In-depth interview with the base that transits his first year outside the country. Papa Gabriel’s heritage, early professionalism, dreams of promotion in Spain and the U19 World Cup in his sights. Nice story.
Cañada de Gómez, Gualguaychú, Lugo. The route of Mateo Díaz is not the most conventional. Nor is it conventional to have three years of professional experience at the age of 19. Mateo, son of Gabriel, a glory of our National League, passes his first season with CB Breogán of LEB Oro, second division of Spain. He arrived there after two years of great prominence and great performance in the rise of our country. First in the Federal Tournament, with Sport Club Cabanasnse, and then in the Argentine League with Central Entrerriano.
A subscriber to all the formative preselections of his litter since he was 14 years old, Mateo dreams of playing his second World Cup with Argentina. After the experience in 2018 giving a year of advantage, now he aims the guns at the U19 World Cup in Latvia to put the finishing touch to a cycle of international training competitions that was decimated by the pandemic. Meanwhile, he disputes the final stretch of the season in Spain, where he is a member of a high-performing CB Breogán with aspirations for promotion to the Endesa League, a difficult but possible goal. He is currently contesting the quarterfinals to the best of three games (the series is 1-1), in search of the only ticket to the elite of Spanish basketball.
-How were your beginnings? Did you have a chance to do something else or was basketball always the logical destination?
–Basketball was never an obligation. I did it because I liked it. Because also, when I was a boy I started with football, from the age of seven to ten and then I got into basketball at full capacity. Both me and my brother, my dad let us decide. If I dedicated myself to soccer, my dad had no problem. I shared his last stage as a player. When he was in Belgrano de San Nicolás, playing TNA, I was nine years old. As a child I always accompanied him to all training sessions and games, I stayed playing, shooting or watching training. And there I feel that I started to get hooked and I started to like it too much.
-When did you realize that you wanted to dedicate yourself to this?
-As a boy, when I saw the life that both my father and his companions led, of taking care of themselves with food, rest and travel, that dream of wanting to be a basketball player woke up in me. Over time it materialized, but I have had the dream since I was 13 years old. I feel like I wanted to be a player before I knew if I could be a player. Later they began to give the concentrations, play in First and things like that with which I realized that I could do it.
-How is Gabriel like a player’s father?
-He always helped and supported me. Just like my brother, who is currently playing for Federal. He never said no to anything. He advised us that if we wanted to do it, that we give 100%. But at the same time, he made it our duty to finish school, because it had been difficult for him and he could finish it just when he was grown up. At his age, when he was younger, it was different and if you were going to play outside, you kind of left him. That’s why he told me and my brother to finish school, because it was important and to try to study for a degree if we could.
-Did you listen to him about the race?
-That interests me, I don’t feel an urgency to do it either. Now I’m playing, but if next season happens, I would like to start a distance race. Something I did as soon as I arrived in Spain was to enroll in an academy to study English to improve it and to do other things, clear my head a bit.
THE EARLY JUMP INTO PROFESSIONALISM
Mateo’s career has a peculiarity. When the vast majority of his littermates were still playing in Formation or Development League, he was already having minutes on older teams. His first experience was in the Federal Tournament, when he was only 16 years old, for Sport Club Cabanasnse. There, Mateo had a spectacular year. He averaged 11.1 points in 24 minutes per game and was a key piece of the team that managed to save the category in an exciting series against Atlético Tostado. The following year, he made the leap to Central Entrerriano de Gualeguaychú, for the 2019-20 season. This year, Mateo decided to make the leap to Europe, signing for CB Breogán, a team from the Spanish second division with aspirations for promotion. There, he has played 26 games, eight of them as a starter, averaging 3.7 points in 9.9 minutes.
-How was it like to play in the promotion so young?
-There my father helped me a lot. More than anything in the decision. If it had been up to me, maybe I would have gone to a Development League or to train with a League team. But my father said that, because of my physique and to gain more experience, he preferred that I start playing in a team where I had minutes against big people. The truth is that it helped me a lot. The friction, the experience, facing bigger players and earning their respect. He had minutes and participation at Sport Club Cabanasnse. And having that role helped me a lot. Also, the Sport project was betting on the boys, which was very good for me. The season with Central Entrerriano the following year helped me a lot in the experience, in the friction and in playing against bigger players.
-What did you go looking for in Europe?
-Learn and improve, which is what I always did. Here everything is very different. And try to help the team. Now that I am in Breogán with the possibility of promotion, I want to learn and help as much as I can. Give my best on a day-to-day basis and doing what the coach asks of me in games. I also came to gain experience.
-What is different?
-In principle, the template. There are many nationalities and that is good. The infrastructure where we train and the ease of the things we have. The difference is more or less there. In terms of training methods, not so much. Now everyone is very connected. Physical trainers do very similar jobs. As for that it is not so different. But the teams are longer, you have to win the place and none of them have the position guaranteed. It was rare to come to a league where I didn’t know practically any player and I had to get to know each one.
