On the up

Renowned coach Sergio Scariolo, widely regarded as the most successful in International basketball reflects on Virtus Bologna’s return to the Euroleague and their quest to return to the former glory days.

I’m sure that your assessment will be slightly affected by your recent games but what are your thoughts about Bologna’s performance in the regular season?

We have to keep things in perspective. We were the rookie team in the competition. From the beginning, we knew that it would be extremely difficult to make it to the playoffs. Our commitment was to stay in the race to the very end and we have managed to do it. We had to avoid being part of the group of teams which disconnect every year from the race for the playoffs. We beat a lot of teams which were clearly better than us. We beat Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Fenerbahce and Maccabi. I would say that around 10 teams were better than us unquestionably. Also, unfortunately, we had a very big problem with injuries. Absolutely injuries plagued our season. Actually, along with Milan, we had statistically the biggest number of injuries to crucial players in the entire Euroleague. We had a lot of players who played their first season in the Euroleague and in fact it was the first year in the Euroleague for the entire club. Of course, Bologna has previously been immensely successful in Euroleague, but it was 20 years ago and it is literally pre-history. So far, we are satisfied but we want to finish with dignity fighting to the end. We don’t want to give up even if we don’t have a chance to make the playoffs anymore.

Does Bologna’s super rich history put additional pressure on you and your team?

It is not pressure, it’s a privilege and honour to work here. Our fans know that this great Euroleague-winning team is in everyone’s heart but it is in the past. By the way, the same team was also relegated to the second division and came back to the first division relatively recently. Last year we were still in the EuroCup which we won. The trend is clearly upwards, but we are probably facing the most difficult step. To become a regular playoff contender. This is very difficult because every year you will have 6-7 teams with a budget well above ours. On the other hand you have teams like Milan or Bayern which won’t make the playoffs this year. Or even two consecutive times Euroleague winners, Efes maybe won’t make it either. So you always hope that one of these big budget teams would have not so successful season and we are slightly higher in the table and have more luck with injuries and we will be able to put the foot in the door. This is the plan for the next season.

What separates you from being a consistent playoff contender? I guess the simple answer is money but I’m sure there is a bit more to it.

This is a great answer. However, we need to do more especially since next year we will be rather decreasing the budget not increasing it. We need to add more experience and athleticism. Our inside game must be a bit stronger. Of course, we have to have more luck with injuries.

But even in the current situation you are leading in the Italian league. Winning it must be now one of your main targets?

Of course, but being at the top puts you on the spot and you are the target for everyone else, Unfortunately, we will still be competing without such important players like Milos Teodosic and Alessandro Pajola. Winning the regular season two years in a row would be a great achievement but everyone knows it is just a regular season. The real competition is the playoffs, it is the final sprint in the last 4-5 weeks which decides everything.

Lets leave club competition for now. Was winning the last European Championship your greatest achievement ever?

Well, many people may think so because players from this team were not as well known as previously. The World Championship and Olympic games were huge too. It is difficult for me to rank them in some order. I’m very happy and proud of winning this European Championship but handling the previous generation was a real challenge. It was a legendary group of players with so much character and egos. So to find real chemistry between such great basketball players was a real challenge. From my personal standpoint, it was the most difficult challenge in my career even more difficult than winning the recent European Championship. With the current group, everything was basically about basketball. You can control it; this is your job. When you get to the team building, personalities, and egos that’s quite complicated because you can’t get deep enough into people’s souls to be really good teachers and find the right solutions every single day. So, let’s say it was two different challenges but I’m happy that we could successfully bring the ship to the harbour in both cases.