Only a miracle can send Scavolini to the Final Four now. To survive Group E, the pride of Pesaro, Italy needs a 48-point win at Barcelona on Thursday combined with a 29-point loss by Benetton at Skipper. Better put, Scavolini needs the basketball gods to smile down on it. Luckily, those gods will recognize one Scavolini player who is always looking up at them. Joseph Blair doesn't just leading the Top 16 in rebounds and double-doubles. He leads the basketball world in kisses blown to heaven from the foul line. "If I make two, I send up two kisses," Blair said in a Euroleague.net interview this week. Blair is as thankful for a made free throw as he is for having played with the Harlem Globetrotters, his last team before rejoining Scavolini last summer. "I needed something to get my mind back on why I really play basketball, not for money, but for the love of the game," Blair said. "That's something playing with the Globetrotters does for you."
We know you guys have it tough making it to the Final Four now, but are you proud of your accomplishments after starting 0-2?
"For sure, we are. I think after our start, a lot of people doubted what we could do at this level, doubted we were a strong team. I think that not only do we deserve our position, but that we have demonstrated that we might be the ones going ahead if we had played just a little better in a couple games. Of course, the loss to Barcelona in the final seconds was the tough one. But despite that, I think we showed we belong."
And if you had been healthy all season?
"It's always easy to look back say you could have done better, but it's also important to look at where we are and accept that for the accomplishment that it is. I think the important thing is that Scavolini came out after a few years not being part of the Euroleague and did what we did, making the Top 16 and showing that this club is still a force in Europe. I think that's important because over the years, I think maybe people forgot the name Scavolini, the club and the city and this year we helped remind them."
Do you have extra motivation to beat Barcelona because they won on at the finish in Pesaro?
"For sure. I said a while back that we want to come out and vindicate ourselves against them. When someone comes and beats you in own country and gym. after a loss like that, you want to come back and show them who is the better team."
You had a taste of the Euroleague last year before leaving PAOK in Greece. What did you think about the league this year?
"First of all it was a completely different situation this year. Obviously in PAOK they had problems with payments to players, and everyone knows that with that type of problem, it's hard for a team to come out and give its best in every game. This year, with everyone involved and excited to be in the Euroleague for the first time in years, making it to the second round, it has been a whole different experience. The only thing strange has been playing so many games in Italy in the Top 16. We are travelling outside Italy for the first time this week. It's been like playing in the Italian League."
Let's talk about rebounding, a subject you seem to like. What makes a great rebounder?
"I go and talk to lots of kids in camps, here and in American, and I tell them the same thing. The only secret about rebounding is wanting to go get the ball. There's no secret position or anything like that. You just have to want to go after it and have every ball in your hands. That's basically what you try do, on offense or defense. Sometimes you are lucky enough to touch it and sometimes you catch it, if you want it enough."
There are a lot of theories on rebounding. Do you have one?
"I always liked the one from Charles Barkley: "Go get the damn ball!" I read it in a book about him. Like I said, it's no secret and having your position and your footwork right is all fine and good, but not if you don't go after the ball. In the end, you always have to go get it anyway."
What rebounders have you modelled yourself after?
"Really there is no one, to be honest, no one in particular that I modelled my game after. When I was young, because I am from Houston, I watched a lot of Hakeem Olajuwon. Other than that, I just tried to be myself and manage my own way. Fortunately, rebounding has been one thing I've been good at."
Tell us about the time you have you spent with the Harlem Globetrotters.
"I was with the Globetrotters four years ago for about five months and then this past year after I left Greece I went back with them for three months again. I think after my bad experience in Greece, I needed something to get my mind back on why I really play basketball, not for money, but for the love of the game. That's something playing with the Globetrotters does for you. When you play with them, you love basketball. Everyone has a good time, both the players and the people who come to see them."
What makes the Globetrotters such an enduring show, maybe the only one of its kind in any sport?
"It's not often that in Europe or the NBA you see whole families come to the game together, I mean the little kids, big kids, the mom and the dad. With the Globetrotters, everyone comes together and the whole family has a good time. That's important, that people come and enjoy themselves and have fun with the family. That just helped me love basketball more and enjoy myself when I am playing. I think every basketball player needs to love the game like that."
Did you learn all the tricks?
"Of course. I was in the magic circle that they begin the show with before every game. I can pretty much do all the tricks. Whatever the Globetrotters can do, I can do."
Italian fans consider you quite an entertainer, too. What tricks have you done for them?
"No tricks, but whenever I make a free throw, I blow kisses up to god. If people know me from past, they know free throw shooting hasn't been the best part of my game. So it started about three years ago in Italy. I made a free throw and I just blew a kiss up to god, right there from the foul line. I was just so thankful. Then I made the second shot, so I blew up another. And that's how it got started. Now, if I make one, I send up one kiss, and if I make two, I send up two kisses. I try to send up two as often as I can."