By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
Bologna, Italy – September has already brought Sergio Scariolo on a crazy roller coaster adventure. The EuroBasket 2022 with Spain started with low expectations and ended up with yet again another golden accolade.
Now, just a few days before the first official games of the season in the Italian Supercup, it’s time for the EuroLeague Media Day in Bologna, as Virtus Segafredo Bologna comes back to the European elite competition for the first time in 15 years. Sergio Scariolo talked to Eurohoops about what’s next for his club.
The lesson, as he proved it with the Spanish national team in the last month, is clear: don’t underestimate anybody, even if he seems to have no chance while sitting on the bench. That’s why Sergio Scariolo compared his fourth EuroBasket gold medal to Leicester City winning the 2015/2016 Premier League, or Denmark lifting the European Championship trophy in 1992.
And what if Virtus Bologna can do the same, maybe getting a EuroLeague playoff spot? “With Spain, we were eighth in the initial EuroBasket 2022 FIBA ranking, and we finished first; maybe Denmark and Leicester started even lower in the championship forecast. If only we could be in that position at the end with Virtus!”, he said in an exclusive interview with Eurohoops.
“We are not among the very first teams, we do not want to be among the last. We want to be in that group that plays for it all the way”, Scariolo said about the goal of the season for his squad, even though the competition will be brutal. “Perhaps the level has increased even more this year, with the fact that many players have left Russian teams going to reinforce those teams that were around the middle of the ranking in recent years, joining the great classics such as Maccabi Tel Aviv and Fenerbahce, that in the last season remained accidentally out but that traditionally it’s subscribed to the playoffs. This is what we know we are facing. We must have a lot of humility and patience. We must know that there will be hard times and defeats”, he added.
The season hasn’t started yet, but Sergio Scariolo knows he will have to deal since the beginning with Toko Shengelia’s absence. “Even before we started, the bad luck was responsible to let us know that the need for a deep roster is unfortunately great, given the injuries that began to rain, taking away from the beginning the opportunity to start with the full roster. We have an abundance in the guard sector and a numerical limitation in the big sector, but somehow we will try to reason and do the best we can”, he commented.
As mentioned earlier, the objective is fighting until the end in order to conquer a spot in next year’s EuroLeague as well, by qualifying for the playoffs: “The goal is to be in the group that does not break away from the fight to enter the playoffs. It will be the competition that will open our eyes a bit in the first few weeks. Many times there are teams that start slow and then accelerate, as well as those that start strong and then break”.
If Scariolo could bring somebody from his EuroBasket 2022 winning roster, considering how Virtus Bologna looks like this year, he wouldn’t have doubts. “Taking into account the needs and characteristics of our club, perhaps Juancho Hernangomez would be the icing on the cake, the perfect fit”, he said.
“Emotionally and technically, any of those players, knowing their ability to make something positive, even if not necessarily all with a lot of talent, I know that they could enter with productivity in a team like ours. But speaking of any need to the role, surely it would be Juancho”, he added about the rest of the current Spanish roster.
Talking about additions, Virtus Bologna had quite a few this summer. They not only managed to keep a good amount of EuroLeague caliber players like Tornike Shengelia and Mam Jaiteh, but they also brought in Jordan Mickey, Semi Ojeleye, and Iffe Lundberg, among others.
Who could be a surprising new face in Bologna this year is Ismael Bako, who’s coming from 8.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game season with BAXI Manresa in the Basketball Champions League. “Isma is a smart player. It’s a medium-term project, a young player, and we know that the big grow up almost always a bit slower. But he already has important qualities: he is an excellent P&R player, he gives an excellent contribution both in offense and defense. He is a pretty good defensive player, able to play in that position of 1v2 when the ball advances and your man is rolling behind. There he is good and has a good basketball IQ”, Virtus Bologna’s head coach said about the Belgian center.
Ismael Bako will need some time to adapt to a physical point of view but can create a good pair with Milos Teodosic, according to Sergio Scariolo. “Clearly, we have to work on him on the lower body and the core, to make him even more solid: this is a job that will take months. At the same time, I imagine for example a P&R with him and Milos Teodosic when he will be healthy, hopefully soon: a lob-catcher like Bako to pass the ball high above the rim is what Milos probably missed. In Manresa last year he proved to be dangerous in this. He has the qualities, but he is a medium-term project on which, above all, it will be necessary to work physically”, he added.
Last but not least, Sergio Scariolo discussed his alternation between Virtus Bologna and Spain, with a particular date in mind: on the 11th of November, in fact, Italy will play against Spain in the 2023 World Cup European Qualifiers, but at the same time Virtus Bologna will go against Milan in the EuroLeague. “Hopefully, there are two November 11th”, he commented jokingly.
“I think the logical solution is to offset the games. I don’t know how, because it is a political fact and at Virtus in particular I want to limit my influence and my activity to the technical point of view. I leave it in the hands of those who know more than I do. However, I hope that there is a logical way for sensible people to agree, because, in the end, it is in the interest of everyone, especially the Italian national team, beyond my personal situation. We as Spain are one win away from qualifying and we have some affordable calendar games, so it would not be particular stress if I were to miss. But clearly, I’m contractually tied to the national team in coincidence cases. But I repeat: beyond the contracts, I would say that common sense and the ability to reason that the parties involved will not lack will be able to find a solution”, Sergio Scariolo said.