Pablo Laso: “Licenzi il coach, il giorno dopo vinci, ma poi?”

Abbiamo avuto il piacere di intervistare in esclusiva Pablo Laso, coach del Bayern Monaco per parlare del suo passato, del suo presente e di ciò che sta succedendo in Euroleague e sulle panchine di tutta Europa.
Qui sotto trovate l’audio completo in inglese e la trascrizione sempre in inglese dell’intervista completa. Nei prossimi giorni sul sito troverete le migliori parti tradotte in italiano.

Hi, coach! First and foremost, how are you?

I’m okay. I would like to win more games, but that’s always on the life of a coach. We’re more or less in the middle of the season, hard season for us. You know, playing two competitions at the same time. New competition for me, the Bundesliga: different players, different style… And then Euroleague is being like expected: very tough, game by game. Like I always say, you can win almost every game, but you can lose every game. So that’s a very hard competition. Adjusting to a new situation, new team, new players… In all that sense, OK, I’m OK. And that’s the most important thing. I feel OK and very happy with the team that I have.

You’re fresh of a warm welcome by WiZink Center and Madrid. How much pride do you feel to have impacted in such a unique and tangible way on probably the greatest organization in European sport?

Well, I always said that at the end, what you get, it’s recognized from the people. And it was spontaneous. It was really welcome to receive that kind of ovation from the people that has been pushing you almost for 11 years. It was something to be very proud. The only thing that I that we could not achieve on that day was getting the game (laughs ed.) But we were facing probably the best team in Europe now with a lot of very good players in every position. For sure I felt very recognized and at the same time, very proud that the people gave me that that ovation there in Madrid on the game we played there.

And with Chus? How do you dealt with the feelings to see one of your “heirs” on that bench?

Well, I mean, Chus is for me… He has been the assistance for me for many years. So at the at the end, you have different relations… But in the end, he’s coach of a great team. And I have all my respect for all the coaches. I know how difficult it is to coach a team. And in my relation with Chus is not going to change for any reason. I’m very happy that he’s doing great with Real. I have respect for all the coaches. I have a great respect for Željko Obradović. I have great respect for all the coaches. I’m not going to have that type of respect for Chus for sure.

And talking about your players now at Bayern: what convinced Leandro Bolmaro and you of each other to share the vision for a different role on the court than the one he had in the NBA or at Barcelona?

Well, I really like Bolmaro when he played in Spain before he went to the NBA. I think the opportunity in Minnesota came, let’s say, too early for him. He needed to become, let’s say, more of a leader on the floor before going to the NBA. When he came back last year in Tenerife, he had two great point guards in front of him, Fitipaldo and Huertas. It was hard for him to play that position. But for us, it was very clear that we needed a guy like him to run the team, play solid defense, create game for us. So for me, it has been a pure point guard since the beginning. And this is the position that we’re making him play. I think it’s the position where he feels comfortable. And I think he’s doing great things.

How can you explain this “rebirth” from Serge Ibaka? Only thanks to the FIBA context, more suitable than NBA? Or is there something else, maybe a special relationship?

Well, for sure, I have a special relationship with Serge since when I coached him back in Madrid during NBA Lockout. I think it’s a luxury for us and a luxury for Euroleague that Serge is back with us. The first time I spoke to him about the situation of having him here, I told him straight. “Serge, you’re going to have a great environment. I think you’re going to play good. I think it could be a great opportunity for you. But don’t expect us to give you stupid money because we don’t have it”. I remember that conversation with him and things that he told me. When I came down for dinner – we were in Malaga on preseason. I remember telling Nacho, my assistant (Ignacio “Nacho” Juan, ed.): “He’s going to come”. Nacho told me “How is he going to come to Bayern Munich?”, I said “Because he wants to play. He wants to demonstrate that he’s being healthy, that he had a bad situation in Milwaukee. And he wants to prove that he’s ready to play”. I know Serge, and I think he’s doing a great job for the team, for the culture of the club. I think he’s helping us also the way he’s been doing for sure. He’s not 22 years old. He isn’t super athletic like he was back on the times, but he’s giving us experience. He’s working hard and he’s ready to play every night. I’m very happy that he’s with us. He’s been a great addition for us to have him this year.

Tell us just one thing among many others that may have surprised you with its impact on the court and one off the court. Maybe something not strange, but unexpected…

No, not unexpected, because I know the way he is. I remember when he played in Madrid, he was first one in practice lifting weights. So he, like he said, he really took care of his body ever. So he’s in shape. But on our first conversation he said “Pablo, I’m going to take time. It’s going to take time to me to come back to game rhythm”: I think he now got in game rhythm.

I remember the first game he played in Bundesliga. He played like, I don’t know, 20 minutes. And at the end he looked at me “Pablo, I’m dead”. It’s not being the same being in shape that being on game shape. So it took him a while. But I think that right now he’s playing a good level. This competition, where our schedule is playing almost every 48 hours, is very demanding for him too. But I think he’s doing a great job.

