Блог Этторе Мессины о баскетболе

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Questions and answers

Q: If CSKA had only two foreign players, do you think you could still win the Russian championship?

A: If the rules are changed, they are changed for everybody. If we can have only two foreigners, we’ll try to get the best Russian players. Even with Russian players we have now (with Alexey Savrasenko recovered), we’d be competitive.

Q: What’s the difference between the system of developing young players in Russia as compared to the one in Serbia or Italy?

A: The systems are very much alike. But Serbian coaches try to focus young players’ minds on being competitive from the very young age. They also pay more attention to physical preparation of young players. In Italy, we don’t have the talent you have in Russia, but the experience of our coaches helps us to survive.

Q: Why there are few really good Russian players in the Russian league? Do you discuss this problem with CSKA management?

A: We discuss it constantly. There are many talented kids in Russia, but most of them lack the competitiveness, the desire to fight to get better. With the rule of two Russian players always on the court, once you become good enough, you practically get a guaranteed place. At the beginning I was very much in favor of this rule. But now I understand that it works more as a protection for the veteran players. They might play until they are 40 years old. If we want to develop young players, we should probably have one Russian player without age limit and one who is under 25. This way the teams will be forced to play with at least one young player in the crucial moments.

Q: Could CSKA compete with best NBA teams?

A: Not with the best ones. If we play under European rules, we could be very competitive with lower level teams. It will depend a lot on the rules. If the duration of the game is 48 minutes and we play under their rules, it will require a big adjustment from us.

Q: What is your favorite team in Serie A?

A: AC Milan. I’ve been a Milan fan since I was very very young. This season they played well until Christmas and even won the FIFA Club World Championship. From that moment on it’s been a disaster. They lost some key players to injuries and the quality of the game dropped dramatically. They were eliminated by Manchester United in the Champions League. But the worst thing was that they didn’t have a possibility to win the Italian league. For the third or fourth year in a row. They even didn’t qualify for the Champions League as they finished fifth in Serie A. As a fan I think this is the moment to rebuild the team.

Q: Do you accept creativity from your players and how you integrate it in the way your teams play?

A: Creativity is a very important part of the game. You need a certain level of creativity to play at our level. But it should be balanced by the respect towards the organization and the teammates. Being creative is doing something that could be understood by your teammates. Otherwise you look crazy. This is probably the best way to understand the limit. Creativity is good as long as it can be useful to the team.

Q: Will Nikos Zisis play better next year?

A: For sure. He needs his time. He’s a person who is very respectful of his teammates, coaches and other people in his environment. Sometimes he’s not aggressive enough to fight for more playing time and a bigger role on the team. He’s just a very nice person. For this reason, he needs a little more time.

Q: Can you say that all the ideas you had for this season worked out?

A: No. I changed some of them down the road. I even did something that I thought I couldn’t. During the season I’m like a tailor who makes a suit for a person. You might have a general idea at the beginning, but you need to adjust it. You try different things to see whether they will work. The important thing is that at the end the team came together like I expected and like I hoped.

Q: If you were the president of the Russian Basketball Federation, what steps would you take to raise the level of the Russian championship?

A: First of all, I would hire a permanent coaching staff for young, junior and cadets national teams. I’d have one head coach for all young teams and five-six assistants. I’d organize three-days training camps every month and invite the best players so that they would get prepared for the summer competitions. If it’s possible, I would ask the Olympic committee to help me to take the U20 team to play in the US like Alexander Gomelsky and Vladimir Kondrashin were always doing with the senior team back in 70’s and 80’s. I would also have the rule that one of the two Russian players on the court should be under 25 or even under 24.

Q; How different is the work of the coach in Europe and in the NBA?

A: I have no idea. I never worked in the NBA.

Q: Why Russian national team won Eurobasket last year?

A: They played better. By this I mean that they played smart. They were well coached. They always played half-court offense, which means they limited the fatigue of the 7-8 key players who were playing all the time. Khryapa and Kirilenko showed good versatility. JR started his excellent season as a point guard from there.

Q: Why do you think foreign coaches are more successful in Russia than their Russian colleagues?

A: I have no idea. It would be interesting to hear this answer from Russian people.

Q: Is it difficult for you to live in Russia?

A: No. The club helps me with every possible thing. But more importantly my wife and my son are here with me. My wife studies Russian, my son goes to kindergarten. We spend a lot of time together. We’re family people, so we don’t go out a lot. We have pizzas with our friends sometimes. It’s more than enough. Honestly, the toughest thing is the weather, but you can’t have everything.

Q: Why Russian players didn’t progress much while you’re working here?

A: It’s very risky to use them in important games. You always try to go with the most experienced Russian players on the court, because you don’t want to lose the game, especially when you are a big team like CSKA. Even Khvostov from Dynamo, who had more minutes last year, played only occasionally this year. This is why we should think about this idea to give one spot to a young player.

Q: In your opinion, do national basketball schools (like American, Italian) still exist or basketball became more global?

A: I think it’s becoming more global even though the influence of Lithuanian, Serbian and American schools are still strong.

Q: Where do you start from while preparing game plans for your team at the beginning of each season?

A: First of all, I analyze the abilities of my players. I try to start from here and I experiment a lot during pre-season. Then I try to focus on the things that work the best, plus. I try to borrow some ideas from other teams. Basically, our game plans should fit all our players as we cannot have two teams. I need to find common things that will work for all of them.

Q: How do you help your players to come back from injuries?

A: The most important thing is to help the player to regain his confidence. I need to create the situations in practices where he can face difficulties and overcome them. Second, it’s important that he feels his teammates’ confidence. I’ll put him on the court with four good players so that he feels comfortable and not in a risky situation. Third, I’ll try not to press him, because it’s usually very difficult for him to perform under pressure. I’ll try to give him all the time he needs. Very few players come back from serious injuries and are effective immediately. They all are afraid to get injured again. Fourth, I need to trust my medical staff.

As for the substitute who should give his place to the starter recovered from injury, I could be really supportive, but it’s a professional job. The substitute needs to accept the fact that even if he plays very well, I must respect the starter and give him a chance.

Q: What is your favorite team in basketball history? Do you agree that CSKA game is really similar to San Antonio Spurs’ game?

A: I take that as a compliment. We look a lot at them and try to get something from them. We also have players in some positions who can remind the Spurs team.

As for all time favorites, I loved Varese in the 70’s with Professor Nikolic as a coach. I also loved Milano coached by Dan Peterson with D’Antoni, McAdoo and Meneghin. Obviously, I loved many Yugoslavian teams. I loved my Kinder Bologna team: the two that won the Euroleague were excellent teams. In the US I loved the Lakers and the Celtics in the 80’s. Now I like very much the Spurs for the smart way they play and for their ability to always play as a team. I like their mental toughness.

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