Sergio Scariolo, the current Head Coach of the Spanish National Team and Armani Jeans Milano speaks to Future Stars on his Euroleague performance and goals for the remainder of the season.
FS: Your campaign in the Top 16 can easily be divided into 2 distinctly different periods. Firstly you lost 3 games in row than won 3 consecutive games. However, this was still not enough to progress to the play–offs. What is your assessment of what has happened to your team in Euroleague since the beginning of the year?
SS: That was not strange to me at all. It is very easy to put an explanation to it. We have played the first round without Malik Hairstone and Ernest Bremer who are extremely important players to us and the difference was obvious.
FS: Do you feel a slight disappointment that you were so close to qualifying to the play-offs even without your injured players? You lost only by 2 at Fenerbahce Ulker, things could have gone a different way very easily?
SS: First of all I must stress, that I came here to work on a long term project and make gradual improvements. One of our objectives was to improve on last year performance in Euroleague and we have done it. Of course there is a slight sense of regret that we had to play the first round without our 2 best players. You must remember that in the game in Istanbul we had the last shot to win it. It was a very good shot and Fotsis is a very good shooter, unfortunately he didn’t convert it.
I think we have done very well playing without our full roster. We finished Top 16 as the second best defensive team, because this something which you can achieve working with the team on daily basis. There is a different matter with the offensive side of the game. To score you have to have talent, flair and generally speaking know how to do it. Without our main scorers we really struggled offensively and we had a tough time to score enough points to win games in which we played really good defence.
FS: This was particularly obvious in Kazan where you scored only 44 points.
SS: Well, that was when we really hit the bottom. When you struggle so much to score, the team’s confidence inevitably drops down and it becomes a psychological issue. Then you have a very difficult situation when you are playing without natural scorers and rest of your squad is not that confident and become increasingly frustrated.
FS: Let’s hope that this period is well and truly behind you, the situation with your backcourt seems to be much better now. You parted company with Drew Nicholas but Hairston returning from injury and Bremer playing really creates a lot of interesting option at the perimeter for you.
SS: Both of them are playing really well even in the games which we are losing. We lost to Siena in the last seconds but the performance from Malik and Ernest were outstanding. There is no question we are growing as a team and improving on a daily basis. I really don’t know what our optimal level is yet. We are improving constantly but we are not close to what we really can be. This is our first year and our main objective was to build a strong base from which we can launch our assault on winning trophies. Our target is to win domestic competition within a couple of years. Winning Euroleague is completely different matter. Here in Milan we will never be on the same economical level as CSKA, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Panathinaikos, but in here in Italy we want to compete with Siena which is absolutely a top European team. We are already doing that, we beat them in one game then we lost by 2 points and next Sunday we have another league game against them and we will try to be very competitive and finish their dominance of in Italian basketball.
FS: After Euroleague is finished, what is your personal objective for the rest of the season? Do you concentrate on Italian League or does the Olympic tournament starts occupying your mind?
SS: Obviously the Olympic tournament is constantly somewhere in the back of my mind. I’m on a daily basis in contact with the Spanish federation discussing things. The same can be said about my contact with players or my coaching staff. Having said that this is not a competition period yet, this is not even decision time, at the present time we don’t have any crucial decisions to make so I’m focusing on the Armani project. Our main objective is to improve results without increasing the budget. We have done this already in the Euroleague and Italian Cup but now is the time to do it in the most difficult competition for us which is Italian league. Last year we finished third, this time round we need to be at least second after the regular season and make it to the play-off final.
FS: Going back to your Armani project. Do you think that the sporting public in Milan, like in other large European metropolies is somehow spoiled by the variety of entertainment offered there and will only support a basketball team which is constantly challenging for the trophies in the most prestigious competitions. Are they simply not interested in lesser games, your arena during the game against Fenerbahce Ulker was rather empty.
SS: We have such a different reactions from our fans. For some games we are selling 10.000 tickets then we have games like Fenerbahce Ulker (29.02.12) when we are selling a couple thousands of tickets. Then again we need to remember that we played against Fenerbahce for prestige, not for the qualification to the play-off. But you are right in saying that big cities are notoriously difficult to attract large crowds for lesser sporting events. Look at football, even AC Milan and Inter are not selling San Siro for their domestic league.
Photographs courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed Photography and FIBA Europe