|The 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four will feature three legends on the coaching ladder, all of whom won Euroleague titles in the 1990s. The fourth head coach in Istanbul, FC Barcelona Regal’s Xavi Pascual, may be their junior by a number of years, but he has proven to be every bit their equal on the sidelines. In just his fourth full season on Barcelona’s bench, Pascual, 39, has already won the Euroleague title himself, in 2010. Now, he has brought Barcelona back to the Final Four with a 10-game winning streak and the best record in the Euroleague this season, 18-1. Pascual is also responsible for making Barcelona’s defense, which allows just 6 1.5 points per game, the best that the Euroleague has seen this century. Adding to those accomplishments is the fact that Barcelona replaced two starters among five key players who left last summer. Despite that challenge, Pascual and his team have made winning look easy, doing so by an average of 14.6 points this season. Before tackling the next obstacle, Pascual spoke to Euroleague.net about the season thus far and his team’s looming semifinal challenge against Olympiacos. "I believe that Olympiacos has improved like any other team throughout the season. I think that it arrived to the most important games of the season in excellent shape and working well as a team," Pascual told Euroleague.net. "They earned all the right to play at the Final Four and I am sure they will make things hard for us. They are a very good team, very dangerous, and they proved that by knocking off Montepaschi Siena."
Hello coach. FCB Regal arrives to the Final Four with the best record in the competition. Has the road to the Final Four as easy as some people may think?
"No, not at all. The fact that we only lost once does not mean that the road has been easy. It only shows that we have done a great job. Just for example, if you look at our regular season group, Unics and Montepaschi Siena made it to the playoffs and Galatasaray Medical Park was really close to getting there. That shows that every goal was hard to reach from the very beginning. We managed to survive the Top 16 well and played well in the quarterfinals, but that does not mean it has been easy."
You were the only undefeated team in the Top 16 and the only one to sweep its playoff series. Does that show how determined Barcelona is to win the competition?
"Well, this is sports and everything is relative. Everything you have done to get to the Final Four does not mean much once you get there. There will be four great teams at the Final Four, with incredible rosters, and anything can happen. It is typical to say that anything can happen in a Final Four situation, but I truly believe it. Any team can win and for us, we will approach these games as two finals, not a semifinal and then the final. In that sense, I truly think anything can happen in Istanbul."
After losses in 2010 and 2011, Barcelona managed to win Game 2 of the playoffs against Unics. Was that a pivotal moment for your team this season?
"Probably. Like you said, we lost this game in 2010 and still managed to beat Real Madrid twice on the road and move on to win the title. These are things than happen – and when they do, you have to bounce back. This is why only a few teams get to the Final Four on a regular basis. We managed to do it this season, knowing that Game 2 of the playoffs was very important. I believe we deserved to win the series 3-0, which allowed us to make it to the Final Four."
What did you learn when you won the title in 2010, and when Panathinaikos beat you in last season's playoffs, that you can use now?
"You have to learn from everything. Coaches can learn from any game, from everything, not only in critical games like this, which are very important for everyone, but also in not-so-important games in which we get to learn a lot. Our work is a continuous learning in all aspects of the game. So, saying that we learned something specific by winning or losing does not make much sense. We learn based on what we experience."
You play against Olympiacos in the semifinal. What do you think about that team and how it has improved late in this Euroleague season?
"Like you said, I believe that Olympiacos has improved like any other team throughout the season. I think that it arrived to the most important games of the season in excellent shape and working well as a team. Every player knows his role in the team, nobody breaks the script at any time. Defensively, they are playing really well, with many different options and different ways to solve mismatches. Offensively, they want to play high-tempo and get Acie Law and Spanoulis to generate a lot. They have the chance to finish with their big men, have power forwards that can open the floor and can play with good outside shooters. It is a very balanced group of players and a team that has made it where it deserves to be. They earned all the right to play at the Final Four and I am sure they will make things hard for us. They are a very good team, very dangerous, and they proved that by knocking off Montepaschi Siena."
The Reds have changed a lot since Joey Dorsey and Acie Law joined the team. How have these two players helped them to get better?
"They have helped Olympiacos a lot. At some point, it looked like the team struggled when Spanoulis was not on the court or not having a good game. They helped Olympiacos to play extraordinary in the playoffs. Law has played really, really well in the playoffs and Dorsey has given Olympiacos a lot of character and intimidation. He finishes well around the basket and adds a sense of safety at both ends. He gives them an extra person in the frontcourt rotation and has allowed the team more balance, giving Olympiacos what it needed. Both players have raised Olympiacos to a different, higher level."
All four head coaches in Istanbul are Euroleague winners, but you are the youngest of them all. Do you feel like you represent a new generation of coaches ready to dominate European basketball soon?
"I don't know, it is difficult to think about myself in such scenarios. What I know is that a lot of people are talking about it, but I prefer not to think about it. What I can say is that we will face three teams with great coaches at the Final Four, coaches that I really respect and admire. We just have to try to do everything we know really well. It will be a really difficult Final Four in every sense of the word, and that includes tactics, too."
Is there any secret you have to turn such a great collection of stars like Barcelona has into such a solid team? Is it something you have to work at on a daily basis?
"Well, they are the first secret to that. My players have the will to play as a team. It is true that we worked around that idea and that philosophy from the very beginning. We have tried to put team first before our individual talent both on defense and offense. We are a team that works well on defense and usually has a good number of assists in our games. These two aspects speak about the collectiveness of our group and the idea of playing together."
In less than five years, you went from being completely unknown to having a chance to win a second Euroleague title with Barcelona. How has your life changed throughout these years?
"My life has not changed a lot. Naturally, I am a much more public person and people recognize me when I walk down the street. Other than that, I am the same person, who is in love with this sport and enjoys everyday things. I love working hard to help my players win games, but personally speaking, I don't think I have changed at all."
What would it mean for you to lead a powerhouse like Barcelona to a third Euroleague title?
"I know what it feels like to win the Euroleague title. I had the chance to feel it in Paris. And the feeling is... that there isn't anything better than that. It is what I felt after winning the Euroleague title – maximum satisfaction. I knew I was making a lot of people happy and the feeling I had, the satisfaction could not be compared to anything. Winning the Euroleague is the maximum title a European coach can get and it is natural for anyone winning to feel that way."