Jack Majewski speaking to Sergio Scariolo, the current Head Coach of the Spanish National Team and Armani Jeans Milano on the progress of the season so far.
JM: The first phase of your project at Milan is over. You have qualified to Top 16 in the most dramatic fashion, by beating Partizan in Belgrade by 6 points. What is your assessment of the first couple months of the season?
SS: Our project here is not a short term project. This is a 3 years project, where we want to build a solid base and we are doing that by implementing new sets of values, philosophies or behaviours. This club has qualified to the Top 16 only once in the history. Our target was to repeat that achievement and we have done it. Obviously we had our ups and downs, which is normal for a team full of new players. From that point of view I would say that we have exceeded our expectations.
JM: In the top 16 you have been drawn into a very tough group with current Euroleague Champions, Panathinaikos and also Fenerbahce Ulker and Unics Kazan.
SS: Yeah, they are excellent teams indeed. We don’t need to dwell on Panathinaikos, they are reining Champs and that says everything. Fenerbahce is an extremely good team which will be even more motivated by the prospect of playing in Final Four in front of the home crowd. I’m also very impressed with Unics. That of course doesn’t mean that we are going to lie down and allow them to beat us. We have a very strong desire to make things difficult for our opponents.
JM. You mentioned that reaching top 16 was your objective when it comes to international competitions. However you have a group of experienced, seasoned veterans who know how to win on this level. You must be tempted to go higher than that?
SS: We have quite a young team and four experienced players. Even these experienced players were playing important but supportive roles in their previous teams. We are trying all the time to develop our young players and that will take far more than a couple of months or even one season. We didn’t want to import more players because that would affect our long term policy. We want to build something on a very solid foundation and not to buy success. But I will repeat again that we will try get as far as possible in this competition.
JM: Speaking about experienced players which you have brought last summer we must mention Malik Hairstone who joined you from arch rival Montepaschi Siena. He was very important to them and almost pivotal in their epic series against Olympiacos. He was even more important to you, but he has suffered from a prolonged injury and will be side-lined till the end of January. How you are going to cope without him?
SS: He is recovering but we are not sure when exactly he will be back. Of course he is very important to us. Initially he was a role player at Siena and his role gradually was growing and he became an important piece of a jigsaw there, playing around 20 minutes. His role is even bigger with us; he is probably our best player. Certainly he is the most improved player .We couldn’t go any longer with his injury, he played almost 2 months in pain and now was the time to rectify this situation. We are not going to rush his recovery and we want him to be fully fit before he will start to play again.
JM: Let’s switch to the younger contingent at Milan and one of the more prominent talents there is Leon Radosevic. He plays limited minutes at Euroleague but recently he had a couple strong performances in the Italian league, for instance in your last game against Roma where he scored 11 points .How much of an important part of your long term policy is he?
SS: Obviously he is an important part of the project. We must remember that this season is a complete change of world for him. He comes from a team where he played a lot of minutes regardless of the score or how he played. Now he is in a team which is rebuilding but wants to compete at the same time. Of course this is a difficult situation for him. On top of that he must compete for minutes on the floor against players who have far more experience than him like Ioannis Bourousis and Mason Rocca. He played very well against Roma, but he was also very good in many other games, he was absolutely huge against Siena. We want him to mature and improve, but he is only 21 and has an amazing future
JM: That seamlessly brings us to your return journey back to coaching in Italy. That must be quite an emotional experience to be back where you started your career?
SS: At this moment everything is going really well, I would even say that we are exceeding expectations. We have qualified to Top 16 in Euroleague and we are joint leaders in the Italian league. Of course this is a very early stage of the season and a lot of things may happen. I must say that I’m very happy here in Milan, happy with my team and staff and we are definitely on the right path. Of course Italian basketball has got several problems of various nature, but I’m trying to do my job here the best I can. I’m very committed to this project and I’m grateful to Armani group for making it possible.
JM: I would like to conclude this interview with a question about the Spanish national team. How difficult is it for you to combine coaching in the Italian league with being a coach for the Spanish national team?
SS: Certainly is much easier than working in Russia. I don’t think it is difficult at all. Modern technology allows you to follow everything very closely. What would be difficult is to coach a Spanish club and coach their national side. That would be practically impossible, besides that would be almost unethical and creating a conflict of interests.
Photographs courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed Photography