Sergio Scariolo head coach of the Spanish National team speaks to Jack Majewski after winning his second consecutive European Championships title.
JM: First of all, congratulations on defending your title. You have emulated something which in recent history only the great Yugoslavian teams achieved in 1989/ 1991 and 1995/1997.Do you think that has elevated your team to the Pantheon of the greatest European Champions?
SS: Well, when I think that we have done something which was achieved by these great Yugoslavian teams it is difficult to digest. I think that we deserved it .It was something special that a group of such talented players was able to merge and gel together and work for each other. From a coaching point of view it was something delightful to watch how much they sacrificed for winning this title, especially on defence.
JM: Your team seems to be an almost complete package now. You have tremendous experience, a breath-taking amount of talent and athleticism and an experience in winning decisive games. Do you think that finally you have reached a stage when you can compete with Americans regardless of which NBA players will be in the American team?
SS: No, we can’t go that far. We can say definitely that we have established a clear leadership in Europe. That came at an enormous cost of efforts and sacrifice from this group of players. We are now celebrating our success but we must remember that until two years ago Spain was totally unable to win this tournament. They had great teams in the past and even organised Eurobasket but still couldn’t win it. It took us quite a long time to establish this position, where we can also be quite optimistic about the future tournaments.
I’m not quite sure that we are right now in the position to set another challenge in terms of a global dominance. Of course we would like to compete against the best in the world but at this moment I think the Americans are still on another planet in terms of level of playing. I’m not saying that we can’t reach that level and compete with them successfully on consistent basis, but certainly it will take some time to achieve this level.
JM: How would you compare your team from ’09 in Poland with the current group of players. Personally I think that you look even stronger, more complete and multidimensional than in Poland. The arrival of Ibaka provided you with a great intimidator inside and Jose Calderon is better than Raul Lopez and Carlos Cabezas.
SS: I probably agree with that. This is why we should appreciate the group from 09’ even more. They not only won that tournament but absolutely destroyed their opponents in the last four games of that tournament. They also laid the foundation for our current success. We wouldn’t be able to win here without the experience in Poland. We have changed some personnel but the main philosophy on and off the court remained the same. I simply don’t want to make any comparisons between these teams; they both were a privilege to work with.
JM: London 2012 is an obvious next challenge for you. But what is going to happen after the Olympics? Do you see yourself staying at helm? This team is reaching their full potential and can be very dominant in years to come.
SS: You know what, I don’t want to go too far in the future, and we have to concentrate on our next challenge. We don’t know what situation we will be in next summer. We can’t predict what physical shape our players will be in. We have to take into account potential injuries and other physical problems. At this moment we can enjoy our success and prepare for a period when we won’t be operating as a group. Now players are moving to their respective clubs and they will concentrate on their domestic leagues, Euroleague and other competitions. Of course London 2012 will be a huge challenge for us and we need to completely refocus for it. It is very difficult to say what will happen after that though.
JM: Speaking about club competitions, how easy will it be for you to switch your focus from the Spanish National team to Armani Jeans Milano? The start of Euroleague seems to be literally around the corner.
SS: I really have never lost my connection with Armani. I even can say that I used Armani as form of therapy and form of escape from constantly thinking about Eurobasket. Every day, my assistants were sending me recordings of trainings and friendly games. We were in constant contact discussing things, so in fact I don’t need to catch up with the situation at Milano. I’m excited about this challenge, I think that we really can do something special there.
Photos courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed Photography