Exclusive interview with Daniel Hackett, just a week from the EuroLeague Final Four in Cologne in which will play with his CSKA Moscow. The Italian guard talked about his magical moment, the importance of Coach Itoudis in his career, his opponents and much more.
You’re 33 now. Is he the best Daniel Hackett of his career?
“Honestly, I think so. For technical maturity, responsibility and the quality of my game at a very high level, this is the best version of Daniel Hackett.”
A unique season. What are your thoughts on this “exceptional” season?
“Surreal season I’m saying, with the pandemic and all its consequences. We played so many games, it was a tough season. There were injuries, I had Covid in December, then a sprained ankle, but I must say that a good ending season is coming out after a troubled few months.”
What was to always have the fans in Russia, while outside of Russia it was always played behind closed doors?
“A particular effect. I think that, speaking on by all sports players, playing without fans is strange and depressing. We were lucky enough to have people with us often, a factor that gave us a little bit of normality in a period like this, hoping that the public can return everywhere, we truly miss it.”
In particular for CSKA, all sorts of things have happened, from injuries to off-court factors. But with one person who remains the indispensable key to this team, Coach Itoudis.
“Despite the many injuries, with Shengelia, Milutinov, Bolomboy, myself included, then the Covid problems that have affected almost the entire team, we had a club that has shown that it has broad shoulders, that it knows how to manage difficult moments very well. We kept our concentration on the pitch, whoever was available, always gave 100% and all this allowed us to reach the Final Four and to be able to play for trophies in this ending of the season.”
CSKA Moscow gone from being the favorite to the final victory to an “outsider” team. Can this be an advantage for you?
“I think that at this level, when you play in teams like CSKA, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Milan, the pressure is relative. You know there is, but it’s up to you to feel it or not. It is certain that with the roster that we had at the beginning of the season, the minimum objective was the Final Four and the attempt to bring home the trophy. Then there were difficulties, for all the teams I would say. In the end, however, numbers say that we qualified first, tied with Barça and we are at F4. With all talks that there has been, we made the pitch talk…”
Who impressed you the most, among your CSKA teammates, this season?
“Nikita Kurbanov. Everyone talks about the”top players” from Mike James to Nikola Milutinov, passing through Toko Shengelia, but in my opinion, Nikita is the best defender in the EuroLeague. He is a very underrated player for what he does on the pitch and behind the scenes. He never misses a training session, a game, he is one of the most physical players in the EuroLeague and nobody talks about him. For us, he is a key player and he has been fundamental for years and they always talk not so much he deserve him.”
Speaking of opponents. I’ll give you some names and I want your comment: let’s start with your current opponent in VTB League, Zenit St.Petersburg of Xavi Pascual and Kevin Pangos.
“A surprise team… for those who don’t know much about basketball! (Laughs ed). Who knows, can imagined that this was a very dangerous team. They brought Barça to the decisive game and have played so far an excellent season. Coach Pascual is deservedly the Coach of the year in VTB, as they qualified first with a great Regular Season. Kevin Pangos is very skilled, in the way he controlling the game, very dangerous on the perimeter and knows how to distribute the ball with great ability. A player who always requires you a lot of work, he’s a European version of what Stockton was, with the right comparisons. He’s not afraid to take responsibility in the moments that count.“
Barcelona and Efes. Jasikevicius and Ataman. Two completely opposite types of basketball.
“Barça are a very physical, aggressive team that play a very good quality of basketball. They are coached by a former player who has won a lot and knows how to get trophies. They are a team with a long roster that knows how to get you in trouble. Barça have important players, in particularly Nick Calathes who when he has the ball in his hand, can be a key man. Anadolu Efes started a little slow this year … because last year they were flying! Then from December they started playing a very beautiful basketball to watch, in which they know how to move the ball and attack the defenses with great ease. For everyone they are the favorites, but we know that at the Finals Four anything can happen…”
Olimpia Milano, Kyle Hines, Gigi Datome, Sergio Rodriguez and Ettore Messina.
“I see them very well. They had clear ambitions at the beginning of the season, with great signings that allowed Ettore Messina’s project to take shape. The results are very good, from the trophies won to the quality of the game expressed. The Final Four have been missing for a long time for them. They have clear leadership players, with Hines, Rodriguez and Delaney, combined with motivated players who are having an important growth like Zach Leday, Kevin Punter… players who are making a huge contribution. Do not underestimate the very solid group of Italians, from Gigi Datome to Riccardo Moraschini and all the other guys who have done a very good job. Chapeau to them and good luck for the Final Four, as an Italian I’m absolutely happy to see them there.”
Daniel Hackett – Italy. Closed chapter?
“It is a chapter that I decided to close some time ago, having very clear ideas about my future and my decision. I communicated it, I don’t need to add anything else, but my support for the guys will always be there. I’d like to wish them a big good luck for the Pre-Olympic in Belgrade.”
Where will end his career Daniel Hackett? Maybe in his hometown, Pesaro?
“This is an interesting question! I still have one year left on my contract with CSKA Moscow and I am very happy that Coach Itoudis has renewed for another two seasons. I still imagine myself for a long time with him here, in Moscow. He taught me how to win at very high level, I owe a lot to him. Then in the future we will see, there are a lot of options that I would like to explore… even if at the moment I still see myself abroad for 2/3 years, hoping to stay here in Moscow as much as possible.”