|It's been a charmed few years for Regal Barcelona head coach Xavi Pascual, who rose from the Spanish minor leagues to the head coaching spot on one of the world's most famous teams. In two-plus season at the helm, Pascual has impressed by winning the Spanish championship, the Spanish King's Cup and now reaching his second Euroleague Final Four. The only way to improve on that is to win the Euroleague itself and that is exactly what Pascual is gunning for next month in Paris. In this Euroleague.net Final Four interview, Pascual touches on his team's success this season and what its like to return to the Final Four, examines his semifinal opponent CSKA Moscow and talks about his own roster. "Everything that happened this season conditioned us for the future," he told Euroleague.net when asked about his team’s superb form this season. A true fan of the club, Pascual took a long-term view of winning for Barcelona. "History has been a bit unfair with our club. We have now made it to the Final Four for the 11th time, but always needed a bit more to win the title. We hope this is will be the year to win it again."
Hello, Xavi. First, congratulations on making the Final Four in your first two seasons as a fulltime head coach. What is different about the situation now as opposed to last year at this time for you and the team?
"Thank you. Well, we had a similar run in the Euroleague compared to last season. We didn't lose many games in each of the two seasons. I don't remember how many losses we had last year, but we just had two this season. We have had a good run in the Euroleague, but like I said, I wouldn’t say it is very different compared to what we did last season."
People see a certain measure of dominance in Barcelona this year. The undefeated regular season, only a one-shot loss in the Top 16, most other games under control. What will all that dominance until now do for your team mentally heading into Paris?
"Everything that happened this season conditioned us for the future. The way we have played so far this season keeps us calm and gives us confidence. On the other hand, what we did so far is not of much use. Anything can happen when you arrive at the Final Four and you have to be ready for that particular moment."
What have you and the players who were in Berlin last year learned from that Final Four?
"We learned a lot of things, that's for sure, but it is difficult to put them into the right context a year later. We learned that a Final Four game can turn around, emotionally speaking, in a short period of time due to individual actions in a game you think you have more or less controlled. On the other hand, we learned that we can lose key players quickly and have to readapt quickly. We managed to do that, but it was an important key to last year's semifinal game. I am sure that we gained some experience for games like this, because we are facing a team that has had the same core of players for several consecutive Final Fours. They have a lot of experience, as Holden and Langdon are playing their fifth Final Four together and Siskauskas has been with them in the last two."
The team's biggest off-season changes were the frontcourt arrivals of Boni Ndong, Terence Morris and Erazem Lorbek to join Fran Vazquez. Are their roles now what you envisioned when signing them? How are their duties divided?
"They came to replace several players that were very important for us last season. They have adjusted pretty well to our team and its circumstances. Every game is different from the previous one and roles oscillate a little bit. Even with that, I think their roles are very well-defined in offense and defense, in terms of what we need from them, because each of them has his own strengths and skills."
In the backcourt, the key addition was Ricky Rubio, who took on - and handled - a lot of responsibility as a teenage starter. What advantages does his unique talent bring the team in a Final Four setting?
"Ricky is always working on his game. We wanted him to start every game to help him grow as a player, so that he can run our offense in games like the upcoming ones. We are happy with his growth, along with some other players. We are happy with how he has tactically improved at reading games, how he has grown in every aspect of this game and we hope he carries on working in the right direction at such an important moment of the season."
In between, there's no forgetting newcomer Pete Mickeal. How crucial are his skills to glue together what the frontcourt and backcourts do?
"He is a very important player for each and everyone of us. He has had a very solid season, understanding when he needed to step up and adjusting well to our defensive profile. We are happy with his character, hard work, steadiness and his desire to get better and better every day."
We also saw the leadership of Juan Carlos Navarro when the team had its toughest moment, in the playoffs. Did you count on him stepping up like he did in Madrid or did some things in game planning help it happen?
"Well, we always try to help all of our players to develop their talent on court. Navarro had two games in which he didn't play that well, but he has been very important for us all season long and of course, we believed in him. We tried to find ways to help him find his game and we did it."
Once again, you play CSKA in the semifinals, a team built on experience. It almost seems like their team's title-winners vs. your team's talent. How do you combat their experience?
"Like you said, CSKA has a plus with its experience. They are also used to opening the Final Four, which is a very tough competition to start. Once you are aware of it, you are already on the court. There is a lot of attention on these games and you need experience to give your best from the very beginning. You need experience for that - and they have it. At the same time, they have a lot of talent, so I wouldn't say it's our talent against their experience. They are a very talented team. Holden, Siskauskas, Langdon and Planinic are super-talented backcourt players. If you add Khryapa, Kaun, Vorontsevich and Smodis, they are really strong inside, too. It is a very balanced team, a clear lock to be in the Final Four from the beginning. They managed to make it and now we have to get ready to play against them."
What would you have thought if someone told you five years ago that you would now be considered among the very best coaches in Europe?
"Truth to be told, I don't know what I would have thought. I know what I am thinking now - I am focused on helping my team move forward. I don't spend much time thinking about things like that."
Barcelona is in its 11th Final Four and looking for its second Euroleague title. It already had a bad experience in Paris in 1996. What would it mean for you, as a Barcelona coach and fan, to erase that memory by bringing the Euroleague trophy home?
"First and foremost, those bad memories of what happened in 1996 will never be erased. We are not going to Paris to erase that bad experience, but to win the title and give our fans a good reason to celebrate. Like you said, history has been a bit unfair with our club. We have now made it to the Final Four for the 11th time, but always needed a bit more to win the title. We hope this is will be the year to win it again."