The Sportingbet MVP for January has made a career of meeting major challenges. The only question now – a fascinating one for basketball fans to follow – is how big Juan Carlos Navarro of Regal F.C. Barcelona can build what is already one of the great individual trophy and medal collections in the sport's history. Now 30 years old, Navarro might have looked weakened by a back injury kept him out four games late last year, but that was a mirage. Navarro hit the ground running in 2011, helping Barcelona start the Top 16 undefeated with his unique combination of almost boyish quickness, veteran know-how and killer instinct. Challenges, it was clear again, are what Navarro’s all about, starting with his primary goal of this season, to defend the continental title at the 2011 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Barcelona. "That's what I am looking for and what the team is all about, too, a repeat," Navarro told Euroleague.net. "I think that last year we played an excellent brand of basketball and that we deserved to win the Euroleague title. This year has been full of injuries and it has cost us a lot to get where we are and to get a little streak going like we have now. At the moment, we are playing very well again, so the whole idea is to keep that going, to be able to become a repeat Euroleague champion here at home."
Congratulations on a great month of January. How important was it for you, personally, to start the Top 16 well?
"It was very important for me and for the team, especially after the last couple months when I was either out or not playing my best, with a really bad back problem. It meant a lot to me to be able to help the team more at this moment to get on a little streak, and to get the confidence we need. So we had a good start at 3-0 in the Top 16, and that will help us breathe a little easier going into the Spanish King's Cup this week and then the rest of the Top 16."
Did you feel the need to show people that you were back, 100-percent and ready for this part of the season?
"I was very anxious to help the team, of course. In my role, I am an important player for the team, and now was the time, since I was healthy, to try to fill that role in some games that were very key for us. I enjoyed being able to do that, and to show that the team, not just me, is back and on the rise."
Now that you are 30, do you try to save something physically for the most decisive games?
"To think about saving yourself for big games is not always easy. For one thing, we play a lot of games and it seems that every one is important for something in the standings. Of course, everyone would like to be at their best in the decisive games and the decisive moments. But there are lots of times that you can't predict when those will be, so you just do what you can to be ready for anything."
In January, the first game against Maccabi came with a lot of buzz. Was it that way, too, for the players?
"The Maccabi game was very important for us, because it opened the Top 16 and because they lost only one game before that. What was most important for us was to play hard and intense, without worrying about the result. And we are able to do that, play a very active game against a very active opponent, and to beat them by 10 points at home. It was something we had to dedicate ourselves to, being at our most intense at that moment. Since we did that, we've been doing really well."
You drew 8 fouls against Maccabi. Was that planned against the aggressiveness of their guards?
"Yes, because they play very physically and defend very strong. When that is the case, you cannot force things, for instance just shooting from outside because it's more comfortable. You have to attack the middle more, and doing that, I got some fouls and some free throws that helped the team. It was what we wanted to do, and it worked out well, I think."
Against Olimpija, your 27 points were your fourth-most ever in the Euroleague, and almost weren't enough. How difficult was that game?
"Winning in Ljubljana was very difficult. Coming in, they had not lost any games at home, so we knew how strong they were. We played the first half really well, but then we had a let-down in the second. Fortunately, we knew how to be there when it counted, at the end, despite all the pressure that was on us in their arena. We had to survive a heads-or-tails shot of theirs near the finish, but we deserved the win."
To win against Rome at home in January's third game was key to staying unbeaten. If you make the playoffs, how crucial will homecourt advantage be?
"It is very, very important, because in a long playoff series of five games, you really want three of them at home. And to do that you have to win all your home games now. Beating Rome to go 3-0 helped our confidence, especially knowing we have to go on the road to Tel Aviv soon to win another very tough game. Our objective is to finish first, so that's what we intend to do."
The Final Four is in Barcelona in May. What memories and desire to be there again do you have?
"2003 was a historic year for us thanks to us winning the Euroleague for the first time. We also won the King's Cup and the Spanish League for the triple crown. I remember it a lot, and in was just magical. To try to do that again now, with the Final Four back in Barcelona and all of our people here, is as important as possible for our club. It's the primary objective of the season for us."
Is it more difficult than ever to make the Final Four?
"It's true that a lot of teams are playing well and that makes it harder. For sure, it's a little strange to see a team like CSKA not even playing the Top 16 after so many years in a row at the Final Four. So that tells you something. The only way for us to overcome the obstacles is to work hard every day to stay on top."
You've won almost everything you tried to win in your career. What would repeating as Euroleague champion mean to you?
"That's what I am looking for and what the team is all about, too, a repeat. I think that last year we played an excellent brand of basketball and that we deserved to win the Euroleague title. This year has been full of injuries and it has cost us a lot to get where we are and to get a little streak going like we have now. At the moment, we are playing very well again, so the whole idea is to keep that going, to be able to become a repeat Euroleague champion here at home."
Few teams have ever repeated as European champion. What kind of challenge does that represent?
"It's true that to repeat has been a tough challenge for a lot of teams, because it's already very difficult just to reach the Final Four. To win there once is so hard, and to do it the next year, even harder. But it's another challenge that I am motivated to achieve. I am always trying to put more trophies in the case for the club and for me. At the end of my career, when I'll look back at them, I want to see that we earned respect with what we achieved."