Israel plays Spain in EuroBasket 2022 qualifying on Saturday night (20:30) at the Valencia bubble with a chance to improve their chances and edge closer to punching their ticket to the continental tournament.
Ahead of the game, Sergio Scariolo, Spain’s head coach spoke to the Israel Basketball Association about a myriad of topics from Spain’s success to Deni Avdija heading to the NBA but he began by looking at what he can expect from Oded Katash’s Blue & White.
“We saw Israel’s two games especially the one against Poland. The most important thing was how well they were able to deal with the decisive final minutes with excellent basketball. Everyone knew what their role was. Israel has a number of good ball handlers, big time shooters and some quality inside players. Israel rightfully won their two games and it’s not by chance that they are in first place.”
Spain will be without a number of important players who helped them to the World Championship in China last year due to the upcoming NBA season and Euroleague, “We will certainly miss those players including others who are injured. There is nothing new with this. We have some players who haven’t appeared with the National team to date and others who have played just in this in-season windows who aren’t main players on their team but we all do the best we can.”
As for the game being held in a bubble in Valencia due to COVID-19 and not in front of fans in Tel Aviv, Scariolo doesn’t see much of an advantage, “Of course everyone wants to play in front of their fans and in Tel Aviv the atmosphere would be excellent, this is the current situation in the world and for all types of sports. It’s funny that during this period of time the visiting teams have a much higher winning percentage both in basketball and in soccer.”
Last window, Poland defeated Spain but Scariolo doesn’t feel that this has placed any extra pressure on his team. “We don’t feel it at all. We understand that with this qualification competition it really doesn’t matter if you advance from first, second or third place. I believe that we are good enough to advance. The EuroBasket draw will be by ranking and not what by the results in the group. It’s important for us to play younger players and have them continue to improve and win as many games as we can.”
As an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors since 2018, Scariolo has experienced life in the world’s greatest league while also seeing how European players have been able to move to the top of the game, In addition, with two Israelis in Deni Avdija an Yam Madar being selected in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics respectively, the bench boss sees this as yet another step in the right direction.
“Anyone associated with the NBA who has come from Europe gives us great pride and shows that we know how to play the game of basketball in Europe at a very high level. I’m sure that Deni will be super successful in the NBA. I know Deni much more than I know Yam but he has also impressed me with his great passing and control of his body. It won’t be easy for him to get minutes with Boston but it’s clear that he will get a chance. Deni will have an immediate and meaningful role with Washington in my opinion. He will need to improve and strengthen his body and grow, but I like him and I am sure he will turn into a very good NBA player. He has a wonderful coach in Scott Brooks, one of my good friends and I think that they will do a great job with him.
Scariolo has won it all both in European and world basketball. But will Spain be able to reach the heights that they have in recent years with the likes of the Gasol brothers, Navarro, Llull and others?
“We won the World Championship without a player from the golden era of players born in the 1980’s. This was the first time we were able to accomplish something significant without that generation. It’s clear that we won’t be able to keep up the results that we had in the past years in the years coming up. We have some nice players still that are nearing the end of their careers and we don’t want to put pressure on the younger generation and compare them to the prior one which was special and unique. We are trying to take our newer players to the highest level and we have some young talents who are growing up under the same circumstances as this generation but the abilities that we have seen in the past which has been a huge part of our success is questionable to repeat. I’m optimistic about the future and I am sure that we will be able to compete at the highest of heights.”