By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
MANILA, Philippines – While Argentina couldn’t qualify for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, an important symbol of Argentinian basketball is in Manila to enjoy the International competition. In an exclusive interview with Eurohoops and Sportando, Sergio “Oveja” Hernandez spoke about his past with the national team, his World Cup stories, and more.
Touching first on the most intense stage of the tournament. “I think the World Cup is starting to show its true level when there’s no tomorrow. There have been some games in the second round that really looked like Eight-Finals. Now it’s where you really start to see the true face of teams, the character, the error gap, and smaller rotations. You start to really see key players for each team”, he said.
First and foremost, he stated what he believes is the X-Factor in FIBA competitions. “Moreover, you feel the game differences between European teams and the rest of the competition. At World Cups and Olympic Games, you play like in the EuroLeague: it’s like that. Teams that have more EuroLeague players win that. If they’re NBA, those who spent time in the EuroLeague. This is pure FIBA basketball”, Sergio Hernandez added.
At the same time, this tournament has seen a lot of absences. “I’m upset about players who didn’t come. It’s not only about getting a medal in the end but also qualifying for the Olympic Games. It hurts me what happened to France and Australia because they are two teams with generations of players who always belonged to FIBA, who have always been there taking the critics. Gobert knows it’s tough for him to play FIBA, that he doesn’t have the same efficiency he has in the NBA, and Australia the same with Joe Ingles and Patty Mills. In a World Cup without a lot of stars, with so many absences, those teams who put their guts and came with all players available, it hurts me they were eliminated”, he also said.
Talking about the future of these two national teams, the 59-year-old head coach said there will be hope. “There’s a moment in which it looks like there’s no tomorrow. But there always is. France and Australia have their own method, they are good basketball examples in the world, and they have a domestic league that is growing and growing. New talents are always coming: if you have a methodological process and you work coherently, it’s difficult that new players don’t appear. While important veterans are still there, these young guys could have fewer minutes, but are there”, Sergio Hernandez said.
According to Sergio Hernandez, the status of the national leagues and national teams is strictly related to each other. “You can’t take a single tournament as an example. Italy is an example. The Italian league was one of the best in the world and then it fell down. It’s not a coincidence the national team went through the same. Now the domestic league’s level is growing and the same is happening to the national team. What we have to think of it’s that your internal product needs to be healthy because it marks the status of your national team”, he said on the level of certain domestic leagues.
“You have examples everywhere, like France and Germany. You have a good domestic league, you have an identity. If you have it, and it’s difficult to get, you already have an enormous field of advantage and then you can compete with those who have bigger talent than you. If concurrency isn’t good, you can make good runs in tournaments, but it depends on the players you can rely on. You have exceptions, of course, but until a certain point: Serbia, for example, hasn’t gone through great times with the national team”, he added about it.
🇩🇪 Germany’s head coach Gordon Herbert on the domestic league’s growth:
“I think the infrastructure of the BBL is probably number one in Europe, the overall quality is Top 5 I’d say. It’s getting better and better. I think the BBL helps the national team and viceversa”. pic.twitter.com/OXelFxXDRa
— Cesare Milanti (@cesaremilanti) September 4, 2023
Connecting this to Serbia and Argentina, it makes perfect sense. “Amazing team, but in 2019 and 2022 they were eliminated earlier than expected and it’s a long time since they haven’t put a medal on their necks. If Serbia played with its full roster and its domestic league had the level of the Italian one, they would have more identity. I think they are affected by this: its internal competition isn’t the best one, despite having two good teams. Argentina is yet again another example. In 2019 we had only Scola from the Golden Generation. The Argentinian league started going down and down since then, and now the national team has done the same. It’s basically linked”, the former Argentinian national team head coach said.
We are similar to the Italians on many levels, it’s incredible. We both have that competitive spirit: we know most of the national teams are better than us, but until we go out on the court to demonstrate it, we compete at the highest level, to the fullest of our abilities. Italy plays at a slightly slower pace than us in 2019. We had a high one because it really was our chance to win or die on the inside. Italy is a little bit more conservative, it goes more with sets. Puerto Rico scored 57 not only due to the great Italian defense but also because they didn’t give them the ball. It’s a team that doesn’t rely on only one player, everybody is connected with each other. Everybody touches the ball, you can see the chemistry of the crazy Pozzecco with his players.
They’re different situations. Brazil has almost 200 million inhabitants and it’s an economic power country as well. They have a 10-month-long league, competitive. Puerto Rico has a 5-month-long league and depends a lot on guys coming from New York. Some of them barely know about the island, the country. This takes time. I believe with Alvarado and some other players they can become a way more dangerous team because at this 2023 FIBA World Cup, we didn’t see Puerto Rico’s best version.
The Dominican Republic has a lot of connections with the United States as well, the vast majority of the players play in the NCAA. They want to play with an NBA style where there aren’t the same rules. It’s not about talent, it’s about rules and concepts. The Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans look up north, not at Europe. Brazil is different, they have it all there. The day they really put their all into that, it’s gonna be tough for the competition. They have a lot of people, racial diversity, and players of all types. I coached there and there are very physical players. They have immense potential and a strong league. They are different realities. Argentina marked the difference because we had tons of players playing in Europe. NBA is the best league in the world, but if you don’t have FIBA experience, you’re gonna suffer in this type of tournament.
The 2019 FIBA World Cup is a beautiful memory. It was all perfect. On the eve, we weren’t candidates for the medal whatsoever. The only one who saw it coming was Luis Scola. When we beat Puerto Rico during the Qualifiers, he told me young players were really playing, and that the team was great. We had to start talking, he said, about reaching the semifinals. I thought he exaggerated, but in the end, he was right. I get players had to start believing that if you believe, you can. They didn’t need to hear any more about the Golden Generation, about Ginobili.
From then on, everybody saw it, coming unbeaten all the way until the final of the 2023 FIBA World Cup with Spain, playing a better tournament than them. Tokyo was different, we arrived there with many many problems. Garino was out, Deck had to go through a long COVID-19 quarantine and did what he could. Luis Scola had to postpone his retirement to one more year. Talking about his, I had the privilege to be there, and it was incredible. Seeing the Australians, who destroyed us in that game, with eyes full of tears when I substituted him, gave me chills, it was powerful. Luis is a lighthouse, he’s different than anybody else. Most of the time you want to kill him, because he has his character, but he’s unique. The biggest leader I’ve known in my entire life. Without his leadership, you don’t win that much. I have that clear: it would be impossible. He brings you to places you wouldn’t think are possible.
41-year-old Luis Scola received a standing ovation in what is expected to be his final Olympic game 👏 @LScola4 will go down as one of the greatest players in Argentina basketball history. pic.twitter.com/r0dvm3l8Ag
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 3, 2021
What I like the most is that when we start thinking of a team which is unbeatable, it always finds difficulties. Brazil which beats Canada, Latvia which beats Spain, and Brazil, and Italy which beats Serbia. You have all kinds of little stories, such as South Sudan who gets to the Olympic Games. But the real story starts to get written now. The history is now.
PHOTO CREDIT: 2023 FIBA World Cup