|06 July 2007|
By David Hein
Even though Spain are reigning world champions as well as serious contenders for this summer's EuroBasket crown, the Iberians have struggled over the past three seasons at the U20 European Championship Men tournaments - finishing 11th, ninth and 11th over that stretch.
Juan Antonio Orenga is the man in charge of the 2007 Spanish side in Nova Gorica and Gorizia.
And his troops opened the tournament with the best result possible, dominating Croatia over long portions of the game in collecting an 88-69 victory.
The deep - but small - Spaniards definitely solidified many observers' expectations that they are title-contenders for the final on July 15 in Gorizia.
Orenga spoke to David Hein on behalf of FIBA Europe about the opening-day victory, his goals for the tournament, if he feels any pressure at the tournament after all of Spain's other success, and the notion of two cities - and two countries - co-hosting this tournament.
FIBA Europe: First off coach Orenga, congratulations on the victory. What does the win mean for your team?
Orenga: It's really important because we only had a short time in our preparations for this tournament. All of our players have been out for a few days. Two of the most important players in the team only arrived five days ago - Xavier Rey and Sergio Llull. So it's been difficult to prepare for the championship because of that. I think we have a team with a lot of talent but we need to have confidence. So today's game was very good for the players because they now think they can beat anyone and fight for a win in any game.
||I don't have big guys. I only have one. But they all played like they were seven-foot.
FIBA Europe: Some people think Croatia could do some good things at this tournament, and your team dominated them for much of the game.
Orenga: I have all the confidence in my team. Maybe nobody else does because of the results of past years. But you have to analyse everything that's happened. Croatia are very good. But we played very smart today. We played good defence and took our chances on offence. And all the players played well together.
FIBA Europe: What was the biggest factor in today's win?
Orenga: The play of the team. They all played like a real team. Players who don't necessarily have an important role in their European club rosters played very well today. Whenever we brought somebody in they did the same as the players coming out. The same thing happened with the players in the paint. I don't have big guys. I only have one. But they all played like they were seven-foot.
FIBA Europe: Spain were ahead 16 at the half, what did you tell the team?
Orenga: The game is not finished, and you have to keep on working. Our goal was to win the next quarter then the next quarter. And if we would relax we would lose. If we want to win we have to keep on working.
||We are a team. We will win or lose as a team
FIBA Europe: Is there anything you're worried about after this game?
Orenga: I worry about all the games we have to play because all the teams have a good chance. FYROM will be tough, Israel will be very tough. But we will try to make the team play the same way they did today.
FIBA Europe: What's your goal for the tournament?
Orenga: The goal is the team. We are a team. We will win or lose as a team. The players have very good camaraderie with each other.
FIBA Europe: With the UMCOR U18 European Championship Men tournament taking place in Madrid and the senior national team being reigning world champions and going for EuroBasket gold at home in September, do you and the team feel any pressure to represent Spain here at this tournament?
Orenga: Not really. The last three years we have finished at this tournament 11th, ninth and 11th. So there's no pressure on us here. We just have to give our best. If we make the first eight then that will be an extra. If we can be in the first five, that will be an extra. The pressure is not on us.
FIBA Europe: For the first time, two countries are co-hosting a European Championship. What do you think this unique event?
Orenga: We have been here seven days. We played a tournament ahead of time and stayed here in Nova Gorica for five days. It's a very nice city and the people are very kind. Everybody tries to make things comfortable for us. The gym is very good and it's nice to practice here. And the same in Gorizia. The co-operation between both countries is a point of reference for whatever tournaments they have in the future. You can see already that two countries can co-operate together and host a tournament like this.