|A two-time French club champion as both a player and a head coach, Jacques Monclar has been an analyst of Euroleague games for Canal + and for its international service, Sport +, during the last three seasons. Monclar, who comes from a family of great players and coaches, won the national title as a player with Asvel in 1981 and Limoges in 1985, in the middle of a 12-year career. He later coached Antibes to the title in 1991 and 1995 over a span of 20 years on the bench with five different clubs. With Canal +, Monclar analyzes games on a national, continental and international level, giving him a global perspective on the game. Euroleague.net talked with Monclar in the run-up to the Final Four to get his thoughts on the big event. "I really enjoy the level of play in the Euroleague. I love the atmosphere in different arenas around Europe. We can see how basketball is getting big in terms of impact all over Europe," Monclar said. "You see it regularly and you understand this competition is just getting better and better."
What did you think when you first heard about the Final Four coming to Paris?
"When I heard, I was very happy, because our last time was in 2001 with the SuproLeague and recently France hasn't even had a team in the Top 16 for many years. That makes this Final Four the best way to stay in touch with the competition and keep count of the top players in Europe. I was very happy and still am to know we will have this chance, and so is French basketball happy, too."
What can French basketball fans get from this Final Four?
"During the season on Canal + and Sport +, we gave fans a lot of Euroleague games among the top-level teams, so there are a lot of people waiting to see them now. Maybe the biggest teams they saw the most were Barcelona and Olympiacos, but a lot of people in France followed what Partizan did, too. They are saying that if Partizan can do this, a French team can, too, especially a team like Asvel."
As a commentator on Euroleague game for Canal +, what do you like most about this competition?
"I really enjoy the level of play in the Euroleague. I love the atmosphere in different arenas around Europe. We can see how basketball is getting big in terms of impact all over Europe. And you can see it not only by what's going on in Belgrade, but in places like Gdynia, Poland with Prokom, for instance. You see it regularly and you understand this competition is just getting better and better. When you see the rosters that Olympiacos, Barcelona and CSKA can have, you understand. I was also amazed this season at the Panathinaikos story, like the end of a generation there. It was almost the same in Siena. I was there with Asvel in the winter, and you could feel the team going a little down, like they weren't going to make it. Of course, we followed Barcelona vs. Madrid in the playoffs. Madrid winning Game 2 was maybe the great moment of the season, but after that, Barcelona came back with Xavi Pascual and Navarro leading the way. Navarro had been 0-for-10 on three-pointers in the series, even 0-for-5 in ACB games, for a total of 0-for-15. Then, you know. Suddenly, he became the old Navarro again. He couldn't miss. These were all big stories for us."
What players have you seen this season in the Euroleague who you loved to watch?
"To me, the two best are Juan Carlos Navarro and Linas Kleiza, who I think deserves to be MVP. I watched Olympiacos play a fantastic game in Orleans in which Linas scored nothing for three quarters and then had 19 in the fourth to win it. There were great moments all season like that. I think that the way Barcelona plays is very interesting. I like the way they pass the ball, that they don't panic when they receive a blitz from another team, as happened against Panathinaikos. They were twice down 12 or 13 points and just came back calmly and won. I think Qyntel Woods in Gdynia and Marko Tomas in Cibona were fantastic. And the way this kid Ante Tomic came out of nowhere for Madrid was fantastic, too, just like I enjoy watching games from a teammate of his, Sergio Llull, and also Alan Anderson of Maccabi. This season was full of great stories and good moments."
What is your opinion of the first semifinal on Friday, Regal FC Barcelona vs. CSKA Moscow?
"It's a dangerous game for Barcelona. To be fair, I didn't expect CSKA to make it to Paris. I didn't think that would happen so soon after the Ettore Messina Era. I thought CSKA could have a tough season. Now, I think CSKA can be very dangerous for Barcelona, especially if Matjaz Smodis is coming back strong. Anyway, Khryapa was just incredible this season. He improved so much. Langdon and Siskauskas, of course, are very dangerous. Barca has a tough, tough semifinal. To me, Barca should win, but they have to watch out."
And the second semifinal, Partizan Belgrade vs. Olympiacos Piraeus?
"I think that Olympiacos has the best roster of the competition, but during the season sometimes they waited a little, and basically, more than being good from the first minute to the last, they adjusted to the level in front of them. That could be dang game to play in the Final Four, which is a sudden death game. You cannot wait for the other team to play and then adjust. You have to be ready from the first minute. This can be, for Olympiacos, a problem. Partizan has Aleks Maric, who played fantastic, while Coach Vujosevic did a helluva job, like every year: Bo McCalebb improved so much, Kecman had great games, Lawrence Roberts played really well, Jan Vesely improved. They were the first team to beat Barca. They went to Maccabi and got the first playoff game after trailing by 20. Those kids - and most of them are kids - did an incredible job. I'm not sure how Olympiacos will be able to play against them. If you look at the first Olympiacos game against Prokom, they were in trouble, but won in the end. Olympiacos has to be more intense right away, at the beginning. If they do that, Olympiacos will win, although not quietly. If they give Partizan a chance to stay in and those kids get confidence...hey, who knows what can happen? Who could have imagined that Partizan would even be here. Now, they are two games away from the trophy."
As a former point guard, what do you think of the point guards at this Final Four?
"All these guys had good seasons. I fell in love with Teodosic back at EuroBasket in Poland. He's a great player who can play either guard position, and when he is out there with Papaloukas, it's a great thing. What Coach Giannakis did very well at the beginning was make Teodosic the main guy in the backcourt. That helped him a lot. As far as Bo McCalebb goes, he's part of the same story we know at Partizan. He really improved during the season. He's not a great shooter, but he's fast and he's a driver, and gives the team a fantastic boost. Holden played very good, especially at the end of the season. And if J.R. Holden is good, CSKA can be dangerous, CSKA can reach another level. Holden is something of a specialist for this kind of games, too. You have to remember what he did in Madrid for the Russian national team in the final against Spain. Barcelona has three guys to take care of the point guard position. Of course, Rubio improved a lot. Running a team like Barcelona is not like playing in Badalona. He played a great series against Madrid. But Lakovic and Sada are more than just backups. They are part of the organization. So while Barcelona has three and Olympiacos two, Partizan and CSKA rely mostly on one point guard."
And as a former coach, what do you think of the ones going to Paris?
"I think that Xavi Pascual has adjusted very well to this level. He stays calm. He can be tested, but remains confident, and he adjusts very well during the games. Coach Giannakis has so many options on his bench and he uses his rotations very well. Coach Vujosevic goes into the Final Four knowing he has nothing to lose, which makes him dangerous. And I am very amazed by Coach Pashutin. He did a helluva job. This CSKA is a nice story. Since January, they are basically the best team in the Euroleague, in terms of results. I am amazed by what Pashutin did. I wasn't expecting it."
What team will French fans be pulling for?
"I think that Barcelona will get the most support from French fans in general, as the closest team, but in Paris there are big communities of people from all over the world. Partizan will get a lot of help, as a small team trying to beat the big ones. They will get support for sure. There are a lot of Greeks in Paris, too, so Olympiacos will have their support. Mostly, though, people will go for Barcelona because it's so close to France."