After five full seasons away, Xavi Rabaseda is back in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with Herbalife Gran Canaria. Unlike most of his teammates, Rabaseda has a lot of past EuroLeague experience; he took part in 38 games over three seasons with FC Barcelona. He helped Barcelona reach back-to-back EuroLeague Final Fours in 2012 and 2013. After that, Rabaseda went on to play for Estudiantes in the Spanish League and is in his fourth season with Gran Canaria. He played three consecutive EuroCup campaigns with Gran Canaria, reaching the semifinals in 2016, and is fully adjusted to life on the island, his teammates and the club. Rabaseda will be chronicling this special season for Gran Canaria - its first in the EuroLeague – via his EuroLeague.net blog.
First things first, being in the EuroLeague is a great experience for Herbalife Gran Canaria. For us, the players, it is always great to play the EuroLeague, but it is even nicer to do it with Gran Canaria as the reward for the great work the team put in for many years, going step by step until it achieved this goal. For the group of players that has been here for a long time, It is an awesome experience to play at OAKA in Athens or at Ulker Sports Arena, Fenerbahce's home court, in Gran Canaria's first-ever game in the competition. It is an experience that we will carry with us forever. Then seeing our own fans so excited when the EuroLeague anthem is played before our home games, their faces full of passion and excitement, and then feeling their support from the opening minute, is something historic for this club. Just last week, we challenged CSKA for the best part of the game and people had a great time.
This is also my first EuroLeague season under the new format. It is not just the number of games, but especially for us, the long trips. We are a bit far away and when there is a two-round week and the Spanish League on the weekend, we have to travel a lot. We have to be aware that it is going to be like that all season and in that sense, take a step forward and try to face it the best way possible. Traveling conditions are key sometimes. CSKA came to Gran Canaria with its own plane, but other teams have to stop here and there before they get to the island. It cannot be an excuse for us, because we have been traveling like that for many years, all around Europe, in the EuroCup and the Spanish League. We have to be strong and focused.
"It is hard to get to the EuroLeague, but here we are, and able to win games."
Playing the EuroLeague means bigger cities, bigger airports and better traveling conditions. It also means that we don't spend so many days away from home. With one game per week, Tuesday or Wednesday, sometimes you have to play in the Spanish League on the road and instead of heading back home, we went straight to our next destination and might be 10-12 days away from home. Not this season, because you get back home before you play in the EuroLeague and then in two-round weeks, a home game is guaranteed for all teams. That way, we spend more time at home than in previous seasons.
The difference between the EuroLeague and the EuroCup is big, however. In the EuroCup, you can have an okay game, not play great but still win either at home or on the road. In the EuroLeague, the whole team has to play at a very high level, not just three or four players, to compete, especially on the road. If not, you won't have a chance to win. You really have to fight hard to win at home and that is mandatory for the whole team. We cannot depend on only a few players. For instance, we played at a very high level against CSKA for like 35 minutes, but ran out of gas and when we did, they were able to keep playing at that level, being physical and hitting a lot of shots. You pay a high price for every mistake you make against them and this is why they are one of the top candidates to win the EuroLeague each season. We battled hard and thought we were close, but ended up losing by 15 points. It looks like a big margin if you see the whole game, but it is what it is.
We had a great EuroLeague home debut when we beat Barcelona. It looked like the game was lost at some point, so to say, but neither us nor our fans stopped believing. We managed to reach the final minute with chances to win and managed to get the win, not just any win. The first EuroLeague win in club history, at home, in front of our fans. It was a basketball party and it felt like we had won a title - players jumping on the court, fans hugging each other in the stands. It was something big for the club. It is hard to get to the EuroLeague, but here we are, and able to win games. Nobody likes to lose, that is for sure, and we are aware that we will collect some losses here and there, but we will fight hard. If you fight for every game, you end up getting wins. We are used to winning a lot of games in the EuroCup, but here, you need to give your very best to fight for the win. We are ready to take the step forward that we need. It is a work in progress; we have a new coach and new systems this season. We are improving every day.
"It is a big challenge for me, and I am looking forward to this game to play against Shved."
We will play against Khimki this week. The club played its only EuroCup final against them a few months before I signed with Gran Canaria. It was the club's first final, too, against a team led by Tyrese Rice. Gran Canaria lost at home by 25 in Game 1; it was close for a while until Khimki took off. Then Khimki led by 15 at halftime in Game 2 and that was it, basically. I was told that nevertheless, the experience was great, because you don't get to play a European final every season, and Gran Canaria did it. We will try to do better this time around. It will be hard because Khimki has no wins and we got one already, but we have to try to win on the road. They lost back-to-back games at the buzzer, against Efes and Milan. They were a playoff team last season and all the pressure is on them. They have to try to win as soon as possible to get closer to playoff territory and it is our duty to stop them.
I am looking forward to guarding Alexey Shved. I believe he is one of the best perimeter players in Europe, if not the best, and guarding him is a big challenge for us. It is exciting to go against players with such potential, it is a test for us, to see if we are at the level that the EuroLeague demands. It is a big challenge for me, and I am looking forward to this game to play against Shved. He has the ball a lot and is very smart - when double-teamed, which is very often, he can find the open man and this is why he is second in assists this season. I played with Juan Carlos Navarro and he also shared the ball a lot in his best years. He was guarded by two players often and was able to find the open teammate when he drew that much attention from his opponent.
I believe we will be more competitive from now on and this is our goal. When we landed in Istanbul and stepped on court to play against Fenerbahce, we had a bad first quarter and this when you think "well, this is it, we are in the EuroLeague, let's grow as a team and learn our lesson." We have a lot of games left and we will grow, little by little. We had two strong tests at home to learn from them. We have to try to build on our two home games to try to beat Khimki on Friday. Vamos Granca!