| In the six seasons since he joined Europe's top competition, Caja Laboral center Tiago Splitter has been a two-time All-Euroleague selection amid four consecutive trips to the Final Four. Those facts attest to his basketball prowess, but don't say enough about how Splitter has become a signature Euroleague star who goes about his business with a professionalism well beyond his years. At just 24 now, Splitter has emerged as a key leader not only for Caja Laboral's new project, but also for his national team from Brazil, which this summer won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas championships. Splitter is now the only player left on Caja Laboral from the first two of its Final Four appearances, in 2005 and 2006, but he assures fan that by any name, this team will have the same lofty goals. "Definitely it's going to be a big change, from the name and sponsor all the way to the players I used to be with," Splitter told Euroleague.net. "Almost everyone from before is gone, but we are a new, ambitious, young team and we want to do the same as this club has done over the years. We will fight for that."
First, Tiago, as a member of the Brazilian national basketball team, how was it to hear the news that Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 the 2016 Olympics?
"Believe it or not, I was at the Spanish League Supercup in Gran Canaria, and I was taking a nap, so I wasn't watching on TV. But when I woke up, everyone told me the news. For sure, I feel great about it. It's a big plus for our country. Rio, we know, has to change a lot before the Olympic Games come, but it will be a great boost for the city, the country and, of course, for the players who are going to take part. I don't know if I will be able to, but I will only be 31 then, so I hope so, because it will be a great experience."
Of course, you were a big part this summer of Brazil winning the FIBA Americas gold medal for the second time. What made it special for you this time?
"We are trying to take basketball in Brazil higher, and we needed to win to do that. Our country was really disappointed because we didn't qualify for the last Olympic games, so this is the first step to be in the next ones, in London. We wanted to win this medal and have a good world championships next year in Turkey, to fight to be near the top. Our team has great unity, and that's the best formula for success. So this summer we took the first step. It was a great win for us, just as it was for Spain to win here in Europe."
Did you dedicate this gold medal to the memory of your sister, Michelle, who died of leukemia early in the year?
"I dedicated this gold medal to her, just as I did our victory at last season's Spanish King's Cup. Everything I win from now on will be for her. I always think of how she suffered and fought to live, and that is an inspiration for me. Now and forever, she is my inspiration."
People think of Brazil as a football country, but there is a huge basketball tradition, isn’t there?
"We have a lot of tradition, for sure. I think basketball elsewhere in the world evolved more maybe than Brazil's basketball for awhile. We stagnated on the same level for 20 years or so, and now I think we need to play more with European teams to grow a lot. Now, basketball is growing, and we had a good tournament in the summer, with people watching around the country. Of course, we have players now going to Europe and to the States. For sure, we have a great future. Right now, we have make ourselves consistent and keep growing with the rest of the world. We had the Oscar Schmidt era before, and we didn't grow after that. Now, we need to grow and be part of modern basketball."
Brazil missed the last Olympics because of its worst-ever World Championships finish, in 2006 in Japan. What goals do you set for next year's World Championships in Turkey?
"Yes, we had a lot of critics after the World Championships in Japan. Our job now is to make a good showing next year in Turkey. We have a great team that's now mature enough to do well and qualify for the Olympic games. We already talked about this goal between us. We must keep together, keep patient and be ready to become one of the top six teams next summer in Turkey."
Of course, a lot of basketball comes before that, with a new Euroleague season is about to start. Baskonia has a new look and sponsor, Caja Laboral, and plenty roster changes. Do you see this as a new start for the club?
"Definitely it's going to be a big change, from the name and sponsor all the way to the players I used to be with. Almost everyone from before is gone, but we are a new, ambitious, young team and we want to do the same as this club has done over the years. We will fight for that. Our coach, Dusko Ivanovic, has that mentality, and all the players who come here know it. So, yes, we will fight to return to the Final Four and try to win it. We know it's all going to be tough. Everything is new here. But we have the capability to do it."
Caja Laboral inked your national team point guard, Marcelinho Huertas. How much will you two knowing each other so well help the team?
"Not only is he my point guard with Brazil, and so I know him very well, but he played well here a couple years ago in Spain, so he has proven himself. He's a very explosive point guard, but he's trying to change his game a little bit, to score less and run the offense a little more. He can take games in his hands like Pablo Prigioni used to do. I am sure it will be a good year for him, and he'll learn a lot."
Caja Laboral also signed good shooters, Brad Oleson and Carl English, who you know from playing them in Spain. What about their contribution to the team?
"Of course, a good player in the paint needs good shooters around him, so it's great for me that they are here. I think I'll have more space to play when defenses are watching them. Oleson and English showed last year in Spain that they can shoot, and everyone knows that Mirza Teletovic and Walter Herrmann can also. Once they are all the way back from injuries, their shooting will be a big plus for us."
You've still 24, but entering your sixth Euroleague season. How has this competition helped you to become a better player?
"It's all about work. Every day you have to work and every game you have to play as hard as you can. There are no bad teams in the Euroleague, so you are never going to win easy. Having a tough team in front of you for every game means you're mind has to be 100-percent focused always. In the Euroleague, it's tougher mentally than physically."
The club missed the Euroleague Final Four last season after four consecutive appearances. Is returning to the Final Four the big goal for Caja Laboral this season?
"We always used to go to the Final Four, so yes, that's a goal every year in this club. Last year, we suffered a fifth-game playoff loss to Barcelona, which was disappointing for us. This year we want to be back. It will be tougher than other years, but that's the goal."
After so many years in the Euroleague, what would it mean to you to finally lift the Euroleague trophy?
"After four years in the Final Four without winning it, we know better than many people how difficult it is to get our hands on that trophy. That is our goal, but first we have to go step by step. Then, for sure, if we get to the Final Four in a good moment, we'll have the chance to win."