Pablo Laso faces his eleventh Euroleague As coach of Real Madrid, only Pedro Ferrándiz, who participated in 12 European Cups in his 13 seasons on the white bench, surpasses him. So far, in six of the nine editions completed, because the 2020 edition was suspended, he reached the Final Four and in two of them he won the title after playing four finals.
Madrid will start the Euroleague tomorrow in a big way, at home and against the European champions. If they tell you that losing to Efes now could leave them without a clue factor in the April playoff, do you see it exaggerated?
The other 33 games that are missing are undervalued and I don’t see one of them being so decisive. What is true is that the Euroleague has to be tackled to the fullest from the beginning and that it is a great match. Last year we played into the playoff on the last day at the Fenerbahçe field and before that we achieved victories that we did not count on so much and vice versa. We put the focus on the premiere, but without underestimating what a 34-game league is.
Efes, Barça, CSKA, Armani, Madrid, Fenerbahçe … do you dare to wear a coat?
Bayern Munich have built a good squad and were in the playoff last year. Baskonia always fight to finish in the top eight and then they are very competitive. Olympiacos has changed and has added decisive players, Zenit has come from competing at the highest level and almost left Barcelona out … Talking about favorites is complicated, but with a gun to his chest, Efes would say, which is the champion and maintains the structure successful. And then Barcelona, Fenerbahçe, Milan and … CSKA, as always. And Madrid? I’m glad they put us in that group. Here the less advanced teams are very good.
2011. “I was sure that Llull and El Chacho would be decisive”
Ten years after your debut, what certainties and, on the contrary, what fears do you have now that you did not have in 2011?
The feeling is similar, although every year there are new challenges. What has always scared me the most is what I cannot control, especially if a player is injured, because it forces me to change things. I remember the loss of Randolph last December in the Olympiacos field, when entering the locker room the doctor and the physios tell me to forget about him for the rest of the year. What should I have done? Not having put him to play? Those things give insecurity. Within what I do control, I remember that in my first year I was sure that both Sergi Llull and Sergio Rodríguez were going to be two very decisive bases in time, and very creative. We needed the team to revolve around them. Now the situation is different, there are four important novelties (Heurtel, Williams-Goss, Hanga and Yabusele) with different roles and they have to adapt, a process with which I am very happy although there is a lot of room left.
And perhaps one of the common challenges with 2011 is to re-engage the fans, then because Madrid came from a very bad streak and now because they have been without an audience in the stands for almost a year and a half.
Let’s see how the fans react to everything and in all sports. For a year and a half we have gotten used to sports on television, although my feeling is that the habit of following Madrid in basketball has been maintained, but we must regain the atmosphere in the Palace.
2021. “In defense and rebound the team is better than 10 years ago”
There is talk of Lasism as from a compact 10-year career, but apart from the 65 players used, Madrid has changed a lot, including the style, it has become more solid but less casual and daring. I don’t know if you agree, do you think that now with a squad with more physique, defense and rebound, Madrid will play faster again?
Every year is different. Coach Pablo Laso retains his idea of basketball, which has not changed, but which cannot prevail over the players, he would be wrong. You have to get the most out of the squad and 10 years ago, for example, I didn’t have Tavares, which is decisive. With Deck and Sergio Rodríguez, who are no longer there, you had to adapt to their style. Others follow, like Llull and Rudy, although time has passed; Reyes has retired… I am forced to adapt and, from there, defensively and on the rebound, the team is better than it was ten years ago. Perhaps then there was more talent in other aspects of the game. Now, that talent, we show it in different situations that we still have to exploit and improve. Does that change my idea of watching basketball? No. It seems that I respond to the Galician, but it is mandatory to adapt the talent to the style of play and the style to the players. A two-way street.
What role does he play in the Madrid signings? Do you talk to the club about your needs and then receive the squad and train it, do you decide all the incorporations or is there a middle ground?
