He had been one of Europe's premier players in the 1960's and 1970's, and then he embarked on a coaching career that has already surpassed 20 years. Now, for the first time, Montepaschi Siena head coach Carlo Recalcati has reached a Final Four. And although it is Montepaschi's second consecutive Final Four trip, this one was even less expected. When he arrived to Siena last fall, Recalcati was expecting his new team to play the ULEB Cup. Instead, Montepaschi entered the Euroleague late and landed in one of the toughest regular season groups ever. Recalcati proved the perfect personality in a slow but sure progression that saw Montepaschi clinch the Final Four on the last possible day, much as the Italy had done the previous summer to reach the Olympics under Recalcati. The first subject of Euroleague.net's Final Four head coaches interview series, Recalcati brings a calm confidence to the task of winning. "I'm not so quiet as I may look," Recalcati told Euroleague.net. "Sometimes, I come close to losing my mind, but I try to never lose it completely. I have to transmit certainty to my players."
Coach, you and your team are going to the Final Four after knocking out the last two champions and the finalists from last season. Do you think of your team as giants or giant-killers?
"I don't think that we are either. My team grew up a lot during the season. We needed time to know ourselves and to find our best shape, which came at the right moment. Then, playing in the strongest group gave us the chance to play calm. We had several ups and downs during the season, but our playing level improved."
Did returning to the Final Four become a crucial goal for Montepaschi after all its European success over the last two seasons?
"Absolutely not, because we had built the team to win the ULEB Cup. Then when we had the chance to join the Euroleague, we decided to keep the same roster, playing for the biggest goal we could reach."
When you arrived to Siena, did you find a team that you thought was ready to return to the Final Four?
"Half of the roster did not return this summer, and we thought to give the team an identity based on the concept of group and not on the quality of the individual players, as it was the previous season. Many of us took part in the European championships, and we finally met all together just on September 18, so it was normal that we needed time to get to know each other."
Considering your wide experience, what is most important when taking over a new team with high expectations?
"Siena's growth is part of a plan which started years ago. When I came here, I found a proven organization, practically perfect, and then I tried to bring in my ideas and experience. I had the big advantage of having a great coaching staff at my disposal. I didn't know it before, but they are a great group, and everyone has his specific work to do. I have tried to benefit from their abilities as much as I can."
Everybody is saying now it was better to be in the "death" Group B in the regular season. Did you think that way before the regular season started and you saw CSKA, Maccabi, Skipper, Zalgiris and Panathinaikos on Montepaschi's schedule?
"We knew it was a hard group, and just for this reason we didn't modify the team we built. At that point, our goal was to make it to the Top 16."
Your team qualified for the Top 16 with just one regular season road win, by 2 points against Zalgiris. Then your road record was 1-6 with three Top 16 games left, two of them away from Siena. You had to win them, and you did. How did the team learn to win on the road when it counted?
"Nothing happened in particular, just a steady growth of the group. We had difficulties early in the season, but I found great willingness from everybody, as well as great desire to work hard. In the beginning, the players did what I asked them to do because it was their job. Later, when they understood it was good enough to win, they started to have trust in it, finding confidence during practices and also in the games. The playing level rose and good results followed."
After battling in Group B of the regular season and Group F in the Top 16, Montepaschi had arguably the toughest schedule of any team this season. Did it feel as tough as it looked on the paper?
"It was hard because the other teams were great. We went through every situation without distress, and the goal became to reach the Final Four. We started the Top 16 with two home games, and we said we had to win both. After losing against Barcelona, we said to ourselves that three teams would be disappointed by not making it to the Final Four, but not us. This allowed us to take benefits from that loss, keep it in mind, and start playing well on the road."
Your players this season have mentioned your calm attitude as a positive factor for the team. How influential do you consider your coaching style to be on the team's mentality?
"First of all, I'm not so quiet as I may look. Sometimes, I come close to losing my mind, but I try to never lose it completely. Or I just look like I lost it, depending on the team needs. I have to transmit certainty to my players. The way I behave must be positive for the team. I must be able to understand the situations and the sensations, which are different time after time. I must understand the guys I work with, understand their needs, and keep in mind that every single one of them is different."
How much does your own playing experience guide your coaching decisions? Does knowing how players feel help your coaching?
"Now, the most important thing, is that the players know I played! My playing experience was important early in my coaching career. When I played I used my instinct, but I loved to understand game situations, my teammates and my coaches. Every player has to be himself, you cannot expect that any two of them are the same. Everybody want to be known for who he is, both his positive and negative sides. I always try to understand what the team needs, and if a player can do what I'm asking of him."
As the head coach on the Italian national team bench in Sweden last summer, you surprised many people by leading your team to the Olympics. Can Montepaschi surprise people at the Final Four?
"I didn't go to Sweden convinced of reaching the qualification for the Olympics, but I had the feelingthat I had a team which could beat any other in a single game. It's the same sensation that I have now before travelling to the Final Four."