By Niki Bakouli/ email@example.com
Barcelona started the season with wins in Euroleague and defeats in Liga Endesa. However, the Catalans have almost locked the top spot of their Top16 group, they are in the third place in Liga Endesa’s standings and they can already make plans even for London.
To decode everything Regal Barcelona FC went through this season, we needed help. And we asked from Jose Ignacio Huguet from “El Mundo Deportivo” to share with us his valuable knowledge concerning the first team of group F in Euroleague and the holder of “Copa del Rey”, in which they almost didn’t play. You see, the team was at the 8th position of Liga Endesa, the last place in the standings leading in “Copa del Rey” final eight, as they were headed to Madrid for the 17th gameday to play against Estudiantes.
“Actually Barca didn’t need help to qualify to Copa, as they did play the last game of the first round in Liga Endesa knowing that they will get to Vitoria, if they manage to lose by less than fiftysomething points. The problem was that during the 3rd quarter, Barcelona was in -35” and they lost by 22 points. So, they were among the “Copa del Rey” finalists and they got the trophy. Actually, since the 13th of January till last Sunday when they hosted Caja Laboral, they had a series of 16 straight wins.
“Οne of the reasons for Barcelona’s improvement is the fact that they learned to live without Juan Carlos Navarro. They found other players to step up and everybody was more involved, as they tried to get some games and at the end of the day, the Copa”.
Which were the main changes? “First of all, the team changed their mentality. The players began to think that every single one of them was responsible for the results. They accepted that the lack of Navarro was no longer an excuse or a reason. He is the main reference in offense, a player that can score and make the plays for the others. He is the number one and he would have been a key player in any team. This season Barca is learning to play and win, without him. Obviously, Barca is a better team when Navarro is in the court”.
Back to the reasons of the total change, “the team started to grow more and more day by day. There were a lot of new faces that arrived to Barcelona, last summer and most of them (not Jasikevicius, of course!) are young (Jawai, Tomic), to say the least, since they are also some really, really young guys (Abrines, Todorovic). The third reason is that Barca needed to win some games in a row to gain confidence. When they did that, things became a lot easier. After they qualified to Copa, automatically the pressure disappeared from the players’ backs. And fourth, the arrival of Brad Oleson allowed to Barca to cope with Navarro’s absence. The captain has been playing at his 70% all the season and always with the risk of suffering a more serious foot injury. Now, he has his day offs from Liga Endesa and he only plays in Euroleague. As everybody can see at the standings, this solution is working”.
Barcelona is well known for preparing the next day, way before there is a need for that. Is there any next Navarro on the plan? “Barca signed Abrines this summer, because they consider him as a prospect who will wear Navarro’s shoes. But his real successor might be Mario Hezonja. The sensation from Croatia is real killer and he only needs to improve his concentration and to gain experience, by playing regularly with the first team”.
During the 2011-2012 season Regal Barcelona had a solid defense (they allowed 87.4 points per 100 possessions), while they had 50.7% FG percentage in Euroleague. This year’s number were totally different. “And I explained to you why. The thing is Barca continues to be a great in defense, but is offense they had problems at the first half of the season, when they had bad percentages. Now, the team has increased its scoring by 10 points”.
After Oleson’s transfer, can you say that Barca is more complete than ever? “This season or ever ever? It’s more complete from the beginning of this season. But, the best Barca ever, was the one that was European champion in 2010 (against Olympiacos) and the one of the previous season”.
What about Jasikevicious’ understanding with the few minutes he has, so far? “For sure, this has been hard for him, but I think that he finally understood and that’s why he has not criticize in public any of Pascual’s decisions”.
Last but not least, the trust on Pascual’s abilities was the detail which made the difference? Cause when the team was losing, they trusted him he will convince his talented players to use their abilities and the importance of every possession, of every single one defense, of every little detail? “Pascual is a top coach in Europe. Some days ago, Zeljko Obradovic said at a Catalan radio that Messina, Pascual and himself can coach an NBA team. And one of the things that Pascual does better is to have his players trust his system. Remember what happened at the last Spanish Finals. Barca was at 1-2 against Madrid, which won the third game by twentysomething points. Barca was almost destroyed, but Pascual found the way for his players to gain back their confidence, they won the fourth game and they got the title…”