Sergio Scariolo (Brescia, 62 years old) answers EL PAÍS by phone from Bologna, on his way to morning training with his club, Virtus. There is no rest for the Italian coach, who just a week ago was tasting the bitterness of elimination in the second phase of the World Cup as head of the Spanish team. Scariolo, winner of eight medals with the Family, takes stock of the tournament, reflects on the generational change and looks to the future, to the challenge of qualifying through a pre-Olympic for the Paris 2024 Games. For a team accustomed to sweet gold, a challenge follows another.
Ask. What conclusions do you draw from the World Cup in Spain?
Answer. I think we played excellent basketball, certainly above what we ourselves expected. In order to achieve another success, we have needed to finish off the great work during three quarters of the games we have lost (against Latvia and Canada). The last two or three shots have escaped us in the lottery.
Q. What failed to give up 11 and 12 points, respectively, in the last quarters of those two games?
A. I would give much more importance to what it has cost, and to how extremely positive it has been to reach the last quarters in that position, because it was not at all expected. Then we lacked a little more experience in those moments of the game. The shocking fact is that of our 12 players, only one was a starter on his team (Joel Parra at Joventut). That is an overwhelming fact to talk about the profile of our players, who have made a great effort. And we also lacked more attack-defense balance, a little more offensive capacity in the best defenders and a little more defensive capacity in the best attackers. Being able to identify a group of five or six players who could guarantee performance without so much imbalance. This has forced us to look for what could be the best combination because we needed to produce points from defense, with great defensive actions with added counterattack, which is our hallmark, and on the other hand more coldness and success in those moments to not leave the rival take advantage of our mistakes.
Q. Playing the World Cup with Juan Núñez, 19, as the starting point guard, and without Lorenzo Brown or Ricky Rubio, was it decisive?
A. I have been delighted with Juan’s evolution. He has only had one bad game (Latvia), in which he gave the impression of looking a little overmatched. It is a positive balance. It is clear that it makes no sense to expect from Juan a performance like that of Ricky or Lorenzo, the two players called upon to take the helm of the game in decisive moments. But it has been a brutal investment, in terms of maturity and growth. Let’s not forget that he was a substitute for Yago dos Santos at Ulm, which has played in the Eurocup.
Q. The objective of this cycle was to look at the medium or long term, to mature a generational change, but the gold in the Eurobasket blew up all the forecasts. Is the ninth place achieved in this World Cup a return to reality?
A. The objective of this cycle has not been Paris 2024, but later. To think that the players who arrive later, and in whom we have a lot of hope, are already ready is absurd, crazy. They will need a couple more years after the Paris Games to get into full swing and project themselves until the end of the next Olympic cycle with a very young and talented team. That in the meantime we have won a World Cup and a European Championship has been incredible. It is one of those things that happen every many years and has happened to us twice because the collective ability to overcome the sum of individualities has been brutal. Until we could. That’s not the scale. For a fan or sponsor who thinks of Spain as a sure medal candidate, the team is not their team at the moment. If he thinks of a group that demonstrates the values of team play, cohesion, clear ideas about the future, yes it is now his team. If we give the young people time to mature, we will once again be candidates for medals.
Scariolo gives instructions during the match against Canada. ALBERTO NEVADO FEB
Q. Is it necessary to keep your feet on the ground?
A. Yes. I greatly appreciate everyone’s effort. I am a very demanding coach, I want to push the player to the limit of his possibilities, and there is always the possibility of thinking that someone could have given a little more, especially in the aspect that he does not control too much, which is not his natural aspect. At most a couple of players have given us a little less than we expected.
Q. You have commented that reaching the Games will be “a titanic feat.” And not arrive?
A. It will be what our capabilities allow us. It is our hope and our dream, but many great teams find it difficult to be regularly in the Games. We have to arrive prepared for the pre-Olympic and compete until the end, which is our way of being, it is what has made us special. The shot can go in or out, injuries, arbitrations influence… What we control, which is our attitude, is non-negotiable.
Q. You have a contract until 2024. How do you see your future?
A. I have received with great satisfaction the expression of the current councilors of the Federation, which is in a process of renewing positions (there are elections for the presidency on October 2), of the desire for it to continue during the next Olympic cycle. My intention is to continue coaching a team, and there is no doubt that it will be the Spanish team. The question for me will be to decide at the end of the season if I maintain this double responsibility, the club and the national team. My intention is to continue with Spain but it will be taken when the time is right.
Germany-Serbia, the final “of great European growth”
For the second consecutive edition, the world champion will be a European team. Spain, winner of China 2019, will hand over this Sunday (2:40 p.m., Tdp) the baton to Germany or Serbia, protagonists of a final that, according to Scariolo, “reaffirms the great growth of European basketball.” “And that puts a brutal value on what was our last Eurobasket semifinal against Germany. It is the team of the moment, destined to dominate the competition in the coming years. The final also demonstrates the great competitive capacity of Serbia, with such a huge production of players, figures from the NBA and the Euroleague, that they can allow for a few important losses (Jokic, Micic) and still remain at the top,” adds the Spain coach. .
None of the four semifinalists from the last World Cup (France, Spain, Australia and Argentina) have repeated now. For the coach, it is a sign of how complex it is to stay in the elite. “The level has grown a lot,” Scariolo recounts; “There are many teams with players with very important responsibilities in the NBA and the Euroleague. The growth is brutal. That’s good for basketball. Canada, full of high-level NBA players, had a hard time beating us. And the United States has lost two games (to Lithuania and Germany). “The competition is becoming more and more expensive.”
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