The signings in Madrid do not happen overnight. The first time I saw Randolph, no one in Europe knew him. We were in a hotel concentrated and we saw a game of his with Lokomotiv. He arrived two years later, but that day, I think it was in Valencia, it was clear to us that he was a player for Real Madrid. I did not know if it would be possible, if the opportunity would be given, but it was clear to us. It is a process that happens to us with almost all the signings and then not all of them go well. The idea must prevail over the name, sometimes you really like a player, you investigate and you see that it will not fit. That is why time work is very important. If I say that I love LeBron James, I imagine that Juan Carlos Sánchez (section director) and Herreros (sports director) will look at me saying: “Very good, Pablito, I’m very happy.” In most cases the coach cannot say I love this guy and today I sign him, but it is the club that tells you that a player can be accessed due to a certain situation, and later it is studied if he fits or not . That happens with Laso and Madrid, but I experienced it before in San Sebastián. Moncho Fernández in Obradoiro (12 years in a row) will tell you the same thing … each one in his place.
Transfers. “If I say that I love LeBron, they will tell me: ‘Very good, Pablito, I’m glad”
With the experience that the previous ten summers give you, what grade would you give your team this year in the market? What summer has been the best of all?
For me the best summer is when I win the League, my players go with their teams and get medals and then return to Madrid, change the chip and are competitive again. That would be an idyllic summer, although after winning I don’t always think that everything went well. You can lose the Euroleague final and not want to touch anything, and take the title and need changes. I see basketball as a process in which the team is more important than signing a certain player.
Has Carroll congratulated you on winning the Super Cup?
Not me personally; but to some member of the team yes.
Looking at him from the outside, he now looks like a retired player, what is your feeling?
Mine is that he is not here to train, but I understand the question because even my children show me photos in which he is seen riding a horse. The question is for him. Jaycee is a benchmark for Madridismo, a person we love and value. We’d love for it to continue, but… it’s not here.
Jaycee Carroll. “I’d love for him to continue, but he’s not there”
Micic, Clyburn, Doncic, De Colo, Rice, Spanoulis, Diamantidis, Navarro, Langdon, Papaloukas, Jasikevicius… It is the list of the last Final Four MVPs, only Udoh and Nocioni are missing. Outsiders of great talent and good game generators, does Madrid need a first sword of that profile to win the Euroleague? Is the signing of Williams-Goss key there?
Williams-Goss is a terrific signing, because he is a player that all of Europe loved. He is going to bring us a lot of things and I think that both he and Heurtel can be decisive in that position. If I answer the question and say that Nigel has to do what those players do, I would be putting enormous pressure on him and then on the day we lose, if he plays badly, it would be claimed that he does not meet expectations. And it is not a question of individual expectations, but of the operation of the team. If he plays very well and we lose, it won’t help us either. Williams-Goss is a super important piece within the group, like Tavares, Yabusele… And like Causeur and Thompkins, who were probably the most decisive in the final in Belgrade and the world talked about Doncic.
He mentions Tavares and Yabusele, and there is Poirier, the three most valued at this start of the League, what remains of that “Laso does not play with the pivots”?
(Serie). When you have been around for a long time, you must accept that everything is said. Yesterday they said that we are the third or fourth worst attack in the League, that I have not even looked at it, what is it, a criticism of the team? And now we are the best defense, when I have also been criticized for that and for not playing with the pivots. For me Reyes and Slaughter were fundamental. It is true that we had Chacho, Doncic, Carroll … but that they said that was a contempt for the rest. The team is above the bases, forwards and centers. Now, both Tavares and Poirier and Yabusele are decisive: they provide great defensive and rebound security and take advantage of the advantages in attack.
Retirement. “I don’t know if I’ll be 75, but I have a full tank”
Until when do you see yourself on the bench?
This week, sure, I don’t look much ahead. A minister has said that the same is necessary to work until the age of 75, I do not know if I will retire earlier or go further (laughs again). I am very happy with my work, it makes me happy. If I lose motivation, I will realize it and I will not fool anyone, I will step aside like I did as a player. Today I am delighted to train, I feel with a full tank.