“I don’t have to prove anything to anyone”

2016-03-22T18:11:28+00:00 2016-03-23T03:06:00+00:00.

Antonis Stroggylakis

22/Mar/16 18:11


Eurohoops had a chance for a lengthy discussion with Victor Claver about a large array of topics, from Lokomotiv Kuban and his personal performance, to the NBA and the Spanish national team.

By Antonis Stroggylakis/ info@eurohoops.net

Returning to form was not an issue at all for Victor Claver in his first full season in Europe after his NBA adventure. With momentum from another successful tournament with his country’s national team and wearing his third Eurobasket golden medal on his chest, the international Spaniard re-introduced himself to Euroleague in an impressive manner.

The 27-year old power forward has been the top rebounder (6.4 per game), second best performer (14. 8 average in the evaluation system) and third best scorer (10.4 ppg) in a Lokomotiv Kuban, an ambitious team that is on the verge of an important accomplishment: Making it to the Euroleague playoffs for the first time in the club’s history.

While the Russian team took a stop in Athens for the Top 16 game against Panathinaikos, Eurohoops had a chance for a lengthy discussion with Lokobasket’s player about a large array of topics.

From the progress of his team in Euroleague to his personal performances, and from his NBA experience to the Olympic Games venture of the Spanish national team, here is Victor Claver… reloaded.

Back when the Euroleague season began, did you expect that you will be so close to the playoffs?

Not really. We didn’t have any high goals at all and getting to the playoffs is something big. We’ve been simply fighting in each round and during every single game. I think we’ve been doing a great job in that department and that is why are so near to the playoffs, like you say. But it’s all about the way we have been playing. Even though we didn’t set any specific targets, they just arrived through our game and that makes us deserve the position in which we are now.

Lokomotiv Kuban has never made it to the Euroleague playoffs but will most likely do it now. Does being so near to achieving something historical for the club add a bit of a pressure to you?

I wouldn’t say so. We never felt any pressure. Our goal was not to make it to the Final Four, for example. We are not like the teams who put a lot of money in their roster, have that single goal in their minds and if they don’t make it they are considered to be unsuccessful. Our case is different. We are a new team since Lokomotiv Kuban was built with many new players. Our goal is to compete as hard as we can in the highest level and we’ll see how far this gets us.

But the picture that Loko presents on court is not the one of a new team. Sometimes you guys perform like you have been playing together for years.

Well I think we owe that to our overall great team structure. There is a strong chemistry among the players, especially considering that this is the first year together for this group of guys. The coaches are putting us in the right direction and do a great job. Everyone adds something different to the team. We have diversity and we do not depend on one or two players to play good basketball and get the results we want.  Everyone helps each other and that builds our advantage.

Talking with each other also helps a lot. We will always have good conversations in our locker rooms about the game. Then we will talk about the team, and not only, during our trips, in the hotels, during lunch or dinner. We spent lots of time together discussing various things. It’s great to be able to be comfortable with each other and communicate like we do. It adds something extra that shows to our game.


Apart from getting the job done, you also seem to have fun on court. How important is that?

It truly is fun. One of the reasons I came here was to compete at the highest level of European basketball. And since that’s what the whole team is doing, that’s what I do as well. Personally, I am enjoying every aspect of this experience. I specifically like the way we fight and our style of basketball suits me. What I love the most is entering a hard battle. Like the one against Fenerbahce in Krasnodar for example. Then I feel great. The toughest the games, the better.

“I get lots of confidence from being able to help my team in many different ways”

How does coach Bartzoka’s philosophy help in making Loko’s type of basketball fun to play?

There’s a specific reason behind what you are talking about. For sure we have our rules that we are supposed to follow. But on the other hand we play an aggressive type of basketball which gives the players an extra air of freedom. Especially when we attack. We have the chance to make something different which, at the same time, is within the bounds of the game plan too. The fun part that you mention comes when each player puts his individual talent in action. Our talents help our plan develop and the plan supports our talent too.

Personally, I like to know what I have to do, to be honest. Sometimes when you have too much freedom… it doesn’t help (laughs). I like rules in the game. In Lokomotiv my role is clear and I know what I should do. Since you can’t control everything in a game, playing within rules provides you with stability which allows you to take better decisions, especially in crucial moments of the match.

You have been very consistent in your game, often scoring in double digit numbers and being a constant big source of rebounding for your team. How do you feel about your personal performances in Euroleague?

I can say that I am happy with my performances so far. Especially with how stable I am. It’s not like that I am playing one day really well and then the next day I am performing poorly. That’s what was hurting my game in Valencia sometimes. Consistency means a lot to me. I need it and that’s what I have been doing this year. Even when I do not score much, I can provide in my team’s game with other things, like defense or rebounding. That’s the most important thing because that’s how you get confidence. When you know that your actions benefit your team winning games, then you feel great.

Playing more minutes helps of course. When it comes to rebounding, that’s an area I work on a lot. When we prepare the games I plan on how I can attack the rim offensively and that also helps me grab many rebounds. And since I am playing as a power forward, it’s my obligation to control the boards. It’s something a big man should do on court.


