|More than just a super scorer and great player, Regal Barcelona guard Juan Carlos Navarro is a team leader who knows to step up his game when in the most important moments. For players like Navarro, there is no time like the spring, when the heat rises on and off the court. Already, Navarro has played two of his best games all season in Games 3 and 4 of the Quarterfinal Playoffs, on the road against archrival Real Madrid, to lift Barcelona back to the Final Four. His big performances led to him being selected as the Euroleague's Sportingbet MVP for April, but he is not done yet. Navarro knows all about getting to European basketball’s signature event, something he will do for the fifth time at the 2010 Final Four in Paris. As his team's only previous Euroleague champ, Navarro will be expected to lead more than ever when the calendar turns to May, the spotlights come on in Paris and a new Euroleague champion is crowned. "We have to be loyal to our playing style," Navarro told Euroleague.net. "One of the reasons why I came back to Barcelona from the NBA was to help my team win titles - and that has been happening so far. The Euroleague title, however, would take the club one step higher. It is very important to win that second Euroleague title, for all of us and especially for me."
Hello, Juan Carlos. You came up with a couple of your best games all season to help your team reach the Final Four and, in the process, be named Sportingbet April MVP. What sort of satisfaction did that bring?
"You just said it. We made it to the Final Four and that was very important not only for me, but for all of us. I was able to make most of my shots in those games and the team backed me and answered at the right time. It was a magic week for us in Madrid, being able to seal the ticket to the Final Four. It is important for me to help the team, because they always believe in me."
For Barcelona, what is the difference between now and this time last year when you also qualified for the Final Four?
"The biggest difference is the experience that we had last season and now must use against CSKA in the semifinals. We are also playing better than last season, having lost just a few games, but we must confirm all that at the Final Four. This will only be a great season if we win titles, and that is what we are trying to get."
What are your thoughts about the other three teams that made it to Paris?
"It is more or less surprising to see Partizan in the Final Four, but I wouldn't say I am shocked because they really know how to play in front of their fans. It is very difficult to win there. CSKA and Olympiacos are classic Final Four teams and just like us, were in Berlin last season. For now we can only think about CSKA and trying to stop them from beating us again in the Final Four."
In you team's classic Playoffs matchup with Real Madrid, Game 3 was pivotal for you and your team. What were you thinking about on the way to Madrid for that?
"Well, I was a bit worried because things didn't work out well in the first two games. But we were able to offer our best effort, to show our best side. Our team managed to bounce back nicely after that Game 2 and went to Madrid with a different mentality: To try to win both games and make it to the Final Four."
After scoring little the first two games, you started early in Game 3, changing the momentum of the series. Did you think you had to score for your team to win that pivotal game?
"I wasn't obsessed with not playing well and what would happen if I didn't... but I was looking forward to playing Game 3 and taking that weight off my shoulders. Everything went well for me and the whole team worked hard to win that game. So yes, I have to say it gave me confidence."
Madrid played even tougher in Game 4 with their season on the line, but that and the 13,500 fans didn't seem to bother Barcelona. Were you as confident as you looked?
"We have a very good mentality, like I said before, but didn't start the way we did in Game 3. We had to adjust to Madrid's physical game and we were able to stay in the game. We were more focused in the second half and did what we had to do down the stretch. It wasn't easy to beat Madrid in Game 4 and I think it says a lot about our team. At this level and no matter whom you play against, it is not easy to win back-to-back games on the road."
Even though 10 Barcelona players have played at the Final Four in the past, you are the only one that has lifted the title. Is that a disadvantage - compared with CSKA and Olympiacos, for example - or do you see it as extra motivation for everyone?
"It has to be a motivation. Most of us have been to the Final Four already and were not able to win the title. We have to learn from the mistakes we made in previous years and be able to remain calm. CSKA is a very experienced team, but we have to be loyal to our playing style. We have to play good defense and try to enjoy ourselves on the floor."
What would you tell someone like Ricky Rubio, who hasn't been there before, about what to expect at a Final Four?
"Well, there are a lot of people that will have the chance to tell him all about the Final Four. All I can tell him is that it will be a great basketball weekend. We have to focus first on our upcoming games, too. Above all, I would tell him that we must keep playing the way we have this season and to be as calm as we can be."
Once again, it is CSKA vs. Barcelona in the semifinals, just as it was in your team's previous Final Four appearances in 2003, 2006 and 2009. Is it somehow special to play against them once again, with the chance to reach the Final?
"It has to be special to play against CSKA in the Final Four. Like I said before, we have to stop their winning streak against us. It is very important for us to win that game against such a talented, experienced team like CSKA. It would give us a plus going into the title game. It will be very difficult to beat CSKA, we all know that, and the game is still a month away."
This is Regal FCB's 11th Final Four appearance, an all-time record. Barcelona has just won one Euroleague title, however. Do you consider it a goal of yours to change that history and turn Barcelona into a regular Euroleague winner?
"One of the reasons why I came back to Barcelona from the NBA was to help my team win titles - and that has been happening so far. The Euroleague title, however, would take the club one step higher. It is very important to win that second Euroleague title, for all of us and especially for me."