Leaving aside rumors and inferences, the certain fact is that three months after the start of Euroleague, 6 out of 18 Euroleague benches had changed staff to lead it. Perhaps this is the most negative aspect of European basketball, being constantly and maybe toxically addicted to judgments related to results. How do you explain this? Maybe comparing to the NBA universe…

Well, it’s difficult. What is for sure is that in Europe there’s a lot of pressure from the beginning. You’re playing your domestic competition. Then you have to qualify for Cups. Then you have Euroleague, you feel that pressure from the first day. I remember in preseason, they were already talking about changing players and coaches. But then when the season starts, then all of a sudden you lose two games. “Okay, we have to change the coach”. And a lot of times it’s a matter of time of getting the team together.

Also for me, it was difficult. I just arrived in Germany: first games, I didn’t even know the players that we were playing with. We had to put a new system, new coach. So it’s difficult. But not just Pablo Laso, any coach is under judgement because one game you win or you lose. At the end, you have to judge coaches because the job they’re doing for the organization, not only because they’re winning or losing. But it’s easy to say when you’re a coach. At the end, you want your organization to win games and your team to win games. And when you lose, you go like “Oh, this player is not rebounding. This player is not scoring. This player is not doing anything. This coach is terrible, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah”. Probably in the NBA is different competition: they take away that game by game pressure you have in Europe. And they go more of a long term pressure. They say “What are we building? Do we have young players?” Right now, we see some teams, they’re coaching by great coaches. But they know they will need time to get those players on the right time, on the right position, on the right environment and put the team together. And it will take time.

In Europe, probably you don’t have that time because when you lose, it’s like everything is a disaster. And a lot of times I always say “Maybe changing coach or changing player is not going to make you win next day. Maybe you will do next day, because you change the player. But is that be consistent on time?”. I’m a great defender of building things that they’re going to last on time. And this is something that in Europe, sometimes that pressure, it’s there and you feel it. And it’s the way it is. You cannot change it and you have to adjust it. I would love to listen “Give Pablo Laso 5 years and he will build”: come on, you’ll listen “If Pablo Laso doesn’t win, they’re going to cut him”. That’s for sure. But not just Pablo Laso: every coach, every player… Don’t worry, he will make shots (laughs ed.). “How is that possible? The guy is not making shots!”. They will start doubting about him and maybe they will find another player. So that’s part of our culture in Europe. And this is something that we have to live with it. Somehow I like that pressure. I always lived with that pressure when I was a player. Now I live with that pressure as a coach, you have to live with that pressure and deal with that pressure.

Talking about pressure, Silvain Francisco’s impact in the EuroLeague in his first season at this level has been more than positive, seems obvious to me. First of all, tell us how the recruiting happened. Was it a special scouting report or were you the first one to be impressed by his qualities?

Well, I remember Francisco. I saw him when he played in Manresa two years ago, I have a great feeling of what he can do. He’s still young, first year in EuroLeague. I think the club has GM Marko Pešić and Daniele Baiesi as Sporting Director. In the end, when you put a team, it’s not “Pablo Laso’s ball: we have to sign this player”. I always put this stupid example. For me, I would sign LeBron James. What the GM would say? “Pablo, very good. If we sign LeBron James, we might not need you”: it has to be a combination. And I’m very happy that with him, hand by hand with Daniele, with my assistants, with Marko, we get the right team together. We have to build the team and it has to be everybody hand by hand. It cannot be just Pablo Laso saying “I want this guy”: it has to be a little bit of working together, scouting, management and coaching, try to make everything work. And it’s not easy because, in the end, you need to put a team together. You’re not bringing just players, you have to make that team play together. And a lot of times it’s not only about “This player is good, let’s sign him”. You have to see what is going to be good and what is going to be good that they play together. I think we have a very good team that is solid on every position and players that can play different roles and different situations. And this is something that I’m very happy with the squad that we have, knowing that for sure we put together a young team that we believe is going to grow up on time.

From an external point of view, you have a unique attitude towards your players during games. Body language, confidence you convey with gestures and words, possession after possession. Is it something you work on and take inspiration on from specific models, or is it a natural evolution of the person you are?

I always think, first of all, I have great confidence in my players. Believe me, it’s the way I have been as a player and it’s the way I am as a coach. They’re my players, I will defend them ever, but I always tell them the other way. I’m a pain in the ass (laughs ed.)! I’m going to be there every day. It doesn’t matter if we win, if we lose. If we do something bad, I’m going to be there, I’m going to tell you, because I want the best. Probably when we play the last game of the season, when we’re playing for the championship, the last game, that day I won’t be on you, because I will expect you to play your best. But during the process, I’m going to be there. So a lot of times you see me giving them great confidence or helping them. But at the same time, I’m the first one who goes out there and criticizes them. Because I think I have to do it to make them better. If they take it personal, it will be for me their fault, because there’s nothing personal. I’m the guy who most believes in them, besides their family. But that doesn’t mean that if I see something that I don’t like: I have to be straight and tell them what I think, because it’s going to be good for them. I want to help them and sometimes criticism is going to help them. But at the same time, I always said that for me it’s very important that they know that they have the full confidence from me to perform as best as they can.

