Messina would be the perfect coach for the Raptors. And Toronto would be the ideal city for a non-American coach to make his entry into the NBA. Im hoping for this although its not likely to happen. This is what Sergio Scariolo, coach of Khimki Moscow and of the Spanish national team, mentioned in a recent interview with Corriere Canadese/Tandem.
The basketball man formerly with Benetton Treviso and now at the helm of Spartak Moscow, thinks it would be an ideal choice for the Canadian franchise, assuming that the team would provide him the proper environment in which to acclimatize himself and work.
Lets start with your new job guiding the world champion Spanish National Basketball team. What are your responsibilities, and what are your goals?
The main responsibility is to be up to the challenge. In recent years, Spanish basketball has grown significantly, has obtained significant results, and is now one of the best in the world. Future ambitions are equally important: The team has talent. Its clear that with time, it becomes more difficult to stay at the top levels because there is always competition that continues to improve. I think it will be necessary to keep a high degree of motivation in those players who have been acknowledged internationally. If were able to do this together with the players, then well be able to achieve further satisfying results. The squad is very competitive, theres no doubt.
Is there any remote possibility for a team like Spain with its many NBA players to bridge the gap with the U.S. Dream Team?
The gap is unbridgeable and theres no possibility the Dream Team would lose their top ranking if they continue to take it seriously, as they did in the last Olympics. For sure, if they repeat the same mistakes of the past, like they did three years ago in the world championships or at the 2004 Athens Olympics, then there will be other teams ready to seize the opportunity. Their advantage is having two high-level teams. And when they play using all their resources, theres no hope for anyone.
Who will be the players youll depend on for Spain?
I cant provide names at this point. The date for naming the team and the start of league play is still a ways off. The feeling is that the current crop of players still has the stamina and that were not at the beginning of a generational replacement. There are young players like Ricky Rubio who is approaching the limelight and is ready to assume an important role in the near future.
Why did two tenured coaches like yourself and Messina go abroad? Is it that difficult to get any fulfillment in Italy?
Both Messina and myself have had great results in Italy. But it happens frequently that one thinks the grass is greener on the other side. The reality is that at some point, both Messina and myself became aware that Italian basketball had taken a downturn. So we preferred to take our chances in other countries. I would not make this an issue, though. With globalization, its normal to look for work abroad, with people and ideas circulating more quickly.
Lets change topic and talk about the Toronto Raptors. There is some talk of Ettore Messina and David Blatt as possible candidates for the Canadian franchise bench. What do you think of them?
I think highly of them. They are excellent coaches. Ettore Messina has without doubt, an excellent track record in Europe as well as high credibility in the U.S.A. Blatt has the advantage of being American and speaking the language perfectly. Personally, I dont think it would be so difficult for a European to coach in the NBA in the near future. But there would have to be an opening, with the ideal conditions for this to happen, like perhaps in Toronto.
Why is there so much diffidence towards European coaches?
Canada invented the game and the top league operates in the U.S.A. If we keep this concept clear, then everything becomes clearer. A deep-rooted diffidence on their part is logical. But if a high-quality European coach goes to an NBA team that gives him the proper conditions in which to operate, then this skepticism might disappear.
What do you think about the current season, so far, for the three Italians, Bargnani, Belinelli, and Gallinari? Which one do you think is the stronger player?
I dont think its right to rank them. Bargnani is for sure the one who is showing the most consistency. Belinelli when he played did very well. On paper, Gallinari had the best attributes to make an impact, but has not yet exploded onto the scene, and weve seen little of him. We need to have patience. All three can be regular players in the NBA, without a doubt.
Is there any other young Italian that might have NBA quality?
At the moment, I dont see any Italian players who can aspire to take the big leap to the NBA. Lets hope that there are undiscovered players who can come to light. Melli, who plays in Reggio Emilia, comes to mind.
Why has the Italian national basketball team lost so often on the international level?
Theres no question we can do better. As far as the national team, its necessary above all, to have all the best players playing, because if a team is not full of top-quality talent, youre forced to use your top players all the time. Its necessary to bring a larger number of quality players to the national team. Its a lengthy discussion – players would have to be trained very young.
Lets talk about the NBA. Which teams will contend for the title this season?
In the West, Los Angeles is showing itself to be a solid team despite the injuries. They are a strong team it was evident when they continued winning even with Kobe having some bad games. In the East, the situation is less clear. I like Orlando very much a team full of talent and a promising future. But maybe Boston, with their experience, and their defending when it counts most, should be considered the likeliest opponent for the Lakers.
What went wrong with the Raptors?
Its hard to say. All the prerequisites for making the playoffs again this year were there. And initially, they felt they could improve last years results. Now, instead, it is very complicated. The causes of this negative productivity are many. Maybe the injury to Calderon was a decisive factor. Maybe the acquisition of Jermaine ONeal didnt produce the expected results. Maybe there was a lack of that chemistry that made the marginal players more productive last season, like Kapono and Moon. There are several reasons -impossible to list them all.
Raptors president Bryan Colangelo did not exclude the possibility of bringing Carlos Delfino back to Canada. Since you are his current coach in Khimki, what do you think of this?
Carlos is currently injured – hell be out at least a month. With us, he has two more years left on his contract. And these things are usually conditioned by existing contracts. I dont think theres a rescinding in the works. I have no doubt they are watching him carefully, as they do other players. But as Khimki coach, I hope he stays with us for a long while.