|The 2012-13 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season is waiting just around the corner, but right before it starts, Euroleague Basketball and the National Basketball Association (NBA) will team up for the fifth edition of the Euroleague American Tour. The tour, which runs over the coming weekend, will mark the first time ever that Real Madrid plays basketball on North American soil as it faces the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors on their home courts. Not only does it give North American fans the chance to see one of the iconic names in sport, Real Madrid, but the pride of the Spanish capital can use the games to get momentum for its Euroleague home opener against Panathinaikos Athens on Friday, October 12. In his third season with Madrid, point guard Sergio Rodriguez knows what to expect as he returns to the United States with a chance to meet some former teammates and try to show them how good his current team is. "We want to win, of course, and offer our best, not only for other teams to see us, but also to feel good and confident for the start of the Euroleague season," Rodriguez told Euroleague.net. "We have to come back fresh enough to face Panathinaikos in the Euroleague opener. That will be a huge game, opening the competition against Panathinaikos at home."
Hello, Sergio. How excited are you to lead this Real Madrid team on a tour of North America to face two NBA teams?
"It is a very good experience for us. We have had a great pre-season, winning the Spanish Supercup, and managed to beat Unicaja Malaga in the Spanish League this weekend. We have to make the most out of the opportunity to face two very good teams. We have been playing together for several weeks but at the same time, it is difficult to beat a NBA team on the road."
This marks the first time that Real Madrid will play in North American, so it's a new chapter in the team’s history. Does that make it more special?
"Well, like I said, it is a pre-season game for them. They have been practicing together for one week. Knowing that, we have to enjoy the experience, feel the atmosphere and try to do the best that we can."
Do you think that facing two NBA teams like Toronto and Memphis is a good way to get ready for a challenging Euroleague season?
"It is, no question about it. We are facing two tough games, not only because they are good teams but also because we have to face long trips, travel overseas and adjust quickly. We have to be back fresh enough to face Panathinaikos in the Euroleague opener. That will be a huge game, opening the competition against Panathinaikos at home."
Madrid was the highest scoring Euroleague team last year. Do you expect to fill up the basket in an NBA preseason setting, too?
"I don't know, really. Like I said, these are friendly games and your life doesn't depend on them. We want to win, of course, and offer our best, not only for other teams to see us, but also to feel good and confident for the start of the Euroleague season."
How special would it be for Madrid to beat a NBA team in its home floor?
"Well, it is down to one game and we are excited and looking forward to it. We want to win even when we know they haven't practiced together for a long time. None of the teams will be in their best condition. Of course, we will try to give our best."
What do you think about the initiative to make some of the best Euroleague teams face NBA squads in North America?
"It is good: it has been done for several years already. It is a positive experience, maybe better for them since they haven't started the season like we did. For us, these games come already in the middle of the season and it is more difficult to get used to their playing style and time difference, taking into account that we have to come back home and play again soon after."
There are Spanish players in both teams: Jose Manuel Calderon in Toronto and Marc Gasol in Memphis. You played against them in the NBA, but will it be different going against them wearing a Madrid jersey?
"Yes, I think so. Playing against a NBA team is always important, but facing players with whom you have experienced many good things in recent years makes it more special. We are friends, but once the games start, that doesn't count. Marc is an All-Star and 'Calde' could have been there, too. We will all defend our own interests. We really want to do well to keep building our confidence."
The Euroleague regular season is round the corner. Which are your personal expectations and what would make it a good season for Real Madrid?
"We have maximum expectations in this Euroleague season. It is a very attractive competition, the best in Europe, in which you face the best players and the best teams. We want to do really well. We had a good Euroleague last season but lost a couple of critical games that stopped us from reaching the playoffs. We have to give our best in every game, even when the Euroleague is longer this season, which gives us more chances to bounce back if we make mistakes. Even with that, we know we will face good teams every night."