-You stood out in Federal and in the Argentine League, everything indicated that the LNB step was missing, but you made the leap to Europe. Why?
-I wanted to have to earn a position, that was important to me because I had to train every day to the fullest. I didn’t know the squad but I knew it was a very good team and a good league. I set a goal to compete every day to earn my minutes. Also when I arrived I had the opportunity to play in the subsidiary team in Liga EBA, but due to Covid-19 and the restrictions we were given the choice between being only with the subsidiary or only with the main team and I chose to stay in the main team.
-Although you consistently play all the games with Breogán, sometimes you have fewer minutes than others and you are a player used to always having many minutes in the teams where you were. How was that adaptation?
-That cost me a bit, especially on a mental level. But it was normal, I arrived knowing what my situation was going to be. There have been games in which I played very little but I tried to come in and contribute what I could and then see what I had done wrong to correct it in the week. I tried to focus on the week. The coach relies a lot on training, he does not give the position to anyone and that suits me.
-With this jump to such a tough league, some things must have been exposed in what aspects of the game do you feel you need to work and in which do you feel that you are at the level?
-More than anything in the physical and defense. Be stronger, gain more muscle mass. When I arrived, the change I needed the most was physical, gaining a couple of kilos. And improve defense, which was hard for me. Now it still costs me but a little less. He also felt that he had to improve some things in the game. I couldn’t afford to lose so many balls. It happened to me a lot when I started. The coach corrected me a lot, saying that the things I saw were fine, but that I had to be a little more cautious. The game is faster and more physical. But on the other hand, I feel like I can play and I can compete with others.
-Did you like the experience? Do you feel that it was a good decision to make the leap to Europe?
-Yes. The truth is that I think I took the right path and it has helped me a lot. In these almost nine months I have improved and learned a lot. Which was what I came for. And now is the best of the season. And with the motivation of my category, of the World Cup.
THE U19 WORLD CUP ON THE HORIZON
Although, due to calendar commitments, Mateo has not yet been able to join the U19 National Team, he hopes to do so at the end of his season. The team led by Daniel Farabello is preparing for the World Cup in the category, to be held in Latvia. Mateo has been part of the national team processes since he was 14 years old and even had the experience of playing the U17 World Cup in our country, despite giving a year of advantage.
-Is there time to think about the World Cup or are you thinking about something else?
-Yes, I use it as motivation. It is one of the most important training tournaments. I speak with my colleagues who are in the concentration. As soon as I got here, I asked my agent for dates and why it was going to happen with the World Cup, which in the end was not done. It would be nice to play with them again, because they are friends, we have been together in many preselections. It is nice to be training and sharing at Cenard. But hey, if everything goes well, it would arrive for the third concentration which is next month.
-You had Daniel Farabello in Sport Club and in the National Team, how is that relationship?
-Very well. I knew him before because he had played with my father. The first time I had him as a coach was in the Turkey U16 tournament and the next year I joined Sport Club. He was a very good base so I was able to learn a lot from him. I saw him again in 2019 for the South American. I consider him a great coach and he has helped me a lot in my training.
-How did you take the year without competition with the National Team?
-It was very hard not to play the World Cup. There you measure yourself and you know how you are as a team and how you and your teammates are individually after a year without seeing each other. We had a lot of uncertainty but we had no choice but to wait to see what was decided and who would go to the World Cup. When I found out that we were going, I was very happy. I thought the South American champion was going to go and we were going to stay out. But as it was done by ranking, we entered.
-Despite not having competed in the whole of last year and that it has been so long since you have seen each other, how do you feel as a group?
-We are a united group. It intrigues me to see the progress of the boys. There are many who are playing in the National League and also in a Federal team, which is good. I want to know how they have improved, that is important, because it does not end here either. It is not that if you stay out at 12 or if you go in but it goes wrong and everything ends. On the contrary, we are just getting started.
-Daniel Farabello said that it is a team with many variations on the perimeter, how do you see it?
-It is a very even litter, with a very good exterior game. That’s good because you know that nobody is going to give you anything and you have to give your best every day to stay because the one next to you can do the same or better than you. Being a deep team helps a lot, especially in these tournaments that have many games in a few days. There are many good players who have played a leading role with their senior teams and that helps a lot.
-What do you expect from this World Cup, what did you learn from the previous one?
-We know the rivals, we know something about the possible squads of the teams, but we have no choice but to give our best. I learned that you cannot loosen no matter who touches you in front. In 2018 we had a bit of bad luck in the cross with Montenegro and there we had to play the reclassification. But the experience is very nice. You remember the games and you want to play them again. I would like to make the most of it, enjoy it, learn. See the other teams, the other players. In 2018 we played against France and some of those guys are now in the NBA and that is to enjoy.
Photos: Courtesy of FIBA and CB Breogán