So try to imagine three players of your past experience in EuroLeague that you would criticize during practices and hype during games, but you never had the occasion to coach day by day…

Well, I will talk about three players that I never coached, but that I admire. First: Vasilīs  Spanoulīs. I will criticize him “Hey Vasilīs, you’ve been a great player. Great player. Why do you coach?” (laughs ed.) I think Vasilis can be a great coach because he knows a lot about basketball. And you can talk basketball with him for hours.

Second: Mike James. Just think about Pablo Laso telling him “Mike, maybe that’s a bad shot”. He will tell “Hey Pablo, look at this shot. I’m going to make it”. So I admire Mike because he has that confidence on his game. And I really love to coach a guy that is able to look at you and say “Maybe it’s a bad shot for you, but it’s a good shot for me”.

Third I really admire: Vasilije Micić. Now in the NBA, he’s not having minutes he deserves. But I think he has been dominating EuroLeague in the last 3, 4, 5 years. Great creator, great scorer, Efes has always been on the top because of his performances. The funny thing is I talked about three players who played more or less on the position that I played. And that talks about my mentality. It’s a little bit oriented to that position.

For sure Tavares is decisive. Shengelia is decisive on any team. But I always admire guys who play on the position that I played when I used to play. Micić and Spanoulīs put my game on different equations.

According to your opinion, who’s the most intriguing young coach in Europe that could reach a EuroLeague team in a short time? Maybe from Spain, from Germany, from Italy?

Well, last year I didn’t coach. And that makes you the perception that you can watch games on a different way. And a lot of times, you see a team that you don’t like. And maybe it’s because you don’t like the way the coach is running the team. Maybe that coach is very famous and very good, but you don’t like it. You see another team that plays very good, then you see that coach and you see he is running the team the way he wants to. With all the respect I have for coaches, I can like more or I can like less. I always respect what they’re doing, because it’s not easy to coach a team of persons. And maybe that guy that I didn’t like how they play would tell me “OK Pablo, go and coach them!”. It’s very difficult to say “This young coach is going to be good in the future”. I don’t know, because it will become a problem of handling those personalities, handling that team, make sure he keeps studying. For me, coaching is a matter of learning almost every day. Maybe now I tell you one coach that I like, and in two years he won’t be that good. I think it’s a process of becoming better every day if you want to be a great coach.

And so three coaches that you like at the end of it?

I was very lucky that I was coached by Željko Obradović. I learned a lot from him. I met Manuel Comas four times, different school. I had Lolo Sainz on the national team. I really learned a lot from coaches that I played for.

You always see little things. This question goes back when I was playing and everybody was like “Tell me your favorite player”: I didn’t have a favorite player! I would like to shoot the ball like Michael Jordan, but I cannot shoot it like Michael Jordan. I would like to pass like John Stockton, but I cannot pass like John Stockton. For me, it has been always a matter of getting the best out of everyone.

Last question: you’ve had a lot of fun for German basketball, not only about the results of the senior national team, but about the whole system. I guess you had a very good impression of it, even before you arrived at Bayern. But what struck you about the structure of basketball in Germany? Not only around the court, but around basketball. Not only thinking about Munich, which by participating in Euroleague, it’s a sort of an island, but thinking about the whole BBL and German environment…

Winning FIBA WC meant a lot for the people. On pre-season we went with our fans to watch one German national team game on the world championship. The place was full, people were cheering for the team. You could see that passion. Now I see it every day where we play away. Gyms are full, people support their team. And the way they cheer for Obst, Bonga and Giffey, despite that they’re going to be rivals in that specific moment, talks very good about the culture of being a sport that people like and enjoy. It’s definitely growing up. And probably results are helping.

When you win, and you win a big thing like a world championship with a great job that Gordon did with them, it becomes something that gets into you. And I think that you can see it. This is something that I really liked about the German basketball: keep growing up, fans are pushing, they’re getting results. They discovered in last years that basketball is a great sport, they can really enjoy games. We were talking recently with Marko Pešić and he was telling us “We’ve been sold out on the last 10 games”: that talks very good about the team, about the club, about the job they’ve done, and about the fans. And this is something that I’m very happy to be part of it, and I hope it will continue like this.

Massimiliano Bogni
Massimiliano Bogni
Hoosier. Bergamasco. Atalantino. Iscritto a Lettere Moderne in UniMi. A seconda del contesto, non necessariamente in quest'ordine. Sempre in attesa di recuperare da terra ogni briciolo di sport.