Anadolu Efes Istanbul head coach Ergin Ataman shared his coaching philosophy and how he prepares for big games before traveling to Belgrade to defend the EuroLeague crown at the 2022 Final Four.
Ergin Ataman, Efes: 'Basketball is a simple game'
Every team in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is well-stocked with talented players up and down the roster. One of the things that separate the best from the rest is how they work together and, of course, how much their coaches bring out of them. Coach Ergin Ataman is an expert in that area.
Ataman has his basic coaching principles, which include mastering how to move on the court to maximize spacing and playing strong individual and team defense. Once his players are comfortable in that system, he gives them almost unlimited freedom.
“I never tell my players not to shoot, to not use an early fastbreak… I want them mentally to feel free on the court,” he explained. “This is my philosophy because I don't want that my players when they come to play on the court will think too much about what coach is asking from them. I like to teach them before, in practice, in the preseason.
“When the game starts, he is responsible, the players are responsible. He doesn't think about what I like, what I think, because he knows that and he uses his freedom, of course, with all respect to their friends on the court. Very simple. For me, basketball is a simple game. How much you complicate the game will be more difficult for the players to show their potential in the game.”
Naturally, to get it all to work together, the players must trust each other and work well together. Ataman does not need to get involved in building the chemistry. Instead, he tries to put together a puzzle of players with certain roles and personalities that he thinks will come together on their own.
“Somebody must work more on defense, somebody will be more responsible to take the rebounds, somebody will be more responsible to play in the open court and fastbreak, somebody will control the game in the five-on-five, in the half-court, somebody must control the locker room of the team. When you build the team, you don't choose only the best players, you must think about everything,” he said. “The character of the players, the players that like to show their capacity inside of the team. I don't like only players who score every game 20 or 25 points, but others are not happy. So okay, maybe in the team you will have some players that score, but everybody must be happy to share the roles on the team. And we build the team, we built for this chemistry.
“It's important that everybody must understand his role and everybody must respect each other. In our team, inside the team, there's the same respect for Shane Larkin and for James Anderson. Same respect for Vasilije Micic or Chris Singleton. Because everybody knows that everybody needs to help his friends.”
The core of the team that Ataman leads to Belgrade has been together for four years now and making club history at every step of the way. The next challenge is to repeat as EuroLeague champions, but that is not the way Ataman is framing it in his mind.
“We will try to win. We'll try to win one more time the title,” he explained. “Only two games to reach the EuroLeague title against a team that during the season once we beat Olympiacos, once we beat Real Madrid, only we lost two games against Barcelona. But now it's a Final Four we'll see the players’ performance, health, shape. I don't think too much about back the back. I think only about winning the title.”
To go all the way, the next hurdle will be Olympiacos, which Efes split two games against during the regular season. After winning big at home, Efes fell to the Reds in Piraeus on a game-winning three by Kostas Sloukas in overtime. However, Ataman does not think that those results will have a major impact on the semifinal.
“Every game is different. Every game you have a different performance from your players,” he said. “Olympiacos is a great team, great coach, they have had an excellent season this season. It will be a tough game for sure. We know their system, they know our system. I don't know which performance the players will show on the court. In these practices, we will try to prepare our players to show their best.”
The team’s preparation begins with scouting the opponent. The assistant coaches all have their responsibilities, though Ataman has a preferred method of watching the games to take in ideas, too.
“I like more to scout the games that we played against them. But, of course, we will scout also the playoffs that Olympiacos played. Some big games that they played excellent and some games that they were in trouble to find the correct strategy for the game… I believe I will watch for sure our two games and maybe two or three more other games from the playoffs and maybe from another big game that they played,” he explained.
“I watch actually quarter-by-quarter. I watch one quarter in half an hour, thinking about it. Then I give 10 minutes rest. I go out then I come back and I watch the second quarter. And in that period, I analyze, I think. That is my philosophy, my work when I'm making a scouting report, but of course, my assistants do a great job. They watched six or seven games, they prepare everything. They prepare highlights. And then finally I watch that at the end. But I like to watch full games, minimum three-four games thinking about the game.”
Ataman said he is confident in his team rising up in Belgrade, in part because they already faced early-season struggles.
“Actually, for us, it was the most difficult year because after we won the title, a little bit maybe we lost our motivation to reach the big goal because last year we reached the goal. This year we started slowly, maybe a lot of confidence to think about winning everything. Maybe the other teams that we played against had great motivation. Honestly, in that period, it was a difficult time for us,” he said.
Now thanks to the players he has assembled, their chemistry, Ataman’s playing principles, the coaching staff’s scouting reports and much more, Efes will head to the Final Four confident in its chances.
“My team mentally will be ready,” Ataman summed up. “We have a great team, great players and we will be motivated a hundred percent to win one more time.”