Back-to-back champ Tibor Pleiss joins The Crossover
Joe Arlauckas always like to talk to the big men, so who would make a better guest to conclude the 2021-22 season of The Crossover than Anadolu Efes Istanbul center Tibor Pleiss? Not only did Pleiss win his second consecutive EuroLeague crown, but he played a huge role down the stretch in the recent Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game in Belgrade, which the two discussed at length.
Of course, they started at the beginning. Pleiss grew up in Cologne, Germany – the home of the 2021 Final Four. Long before his dream of becoming a champion could become a reality, Pleiss's frustration with the time and effort that went into playing as a teenager almost caused him to walk away.
[13:45] "I had two times consideration when I was playing for the young teams where I was thinking about quitting basketball... It was when I was 14-15," Pleiss revealed. "I drove like one and a half hours to practice. But I didn't play at all. I was traveling with the team. I think I was one of the best scorers on the team, but I had less playing time than anybody else. I had this moment where I was thinking, is this all worth it?"
Fortunately, Pleiss stayed with basketball and, by the time he was 17, was already training with the professional team in Cologne and even traveling to EuroCup games abroad. He was still a teenager when he left Cologne to play for Brose Baskets, where he made his EuroLeague debut. Pleiss would go on to play for Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, FC Barcelona and Valencia in Spain, Utah in the NBA and Galatasaray in Turkey, which is where he first linked up with Efes head coach Ergin Ataman.
[28:25] "He called me at that time and said, 'Hey Tibor, I know you had a tough season, but if you come to me, we can do something good. I'll give you your free time. You can play. You can do whatever you want.' I think that's what made my decision even easier. So I moved to Gala."
One of Pleiss's great weapons has been his ability to stretch the floor with his long-range shooting, forcing opposing centers out to guard him on the perimeter. At first, however, it was not easy to convince Ataman to let him fire away from deep.
[29:10] "Go to the three-point line and give me 6 three-point shots in a row. If you make 6 three-point shots in a row, I'll give you 1 shot every game," Ataman said to Pleiss in a preseason practice in 2016. "I went to the three-point line and I think I made 8 in a row, or 9."
Pleiss joined Ataman and Efes in 2018 and was a part of the big turnaround that saw the team go from last place the season before to the 2019 EuroLeague Championship Game. The following season, Efes was flying high and dead-set on winning the title when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
[39:00] "We just thought that this season was different. We had a great shape. We have to continue, so everybody tried to stay in shape," Pleiss recalled of the period when the 2019-20 season was first suspended. "And then of course, when they decided not to continue the season anymore, it was kind of like a hit."
Efes finally got the chance to win the title at the 2021 Final Four in his hometown. Even though he did not have a big part in the rotation when that Final Four rolled around, Pleiss showed his team spirit and character even from the bench.
[45:30] "I knew already that I had done my part as well. At the beginning of the season, I had some good games as well. I played good. And I felt like now, I don't care. Of course, I wanted to be on the court, but on the other [hand], I wanted to win the championship," Pleiss explained. "I told myself, I don't care who is playing, I want to go out, I want to leave and hold the cup in my hands."
The Final Four in Belgrade was Pleiss's third and he was physically and mentally ready for the challenge. So when the opposition focused more on his star teammates Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic, Pleiss was ready to take advantage. Among his highlights was a play that got Arlauckas out of his seat!
[1:11:10] "I got the ball, I wanted to shoot, I saw like Rudy [Fernandez] flying by. I was like, 'Have a good flight. Have a good take-off.' Just a little dribble and, I don't know, I took the shot and the ball went in," Pleiss relayed calmly.
That shot, which Arlauckas considered the play of the game, helped Efes maintain control. Efes went forward to win it all for a second straight season and put Pleiss's name in the history books.
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Mike James, Guerschon Yabusele, Nicolo Melli and Vasilije Micic, coaching greats such as Georgios Bartzokas, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others.