To Tel Aviv, with first place in mind
It is that time of the Euroleague season again, the time when everybody starts calculating, players, fans and officials. Halfway through the Top 16 - and with three wins and no losses - calculating is the last thing we at Real Madrid want to start doing. Our goal should be to try to finish first in our group at all cost. If we make it to the playoffs, we would be crossing with the group that has powerhouses Tau Vitoria, Olympiacos and outsider Olimpia Milan - the last team to beat us in the Euroleague this season - so we can surely use our homecourt advantage at Palacio Vistalegre, in front of our fans, who have helped us more than ever over the last few games.
We are reminded of how important fans are at this stage since we are headed to Maccabi's Nokia Arena this week. Along with Pionir in Belgrade, it's probably the hardest court in the Euroleague. We will have to be more than ready and fully prepared, mentally, to get a positive result. For me, personally, this gym always brings back awful memories of the Euroleague final that my Fortitudo Bologna teammates and I lost there back in 2004. Well, it was more than just losing. I think Maccabi that night gave one of the most impressive team performances anyone has ever seen in recent Euroleague history. Too bad I had to be on the other end of it. I am convinced that, after we beat Maccabi by 19 points two weeks ago, Coach Gershon and his guys will be more than ready to give us a "warm welcome" this week. I just checked the stats and only our fellow Spanish team, Unicaja Malaga, was able to win in Tel Aviv during this Euroleague season, so we will need an outstanding performance from everybody if we want to do the same on Thursday.
In a couple of months, I am turning 31, and I don't have a problem with that. Not at all, in fact, because I feel that the experience I have gained over the years is helping me a lot now. Nobody is ever too old to learn, about basketball or anything else. I am convinced that even at more than 30 years old I can still get better on a daily basis, and add some things to my game that can help in the upcoming seasons. I want to keep playing as long as I have fun and feel the desire to win. Because of my age, though, I now often get the question how long I think I will keep playing at the highest level. And I think I found the perfect answer to that now: I wish to keep playing until David Vanterpool, now an assistant under Coach Messina at CSKA, takes over a head coach position somewhere and signs me as his starting center. He was one of my all-time favorite teammates, a great player, and will be a great coach for sure. I can't wait for him to give me call in 2013 or so, telling me that he wants to sign me!
TOMAS VAN DEN SPIEGEL - MADRID, SPAIN
Tuesday, February 24, 2009