Real Madrid is one of four unbeaten teams in the Top 16 so far, and one major factor in that success is small forward Alex Mumbru, an unsung hero who leads the team in minutes played. Madrid, the team that owns the most club titles ever, is putting a lot of faith in the 28-year-old Mumbru, one of five world champions in the Euroleague this season. About to enter the prime of his career, Mumbru has the size, shooting range, experience and know-how to help Madrid in my ways. And he is doing just that when it counts most, averaging 13.5 points and posting the team's best performance rating through two Top 16 victories so far. Having lifted four different trophies with DKV Joventut, Madrid and the Spanish national team. Mumbru knows what it takes to win and is hoping to apply those lessons now in hopes of playing the Final Four in the Spanish capital in May. "For us, it is crucial to win our Top 16 group because that would give us the home court advantage in the playoffs and if needed, play the final playoff game at home," Mumbru told Euroleague.net. ""We still have a lot of work to do."
Alex, congratulations on the Top 16 home wins over Zalgiris and Olympiacos. Before facing Maccabi in Tel Aviv this week, how do you see the Top 16 so far?
"We really had a good start. It was important for us to win our opening two games at home and this is what we have done so far. At the same time, we know we haven't done anything relevant yet. We must try to win a game on the road and this is what we will try to do from now on."
Madrid is unbeaten on its homecourt, Vistalegre, this Euroleague season. How important was it to play the opening two games at home? How are fans helping you this season?
"Our fans are unbelievable. It is incredible to have so many people backing us on Thursday at 8 in the evening, because most people have to work. Not only do they come around, but Vistalegre is packed, full of fans supporting us like there's no tomorrow. The team is paying them back because we are playing well and tough every night. For us, it is crucial to win our Top 16 group because that would give us the homecourt advantage in the playoffs and if needed, play the final playoff game at home. We will now see if win can win our Top 16 group or not."
You are also playing some of your best basketball in the Top 16. Are you in better shape now or is it the extra motivation that comes with the Top 16?
"I guess I am in better shape now. I had a strong start to the season but then got injured. It took me a while to get back to my usual playing level but I feel good now. The most important thing, however, is that we are a very good team. It doesn't matter who is playing well individually, but rather seeing the team win games. And that is what we are doing. I am playing well but maybe within 10 days it will be Felipe (Reyes) or in the following 10 days it could be Raul (Lopez). That's the way it goes, but we have been doing well so far as a team and I am happy about it."
In your first years in Madrid, you were mainly used a three-point specialist. Once you returned to the team, you have been all over the place, posting up, rebounding and leading the team in key moments. Do you feel like your best years are yet to come?
"It is quite obvious that I didn't have a good time my first time here and that limited my overall performance. I went back to Joventut and played for Aito (Garcia Reneses), who helped me to take one step forward in my evolution as a player. Joan Plaza then helped me to be a more solid player. At age 28, I feel more mature now. I am happy with the way everything is happening and I hope that my best years are yet to come. And if that is true, I hope to win more titles."
Coach Plaza knows you better than anyone, having been an assistant coach in both Joventut and Madrid. How important has he been in your development?
"Well, Joan also coached me at the junior level. He knows what I can offer and what I can give to my team. That's what he asks for and I am proud that I am helping him in the right way. He allowed me to develop my game and tohelp the team to win games. I owe him a lot for giving me what I needed, and teaching me how to be a better rebounder, to take advantage in the low post, and to go one step further."
You and teammate Felipe Reyes have shown extra confidence since winning the 2006 World Championships gold medal. How did it help you become a better player?
"Personally, I have realized that I am doing things the right way and that my game has developed. In the last two or three years, I won the FIBA EuroCup with Joventut, then the Spanish League and the ULEB Cup with Madrid, the gold medal at the World Championships and the silver medal at EuroBasket 2007. Achieving so many titles help you to believe that you help the team, that you are working in the right direction and all of it together helps you to believe in yourself. You go one step further in terms of consistency."
How has the small forward position changed in recent years, with so many coaches trying to play small with two shooting guards at both wing spots?
"I believe that some of the coaches who have played without small forwards do it sometimes because it is tough to find one rather than not wanting to play with one. All elite teams need a small forward on their roster, even if he doesn't have a backup, but at least to have one. The small forward is a very important player in terms of rebounding and size, to play with a bigger team on court. There are teams who play with two shooting guards, even us when we have both Lou (Bullock) and Charles (Smith) together on court, but all good teams need a small forward on their roster."
One of the positive factors on this team is that all Madrid players live in the same neighbourhood, Las Rozas, where the team practices. Does it help you guys to be a more consistent, better team?
"I agree that we have a very good team chemistry. We all live around Las Rozas and that makes things easier for us to have lunch or dinner together. We are not far away from our fans either, because people come to see us in Las Rozas. At the same time, we are far away from the mess in the city. That helps the team to improve its chemistry and that's what you need to win games, other than talent, of course. We must help each other and play as a good team when the going gets tough."
With the Final Four in Madrid, our final question is unavoidable. How far can Real Madrid go this season and how much chances does it have to win its ninth continental crown this season?
"That is too far away now. It has been a while since Madrid had such a good Euroleague season and it is been more than a decade since the team last made it to the Final Four. Of course, the Final Four is in Madrid and our goal is to be there. That would be a good prize for us but we have to keep our feet on the ground. We are still in the Top 16, if we advance we will have to survive the Quarterfinal Playoffs... We still have a lot of work to do. We cannot think about whether we will win the competition; it is too early for that. It is very important for us to make it to the Final Four and if it happens, to fight to win the Euroleague title."