Real Madrid faces a stiff challenge to win back-to-back EuroLeague titles for the first time since 1968. One of its players, however, has won two EuroLeague championships in as many seasons with the club: playmaker Facundo Campazzo. He arrived straight from his native country, Argentina, before the start of the 2014-15 season to play with countryman and 2015 Final Four MVP Andres Nocioni. Campazzo saw limited playing time but helped Madrid win its first EuroLeague title since 1995. After a couple of seasons on loan with UCAM Murcia, Campazzo returned to the team more mature and was a big contributor as Los Blancos lifted the trophy again last spring. Campazzo averaged 7.9 points and 4.5 assists in 30 EuroLeague games last season. Before the new campaign tips off, Campazzo spoke about future challenges, new teammates and his career in the competition so far. "We know we are in Real Madrid to reach difficult goals, so we know what to expect: a very tough EuroLeague season and we have to be ready for it," Campazzo said.
Hello, Facu. Welcome to your third EuroLeague season. Two seasons, two EuroLeague titles. So far so good! How great has it been to play the EuroLeague until now?
"Thank you. Truth to be told, I had the luck to be part of two winning squads that were very talented individually and as a team. The players understood each other led by head coach Pablo Laso. When you speak about Madrid, you talk about fighting for big things and getting titles. As I said, I had the luck to be on two teams that managed to go all the way. In my first year, I didn't see a lot of playing time, but I knew it. I knew I would have a secondary role, but I enjoyed it just as much as if I played a lot. The team made me feel part of it and I felt very comfortable. Last season, I saw more playing time and I enjoyed it as much as the first time, or even more. I had a different role, even though I was injured at the Final Four, but I had more responsibilities and tried to make the most out of it."
This will be your first season playing for the reigning EuroLeague champion. Does that bring more responsibility? Opponents tend to give their best against the champs.
"Well, it is not just that we are defending the title. Real Madrid is always a team to beat and everyone wants to defeat it and gives everything. Our opponents always show their best version against us. This season, along with the team, we have to try to defend the title we won last year. It won't be easy as opponents know us better than before: it is extra responsibility and extra pressure. It is up to us to turn that pressure and responsibility into something positive, to try to deal with it in the next 9-10 months. We know we are in Real Madrid to reach difficult goals, so we know what to expect: a very tough EuroLeague season and we have to be ready for it."
"I like to compete – against our opponents, in practice, all the time."
Most playoffs teams kept most of their players from last season, sometimes making only two or three changes. Is that a good sign for the competition?
"I would say so, yes. All those teams were already very talented, so bringing some new good players makes the league stronger, too. It is not just the contenders, but the rest of the teams. For instance, Milan got stronger with two very good guards [Mike James and Nemanja Nedovic]. A lot of teams made good signings and the EuroLeague will be very balanced, just as last season. CSKA had a good regular season last year, but it was a very balanced regular season for all other teams and that is not going to change. It is a very demanding league, physically and mentally, and we have to be ready. All the teams got stronger and we have to be ready for a very competitive EuroLeague."
This will be your fifth season in Europe. How did playing the EuroLeague and the 7DAYS EuroCup help you become the player that you are today?
"It helped me improve a lot of aspects of my game. In Argentina, I didn't really need it; for instance, it was easy for me to get a reverse layup in Argentina, but here, you have a lot of athletic players, who are very big and long. In that sense, playing at a higher level in Europe helped me a lot to become a more all-around point guard. Playing at this level helps us understand the game a little bit better. Sometimes it is like crashing against a wall, but you keep learning. It is helping me a lot and thankfully, this is a team sport. My teammates have helped me play with a lot of confidence. I hope that my playing level keeps improving."
A lot of people had doubts about you, both here and in Argentina. You proved all of them wrong. How does that feel?
"I like to compete, I like it a lot. I am a very competitive player. I don't really pay much attention to that, but I know people talked about it. I just try to stay away from that, improve every day and help my team by being as professional as I can. As I said, I like to compete – against our opponents, in practice, all the time. That helps me play at this level and be on the teams I have been with until now. I won't stop being competitive."
I have to ask you about Gabriel Deck. Most EuroLeague fans have not seen him play. What can we expect from Gabriel?
"He is a great signing, not just Gabi, but also Klemen [Prepelic] and Melwin [Pantzar]. In this case, Gabriel will give the team and our fans a lot of joy. He will be very helpful, he knows how to play basketball, understands the game and that is very important. He has adjusted so fast to our team that we haven't even noticed. The group of players has welcomed him really well, too. As I said, he will give us the kind of things that are not reflected in the stats: energy, intensity, tough defense, great attitude. That gets everyone involved and will help us a lot during the season."
Andres Nocioni and Manu Ginobili recently retired from Argentina's Golden Generation. Right now, there are a lot of Argentinean players in Europe - for instance, you and Gabriel Deck in Madrid, Patricio Garino and Luca Vildoza in Baskonia. Is it time for you to take over?
"We have to be at a very high level, physically and mentally, all season long."
"Personally, I consider that the younger generation has already taken over, and that happened some years ago. Back in 2015, at the Pre-Olympic Tournament in Venezuela, only two players from the Golden Generation, Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni, were with our national team. We managed to make it to the Olympics, led by them, but there were a lot of young players. We have a new bunch of players that are already doing well in Europe: Garino, Vildoza, Laprovittola, Delia, Brussino, Deck... I don't want to forget about anyone! They are all playing in Europe and doing well, sometimes even leading their teams. That is very positive for our national team. We want to create our own history. We don't know if we will win medals the way the Golden Generation, did but we play with the same mentality. We are all willing to learn enough to be able to fight for medals. We are starting our history and are looking forward to it. It is a good group of players, with a lot of young talent. Other than Luis [Scola], Laprovittola and I are the oldest players. Everyone will contribute, I am sure."
Speaking of Nocioni, was he an important mentor for you in your first year in Madrid?
"Yes, absolutely. I always thought that my first year was the most difficult one, coming from Argentina across the ocean, away from your family and friends, to play at a higher level... it was not going to be easy and it wasn't. 'Chapu' helped me a lot. He was with me all the time and gave me very good advice. Being part of the team and adjusting to both the Spanish League and the EuroLeague was easier because of him. He showed me a lot of good values – hard work, sacrifice, knowing that things don't come easy... I have a lot of things to thank him for."
Being the reigning champion, which teams do you see as the main candidates to dethrone you?
"I think that CSKA, Fenerbahce... Baskonia put together a good team... Panathinaikos, Olympiacos... those are opponents that are always there, fighting for big things. Fenerbahce won the EuroLeague right before us. There are a lot of candidates but nothing comes easy in the EuroLeague. We have to be at a very high level, physically and mentally, all season long. We have to focus on everyone, not just these teams, because everyone got stronger."
Real Madrid has not won back-to-back EuroLeague titles since 1968. Based on your own experience, what are the biggest obstacles to achieving this goal?
"Well, after so many years, I hope we manage to do it! It will not be easy, nothing is easy in the EuroLeague and any team can beat you, at home or on the road. That is what makes the EuroLeague so much fun – all teams are good and any player can hurt you. The key will be to stay focused, at home and on the road, and not get losses that were not in our plans. All the teams know us, our players and how we play. The key is how we will play; we will try to do it with high intensity. If we are focused, intense and don't give up, we will have a good chance to do it."