Although Spain is an enormous pool of ballers, we see few of of them playing in other European leagues. Why do you think that happens?

It’s true. The vast majority of Spanish players that do not go in the NBA, prefer to play in their country. It is the most comfortable and perhaps the obvious choice. When you are in Spain and you have the option to remain there, it just comes naturally to most players.

Personally I tried to go to Spain as well when I returned from the NBA. And since the competition in ACB is really intense, you can’t say no to that. It is a great league. But when the opportunity arrived from Russia last season, I went there. Being there last year helped me make the decision of joining Lokomotiv Kuban.

“In the NBA you have everything at your disposal to become the best you can be. Or the worst”

You talked about your return from the NBA. While you were there, you were mainly frustrated with your inactivity and lack of playing time. Do you feel you got the chances you deserved in Portland?

In the NBA it is hard to find a spot in the rotation. Especially when you are not a top draft pick. My rookie year was relatively good and I was playing. Not in every game, but I was given some fair time on court. Then my injury came that put me out of the team for quite some time. Everything was different in the second season. The team simply changed a lot. There was fewer room for me in the rotation. The chances to play were decreased. When I realized my situation I just wanted to take advantage of being there. It was the only thing I could do. To work every day with the assistant coaches, trainers, the strength coaches etc. 


Do you think that things would have been different in an other team?

Maybe… yes. Perhaps in another team I would have gotten more chances to play. But that’s the NBA. It’s a challenge you have to take. In my second season in Portland the team had high expectations. The roster was big and everyone was available in each and every game. The opportunity to play never arose.

 A player’s job is to be on court. To play. How do you fight the frustration of not being able to do what you are supposed to do?

It’s not easy. But I never let it consume me. I never lingered on the fact that I wasn’t playing. What I did, was trying to channel my energies to other basketball related things and focus on getting the most just from being there. I preferred to work and enjoy the whole experience as best I could. I spent all my time trying to improve. If you leave out the fact that I was not playing, everything else was great. My assistant coaches helped me every day, and everyone in the team supported me and talked to me. Everything I needed was there.

“I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I play because it is what I enjoy doing”

What keeps you patient and motivated in periods of inactivity?

Working hard! That’s the only way. I would say that in the NBA you have everything at your disposal in order to become the best you can be. Or the worst. You have the freedom to do anything, you are famous, you have money. You can choose different goals and take different roads. That’s the good and the bad thing at the same time about the NBA. That’s why some players get broke, while others come from nowhere and reach to the sky. You can see Giannis Antetokounmpo for example, who is developing into one of the stars in the league. He is working his way to become a great player and a superstar. 

Many European players who return from the NBA feel that they have left some unfinished business there. That they have something to prove. Do you belong in that category?

No because I don’t play to prove anything. I play because it is what I enjoy doing. And I want to be in a team in which I enjoy myself. That’s why I chose Lokomotiv Kuban. Right now I am loving the whole experience there. And generally, I don’t have to show anything to anybody. Sure, if I had the chance to return to the NBA and if I thought that an opportunity that is good for me appeared, then I would take it. But if not? No biggie.

Who was the most difficult opponent you faced in the NBA?

Kevin Durant. It was funny actually because I started the game against him trying to defend him as hard as I could and he made some turnovers. I felt so good about it. I was like “wow I am playing such a good defense on him”. Then I sat down after the first quarter and I realized that he has scored 10 points already. He was fast and he takes the ball a lot. It was funny because initially I felt good because I was only thinking about the turnovers he made… and then I looked at the scoreboard and watched how much he had scored.

And in Europe?

I have some pretty strong memories from guarding Pete Michael back in the day. Especially from when I was starting in Valencia and I had to play against him in a match in Vitoria. He was in Baskonia then. I was young and just starting and learning. And he was so tough. The way he played was different from all other players I have faced.


You have probably learned against which teams will Spain play in the Olympic Games. What do you make of your Group?

It is very interesting Group. It is also special that we are put against Brazil, since they play at their home and they will create a great atmosphere in the games. I am sure that many Argentinians will be there as well. But in the Olympic Games, things are simple, as far as I am concerned. It is a short tournament and if you want to fight for the medals, then you have to be one of the best from the beginning.

The Spanish team is one of the strong favorites to win a medal, after all.

Well everybody knows that team USA is the ultimate favorite. You have to be perfect to beat them, especially in a Final. As for the rest of the places in the podium, I think that there will be a fight among many other teams. Not all of course, but I cannot exclude any country that has high aspirations for a medal.

Your country has built a huge tradition in winning medals in international basketball competitions. Do you feel a certain weight because of that?

If something like that exists, then it’s a good because it arrives from all the things we have achieved during all the international tournaments over the years. Perhaps there is some sort of pressure, yes. But it is the pleasant kind of pressure if you get what I mean. The one that shows that have a great team that wants to keep succeeding.

Lokomotiv Kuban photographs by Fedor Obmaykin/Lokomotiv Kuban Press Service