|All season long, at either end of the court, Fran Vazquez was the emphatic punctuation to Regal FC Barcelona's well-constructed team basketball. Vazquez finished Barcelona's defense with blocked shots and its offense with spectacular dunks, usually by spiking alley-oop passes. By the end of the playoffs, he was already the Euroleague's leader in total blocks for the decade - and the Final Four was no different. In the semifinals victory over CSKA, he led the winners with 11 points, including 5 key ones as Barcelona pulled away down the stretch. In the final, his 4 blocks were the most in a European title game since 1994 and tied for second-most in Final Four history dating to 1988. More remarkable, all his blocks against Olympiacos came in just 4 minutes after he entered the title game in the first quarter, putting Barcelona in charge until he could lift the trophy for the first time in his seven-season Euroleague career! "I have been in seventh heaven in the last few days," Vazquez told Euroleague.net on Thursday. " I still don't believe it!"
Hello Fran. This is your first Euroleague title. How important is this in your career and how was the celebration?
"Above all, this was the one title I had not won before among all the important club competitions I have played in. I am happy, excited and, of course, every time you win a title you spend the post-game party with the people you love and your teammates. I celebrated with the family, which is always backing me."
Let's go back to what happened this weekend. You faced a tough CSKA team in a very physical semifinal. What worked against them?
"We were very nervous in the first quarter and CSKA opened the game with a 4-11 run. Little by little - as soon as we started to be even-tempered - we sent a statement and managed to be ourselves, playing the way we did all season. The game changed starting in that moment and even when it was a tough game, we managed to make it to the final."
Once in the title game, Barcelona had a great all-around game against Olympiacos, with strong defense and a much better offense. How did you prepare the game so well in such a short period of time?
"Well, that's a good thing about this team - we manage to prepare very well for difficult games in short periods of time. We managed to do everything we talked about. I think we all managed to focus on the game and avoid thinking about what could be next. That's the best part; all of us think 'team first' rather than seeing ourselves as individuals."
Of course, you got the defense started with 4 early blocks, shutting down Kleiza and Schortsanitis. Was denying easy shots what put Barcelona on the right track to win?
"Yes, I think so. We have worked hard on that and knew that Schortsanitis is a physical player who can get easy points down low. We had to do our best to stop him from finding easy baskets. We knew that his main weakness is free throws and we all tried to help each other to intimidate him and stop him from getting easy points, using fouls and sending him to the free throw line, if needed."
Barcelona won a very defensive semifinal and an offensive-minded final. Do you feel that this team can win no matter what the game rhythm is, against any team?
"This is what we have shown so far. I don't like to think that we will beat everyone from now on. We have to show that game by game, even when we had a good season so far and managed to win the Spanish King's Cup and the Euroleague titles. We have been ourselves, but have to keep working hard until our last game of the season."
It has been a very special Euroleague season for you, lifting your first trophy and becoming the all-time shot blocker. Has it been your best season to this date?
"Truth to be told, I have been working at a very good level in the last two years. I feel that on the court and with my teammates. They see that the intimidation I provide make them feel safer. I am very proud about it, first because we, as a team, have been able to win the Euroleague. Individually, every time you beat records or get success, it is always good."
You have definitely improved alongside Ricky Rubio, with whom you have formed an alley-oop dunk club. What's it like to play with Ricky?
"It is good to play with Ricky. It is has been positive for me, because he is another defensive-minded player who reads the game really well, too. He is never afraid of anything, either. He sees a lane where few people would risk throwing a pass, but he does it. His court vision is always good for everyone, and also for me, of course."
You switched teams a lot before staying with Barcelona for four years now. What has kept you so long?
"Other than my commitment with the club, I feel comfortable in this city. I like Barcelona - as I also liked Malaga and Gran Canaria - because it is by the sea. I have been very welcome in Barcelona and in this historic club. We have great players but the atmosphere in the locker room is even better. It is a unique place to be."
As reigning Euroleague champs, you will face the Los Angeles Lakers in Barcelona next October, part of NBA Europe Live. How special will that be?
"We have seen what happened when we played against Philadelphia at Palau Sant Jordi. The arena was packed and supporting us. We will try to upset the Lakers, too, and show that we are able to beat them. If we are not able to do it, we will try to make our fans enjoy and earn their support."
Last but not least, what does it feel like being a Euroleague champion? Does it motivate you to try to win it again?
"I have been in seventh heaven in the last few days. I didn't believe it. I even talked to my wife about it before the Final Four: 'Winning the Euroleague would be the maximum and I don't think that day will happen'. And well, that day is here. I still don't believe it! I have to try to erase that memory, focus on the remainder of the season and keep fighting to win the Euroleague again - and if it is several times, even better."