Schio flying the Italian flag after long road to Final Four
SCHIO (Italy) - Beretta Famila Schio have many reasons to be relish their Final Four debut and not least reflecting on the serious amount of labor expended to accrue such a beautiful basketball harvest.
Set to proudly fly the domestic basketball flag as the first Italian club to participate at the Final Four in 21 years, the most intriguing dimension of their success is just how much time and effort has gone into breaking this precious new ground.
The last Italian team to reach this phase of the competition was Parma in 2002; and Schio had their first go-around in Europe's top competition a few years after that, in the 2006-07 season.
"SCHIO IS ONLY 40,000 PEOPLE AND 7 PERCENT WERE INSIDE THE ARENA SCREAMING 'FORZA SCHIO'." - GM, Paolo De Angelis
It's been a long and winding road and few understand this better than long-serving Schio General Manager, Paolo De Angelis.
"For a lot of people, this is an unexpected qualification," he explained.
"Last season we arrived very close to the Final Four and this season we believed it could happen from the beginning. Back in August I said that our target was the top eight and our dream was Final Four.
"It's a dream that started 15 years ago. The first season we had zero wins and 10 losses, then the next season we had three wins and seven losses. In this past season we had 10 wins and four losses.
Greek Head Coach Giorgios Dikaioulakos has played a huge role in delivering history for the Italian club
"In the last two seasons, without the Russian teams, clubs like Schio have obviously had more possibilities to reach a Final Four spot and a coach like George [Giorgios Dikaioulakos] has made it possible.
"I think that the 'main actor' of this qualification is our President, Marcello Cestaro who has always supported us, even when we were losing 14 games in a row."
Being able to step out at the Final Four represents such an incredible boost not only for the club itself, but also for the entire town according to De Angelis.
He said: "We have played twice previously at the Final Eight which was a great emotion to be such a tournament, but obviously the Final Four is completely different with just four teams being the best in Europe and now Schio is one of these.
"We will compete with very big cities and capitals such as Istanbul with 15 million people, Prague with 1.4 million and Mersin with 1 million. Schio is only 40 thousand people and 7 percent were inside the arena screaming 'FORZA SCHIO!'," continued De Angelis.
"It's also a source of pride to see that the Italian players 48.5 percent of the team's overall efficiency in the Quarter-Finals - so much more than the other local players in the three other teams going to Final Four."
The last point is a significant one. Yes, it's more than two decades since an Italian club was at the EuroLeague Women big show, but the wider point of celebration for all Italian fans is the role being played by national team players. It's something which is likely to be of huge benefit with the next edition of the FIBA Women's EuroBasket only a few months away.
"WE DESERVE IT AND WE ALREADY FEEL ALL THE SUPPORT OF THE NATION." - Jasmine Keys
One of the Italian players making a splash is Jasmine Keys. Her individual growth and influence has mirrored and indeed fuelled the new steps being taken by Schio in the competition. Unassuming but relentlessly effective, Keys co-leads her team in efficiency and has returned more than 10 points and 6 rebounds per game - shooting almost 60 percent from the field.
"It is an honor to be part of a piece of Italian basketball history," enthused the forward.
"This is the result of the hard work Schio is doing at the national and international level. We deserve it and we already feel all the support of the nation.
"Also playing on our home court is always a huge emotion. The fans are always supporting us, they give us energy and we give it back to them. It was an amazing feeling win in front of our big family.
"We know that the other teams of the Final Four are more experienced, with a lot of great players that already played a lot in this kind of competition. But we are going to try to work hard like we always do. We will prepare for these games with focus and concentration because we've just proved we can play with anyone."
Now being heralded as one of the most underrated players in EuroLeague Women, it hasn't always been like this for Keys. In fact, there is a certain symmetry with the early struggles of the club - a fact not lost on the 25-year-old who has had to prove a few of the doubters wrong.
She stated: "I still cannot believe this. The Cups, the Italian Championship and EuroLeague Women because I was always considered the 'underdog' so it's not bad now taking my revenge.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for Keys since arriving at Schio but now she is one of the leaders in the team
"I'm grateful to Schio for all the opportunities that they are giving to me. Thanks to this special team, the staff and family, I've grown a lot and still I have to still grow a lot.
"During my first two years here, I am not going to lie, they weren't easy for me. But I believe a lot in hard work, more than talent itself. I am now just picking up the results of the hard work I've done in the previous years and now being in the Final Four with this team - wow!" smiled Keys.
Schio will face title favorites Fenerbahce Alagoz Holding in the Semi-Finals with the Final Four to be held in Prague, Czech Republic from April 14-16.