Future Stars caught up with Sergio Scariolo, Head Coach of Spanish National Team ahead of his final group game against Brazil. Their so far very smooth progress through the group phase was derailed by a close defeat to Russia. Tonight’s game against Brazil will determine their route to the finals and when they will meet the overwhelming favourites USA.
FS: We are almost at the end of the qualification phase of the tournament, but your situation is far from being clear, how is the team coping at this stage?
SS: The team is doing good, although we have many players who are not physically 100%, but mentally and spirit wise the team is high. Our starting 5 players are far from being in the best shape and health of their lives but we are not using that as an excuse. We are in a good disposition to compete and to fight.
FS: Can we spend some time talking about the Russian game? Obviously you spent a lot of efforts trying to cover Kirilenko who ended the game on 8 points, but Fridzon turned out to be the x factor of the Russian team during that game.
SS: Our game plan coming from the first part of the tournament when Kirilenlo’s influence was crucial to the Russian team was to minimalise his freedom.We also and to tried to slow them down of course, It’s true that Fridzon played a great game, but I think the one who played over his expected level was Ponkrashov, he was an excellent shooter and really led the team. Fridzon is a proven and recognised shooter, but Anton Ponkrashov was as least as effective as Fridzon was as an offensive weapon and on top of that he controlled a tempo of the game brilliantly.
FS: The Spanish team when playing in previous major tournament has been one of the best shooting teams from the perimeter, however in the game against GB, and in the second half of the game against Russia, you were not shooting well at all. Do you think this has become a mental block for the team?
SS: Not at all! The answer is to look at our best shooters, Navarro and Rudy Fernandez. One of them is in recovery, he has not played in previous games and is trying to recover from an injury. Fernandez was out for 5 months, he only started to play here at the Olympic games and is also still on the road to recovery. Those are our real great three point shooters, the others in the team are good, but these two are the best in the team.
FS: How close is Navarro to playing at least 80% of his abilities?
SS: I think that we will never have him more than 50% at these Olympic Games, but still at 50% he will help us in the rest of the tournament.
FS: What is going to happen against Brazil? Some people would say that is would be better for you not to win this game to avoid USA in the next round?
SS: There is no debate within the team, only motivation to do our best to beat them. We have to take into consideration the place that we are within the tournament, we are 2 days away from the most decisive games which are the quarterfinals. I have to manage the time that our players spend on the court. We have some players who need to recover from playing so much game time, and some who need to rediscover their rhythm and play more. But at the same time we want to compete, we want to get back to our winning ways, we want to win, there is no discussion.
FS: A win may send you on a collision course with the USA not in the final, but in the semi-final. Did the game against Lithuania change the perception of USA? They did not look convincing against Lithuania who almost beat them.
SS: We are not even thinking about playing semi-finals at this moment. The quarter finals will be incredibly difficult for us, whoever we will be playing. If we need to play against Argentina, that itself is a very difficult conundrum. We will start to think about the Americans when we will be preparing for the game against them.
FS: Maybe beating the Americans is not such an impossible task as everyone seems to be making it. Let’s be honest, a distinctly average Lithuanian team almost beat them a couple of days ago.
SS: ‘Almost’ doesn’t count at the Olympic Games and doesn’t create history. There have been a couple of teams which came very close to beating USA but somehow no one managed to do it in recent years. There is a huge difference between coming close to beating team and actually beating them. The Americans are still the clear favourite of this tournament, but how I said before we will start to worry about them when we safely negotiate the quarter or semi-finals.
Photographs courtesy of FIBA Europe and FIBA