It has been a successful stint at the helm of the Spanish men’s basketball team for Sergio Scariolo with the team picking up five medals in six major championships: three European golds and a bronze and silver at the Olympic Games. But with key personnel currently unavailable, the coach now faces the daunting challenge of creating a coherent unit out of veterans and newcomers for the EuroBasket 2017, which starts today, Thursday.
“In 10 years, no one will remember if [Sergio Llull] was there or not. We have to win a medal, end of story,” says Scariolo before the team’s first EuroBasket game, against Montenegro, in the Cluj-Napoca, Romania, on Friday.
Question. What shape is Spain in as it arrives at Eurobasket?
Answer. We have room to improve: things to hone up and correct. But we are aware enough of our strengths and weaknesses to start strongly. The idea is grow as the tournament progresses, but to be serious and competitive from the start with our debut on Friday against Montenegro, who are one of our strongest rivals.
Q. Is Spain’s destiny in this championship in the hands of [Spanish basketball legend and San Antonio Spurs player] Pau Gasol more than ever? Or is his importance the same as always?
A. Pau is in good shape. He is rested and gives us great leadership capacity. He is our undisputed reference point. But he knows himself that the greater the contribution of his teammates to the cause, the better our chances of success are. Pau always does great things but to make sure we are not predictable and that we remain competitive, other players have to show up at the critical moments.
Q. There are six key figures missing from the Olympic Gamesteam (José Manuel Calderón, Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernández, Víctor Claver, Nikola Mirotic and Felipe Reyes). Are you worried about losing some much experience in one go?
A. Of course, but this is the team we have now and we have to try and bring together this group of veterans and young players. If the players are intelligent and they leave their egos at the door, it will be a real boon because there is new space for them to shine. In recent times, this team has had a more rigid definition of its roles but now there are new opportunities.
It’s about understanding you might be on the bench for 30 minutes and then you will come out and do something useful, or you might not play one day but you will come on the next day and add something.
Q. In terms of players ready to take the next step, we have some explosive development from Juancho Hernangómez and Alex Abrines. Who is ahead?
A. I don’t know if I can put Fernando San Emerito on that list too, because he is a player that forms part of the historic core of this group, but he has played different roles in different championships and now is the player who is best prepared to be able to compete at the level required. His preparation has been excellent and he is a key piece of the puzzle.
I hope we can reach the last sixteen so that as many of our players as possible can be involved.
Q. Is Serbia your main rival?
A. There are lots of medal candidates; you can’t say it is all about one team. You have Croatia and Montenegro, which is in our group. Then you have Serbia and Turkey, and even Latvia which are in the group we will face if we make it through the first stage. Beyond that there is France, Lithuania and Italy. The competition is intense. Getting through the first phase doesn’t look as difficult as on other occasions but it’s going to be tough to qualify in first place in the group. After that, we’ll see.
Q. You have won three Eurobasket trophies? What is the secret?
A. It’s about being fully prepared, progressing efficiently through the championships, playing at your best when it counts, earning the respect [of the players] and creating productive chemistry: all of this together with a pool of talent that we have creates a cause and effect situation. And despite all of this, we know very well that the difference between winning and losing a championship and going out in the quarter finals is minimal.
You pay dearly for arrogance. We don’t just remember the podium and the celebrations, we know what those victories cost us. We remember the recovery sessions, the pain and the long nights of tactical preparation.
Spain will tip off Eurobasket by facing Montenegro on Friday September 1 at 4.45pm at the Polyvalent Hall of Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and will continue in the first stage of the championship with matches against the Czech Republic (Saturday September 2 at 4.45pm), Romania (Monday September 4 at 7.30pm), Croatia (Tuesday September 5 at 4.45pm) and Hungary (Thursday September 7 at 4.15pm).
The four qualifiers from each group will meet in Istanbul to play in the round of 16, the quarterfinals, the semifinals and the final from September 9 to 17. If the Spanish team qualifies, it would enter the round of 16 with other countries from Group D, which includes Serbia, Turkey, Russia, Belgium, Latvia and Great Britain.
Mediaset will broadcast all of the Spanish games and at least two games per day through channels Cuatro and Be Mad.
English version by George Mills.