Qualified in the Euroleague playoffs – which no club in the French basketball championship had achieved since 2001 – and finalist in Pro A (Betclic Elite): Monaco’s season is already almost successful. “It must be concluded with a title for it to be successful”, tempers Léo Westermann, the captain of the Roca Team (the nickname of the team).
For this, the Monegasques will have to dismiss the double title holders, Asvel Lyon-Villeurbanne (2019 and 2021, the 2020 season having been interrupted by the Covid-19), in a best-of-five series which begins on Wednesday June 15 (at 8:30 p.m.). They reached the final by eliminating Strasbourg in the quarter-finals and Pau-Orthez in the semi-finals.
AS Monaco had however started its season badly. At the beginning of December 2021, seeing the Monegasques challenge Olympiakos (94-88 defeat in the decisive match) eye to eye for a ticket to the Final Four of the Euroleague seemed impossible. “If we had been told that at the end of 2021, we would have signed immediately,” agrees playmaker Léo Westermann. “It was unexpected, because the start of the season was very chaotic with a sum of individualities and conflicts”, specifies Ali Traoré, finalist in 2018 of the Champions League (C3) and Pro A with the club, and now a consultant for the Monaco Info channel.
Budget doubled, payroll tripled
In mid-December, the record in the Euroleague (5 wins and 9 losses, including five in a row) is not up to the investments made. The Principality club almost doubled its budget (14.1 million euros against 7.5 million the previous season) and tripled its payroll (6.7 million euros against 2.6 million) with in particular the arrival of one of the best players in Europe, the American point guard Mike James.
Craftsman of the rise in Pro A in 2015 and the title in Eurocoupe (C2) in 2021, the Montenegrin Zvezdan Mitrovic is then dismissed on December 13. Replaced by the Serb Sacha Obradovic, well known to the Gaston-Médecin room since he had already officiated there between February 2019 and June 2020.
Former short-lived leader of CSP Limoges after their title of European champion in 1993, Sacha Obradovic is intimately linked to the vice-president and general manager of Monaco, the Ukrainians Sergey Dyadetchko and Oleksiy Yefimov. He met them respectively in Donetsk (2010-2012) and Kyiv (2008-2009) during his early years as a coach.
“Monaco has changed its face with the arrival of Sacha Obradovic”, analyzes Christophe Denis, former coach of Paris-Levallois, Rouen and Bourg-en-Bresse, and now consultant for The L’Equipe channel.
With his high standards, his rigor and his discipline, he puts the team back on the right track. “He put the locker room in order and tried to give it an identity by distributing roles to each player, remembers French international Léo Westermann (28 caps). He did it very well. We have a lot of characters, strong egos. We were on the razor’s edge. »
“During the first matches, I mainly talked to them about their behavior, their reactions, frustrations, how to play together, reach out to each other when he is down, explained Sacha Obradovic in L’Equipe on January 13. 2021. The most important thing was to find a better atmosphere in the locker room. There were too many egos, players operating individually. “Sacha’s approach, how he manages the team, the things he changed saved our season,” continued Mike James. The way we played, how many were used, the atmosphere in general, was not good. »
American Mike James placed back at the center of the project
The American leader was the key to the success of the Monaco exercise. One of the best players on the continent arrived in the summer of 2021 after a freelance in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets. But beyond his undeniable talent, Mike James is a player with a sometimes unmanageable character, like his last conflicting seasons with his coaches in Milan or CSKA Moscow. On the rock, Sacha Obradovic gave him back the main role.
“He’s a player you have to know how to take with a grain of salt, you have to give him importance, stroke his ego a little, points out Ali Traoré. He needs to be at the center of the project. ” Then remained to accept this new hierarchy with the rest of the team, which has many talents: Dwayne Bacon, Will Thomas, Donatas Motiejunas, Donta Hall, Paris Lee, Léo Westermann … “When everyone knows their role, knows what the coach expects him, everyone feels more comfortable, confirms the latter. Behind, Mike [James] carried us. He is the headliner of the team and has again proven to be an exceptional player. »
So much so that Sacha Obradovic had to deny some principles of his collective game seen in Berlin, Krasnodar or in his heart club, the Red Star of Belgrade. “We can see that before, he played in a different way but he had to adapt to a collective already in place, it is the strength of a great coach”, greets Léo Westermann.
Above all, he showed Monaco the way to success and the Euroleague playoffs – thanks to 14 successes in 19 games – synonymous with a renewed ticket for the C1 next season.
Second in the Pro A regular season, the Roca Team must finally take the last step that resists them after two successive finals in 2018 and 2019. “It would be an exceptional season, because Monaco will have managed to lead both tables”, concludes Ali Traoré.