Jack Majewski talks to Sergio Scariolo Head Coach of the Spanish National Team the day after their win over France (96-69) to progress to round two of EuroBasket 2011.
JM: When we talked a couple weeks ago you mentioned that one of the factors which made your team incredibly strong in Eurobasket 2009 was having to overcome problems in the initial period of the tournament when the team struggled with numerous injuries. That bonded and strengthened the team which later on obliterated the rest of the opposition. Now you seem to firing on all cylinders from the very beginning. Can you play much better than that?
SS: We indeed are playing very well and we are exactly where we want to be at this precise time. That of course doesn’t mean that we have a God given right to win the next game. We must refocus and concentrate on the next opponent. Especially that our next game is a true “do or die” situation. So far we had some form of safety net, always one defeat could have been rectify in the next game. Now every defeat eliminates us from the tournament, there is no tomorrow. Having said that I’m very optimistic because both tactically and physically we look very good.
JM: For the majority of the tournament, Spain looks breath-taking. You destroyed France, albeit playing without Joakim Noah and Tony Parker and also embarrassed the host team, Lithuania. The only defeat came unexpectedly against Turkey. What has happened in this game and more precisely during the fourth quarter of this game?
SS: Undoubtly there was an effect of the previous game. We had a terrific game against Lithuania and we simply ran out of energy. Our gas supply was cut in the last quarter. Also we shouldn’t forget that we played without Pau Gasol, that night.
JM: You already mentioned that at this stage of the European Championship there are no easy games. However in your first play-off game you will play against Slovenia who in this tournament are very far from being convincing. Do you see your passage to the semi-final fairly assured?
SS. Our main focus is to reach our optimum, top level of playing in every game. If that happens, I’m sure that we can beat any team left in this tournament. However if we don’t reach our full potential, it is quite likely that we can be beaten by any of these teams.
JM: But surely some teams can be more difficult to beat than others. Where do you see the main contenders?
SS: It is so difficult to say at this moment. Lithuania is playing at home, Russia looks really great and France played really impressively. I don’t think that yesterday’s game can be seen as indicator of their form since they rested Parker and Noah. I honestly see several realistic contenders for the title. From our point of view the most important is our next game. We have to be totally focused on it and win it. After that we will think about the rest of the opposition.
JM: How do you feel about the inside game of your team? The arrival of Serge Ibaka made your frontline look incredibly formidable. Ibaka is a completely different player than Jorge Garbajosa. That certainly provides you with some interesting options both defensively and offensively.
SS: We had to change our offensive philosophy. We are consistently playing with two inside players. We don’t have any other power forward who can shoot from outside like Jorge. That opened the floor for us very well and created a lot of space for penetrations. But I think that we have adjusted very well to the new personnel and we can be very effective offensively. There was no need to change our defensive strategy because we were very successful playing like that in recent years. We needed to learn how to utilise new players in our defensive strategy. That created some problems at the beginning. For instance we needed to learn how to play aggressive full court defence with such a big line-up. Also defending pick and rolls presented us with some dilemmas, but now we can do defensively precisely the same things which we were doing in 2009 with a much smaller line-up. I’m very proud of these guys, how hard hey work on adjustments and how positively they reacted to all changes.
Photographs courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed Photography