By Niki Bakouli/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Nobody underestimates Zalgiris Kaunas, but again nobody considers the traditional Lithuanian powerhouse among the Euroleague’s elite. Can this change? That’s what the new coach of the team Joan Plaza hopes, even thought this new effort started with the injury of veteran center Robertas Javtokas. However, the season is long and Plaza wants to restore Zalgiris at the highest Euroleague level as he says to his Eurohoops.net interview.
- This is your first time working outside Spain. How it has been it so far, at your new… home and your new team?
“I only can say that everybody is helping a lot on these first days in Lithuania. The players, the staff and the people around me are so pleasant. I hope to learn to speak Lithuanian, at least just a little, as soon as I can, in order to adapt the best possible way”.
- When you got the offer from Zalgiris, did you talk with anybody who worked previously for this club, so you can know every little detail?
“I came here to play against Zalgiris before and I spoke to some important coaches about the possibility to take the job, but I didn’t know nobody on the actual coaching staff”.
- You know that in Lithuania basketball is like a religion. What you admired the most, when you got to play in this country as an opponent?
“I always said to my players that the passion of the Lithuanian fans gives to their teams the chance to begin the games leading by 10-0. The pride that Kaunas feels for its team, you can’t… buy it in a supermarket. You are born with this feeling”.
- Among your goals was to bring back some of great Lithuanians players, who are still in action. And with the exception of Sarunas Jasikevicius, you got all the others. So, how was this summer for you?
“It was a crazy and exciting summer. First, because I was a speaker in coaching clinics at Turkey and Argentina, but never knew that finally I could be here, in Lithuania. Aside all that, we’re in constantly communication with the brass of the club trying to build the best possible team”.
- Zalgiris has the experience, has the talent and the crowd to fight for the highest goals. Which is your plan, for this year and the years to come?
“We think (the president, general manager, sports director and me) that we must return to the highest level. It will be possible in every competition, but without forgetting our identity that differentiate this club over others”.
- I guess you have four goals, for one season (VTB-League, Euroleague, LKL and Lithuania’s cup). It’s gonna be a… long way?
“Yes, we have a really tough beginning. The most important thing is to transform our court in one of the most difficult gyms in Europe for the opponents. When you have 17.000 fans behind you, this should be an extra force, an extra motivation every night”.
- At your group (C), you have Olympiacos, Caja Laboral, Anadolu Efes, Emporio Armani and Cedevita. It’s a tough one?
“I’m not able to pick a favorite, but everybody in my country and all over Europe, agree that our group is the most difficult on Euroleague. In any case, the champion is the champion…”
- Can you comment each one of your opponent?
“I hear many people say that Olympiacos is not the same team… with Spanoulis, Antic, Dorsey, Printezis are almost the same. Any doubt about Caja Laboral (Lampe, Nocioni, Bjelicas and Oleson) competing hard again? Efes and Milan are teams which spend a lot of money this summer in new players (Farmar, Erden, Tunceri, Savanovic, Vujacic in Turkey and Hendrix, Langford, Hairston, Fotsis, Cook, Bourousis in Italy) and Cedevita with Suput, Tomas, Wright and its great head coach Boza Maljkovic is going to make every opponent suffer”.
- What can we expect from your team on the court?
“I just hope my players give their best every night,with the maximum respect for the opponent but with the maximum confidence on themselves and with all the focus that one team, like Zalgiris, must always demonstrate on its home court, or on the road”.
- You are also going to meet Bozidar Maljkovic, whom you substitute at Real Madrid’s bench back in 2004…
“Bozidar Maljkovic is one of the key figures on my career. I learn a lot from him and he is one main reference for my coaching philosophy”.
- We read also that you are among the candidates to replace Sergio Scariolo at Spain’s national team, if he decides to step out…
“Scariolo is the actual head coach of the Spanish national team and I am never going to speculate about the future options on this matter, especially on a country like mine where there are many people who are qualified for this position”.