Betty Cebrian is the most capped player in the history of Spanish basketabll with 232 international games to her name. She is also the captain of a team that has impressed many at the European Championship for Women, going undefeated in the first round of the tournament and stamping their authority on the competition as a medal favourite.
Cebrian has tasted success at the top level before, winning European gold in 1993 and a bronze in 2001. Her experience in the Olympic Games is a little more limited having participated only in 1992 when Spain was the host country.
We sat down with Betty to discuss the success of her team and their Olympic aspirations.
What do you think about the European Championship so far?
Cebrian: I think that all the teams are looking for the opportunity to go to the Olympics so teams are really focused on this championship. Everyone bought all their top players and I think there are 6 or 7 teams who can beat anybody. The most important thing is to be in good shape for the quarter-finals where the most important games start. It is not so important to play well in the first round but in the quarter-finals.
Your team is playing well, so that must be a comfort to take into the next round?
Cebrian: I think the Spanish team is playing well, but we finished 5th in the World Championships. We also did well in the last European Championship so its not just these last 3 games, we have had a good reputation for 2 or 3 years.
Looking back at 2001, is this championship more competitive?
Cebrian: Yes there are younger players who bring more physical basketball than 2 years ago. They are young and strong and play good basketball.
Has the style of play changed since when you first started your career?
Cebrian goes to the hoop against Ukraine
You didn’t play last season, why not?
Cebrian: No, because I had an injury and an operation with 3 months rehab. I was ready in March and it was already late in the season so I decided not to play.
Do you know how much longer you will continue to play?
Cebrian: In April the national team coach called me and asked if I wanted to play at the European Championship. I said ok, but I haven’t played for 8 months. He said if I practice in the summer and then come to training camp in August, I can see if I am fit enough to play for the team.
So you will play for a club next season?
Cebrian: I don’t know because I didn’t sign a contract yet. I want to see what happens here and if we get the opportunity to play in the Olympics next year I will probably play another year and finish my career in Athens. If we don’t go to the Olympics I will probably stop playing and these will be my last basketball games.
Do you know what you will do after your basketball career?
Cebrian: I am from Barcelona and I studied physiotherapy. I have been working with some basketball teams and in a clinic and I will try to combine physiotherapy and sport in Barcelona. I also would like to practice with young players.
Have any here teams surprised you?
Cebrian: I have only seen our games, but I know that Hungary has a young, strong team. Against us they played different kinds of defense, zones, match-ups, one-on-one so they can do a lot of things. I think they will beat some teams who may underestimate them?
Do you think any changes should be made to the women’s game?
Cebrian: I don’t know, in Spain we tried to change the height of the rim to make the game more spectacular. But this wasn’t a good game because nobody could practice before and its also difficult to adapt all the basketball courts in Spain.
Women’s basketball is different to men and women can do a lot of things very well. The game is getting more physical and referees have to let the players play so that the games are more spectacular with more running, more contact and more fast breaks.
Is women’s basketball in good shape?
Cebrian: I think its getting better every year. The younger players work harder physically than when I was young. They are stronger, taller more co-ordinated. They work a lot as little kids in basketball and they are improving.
As a center you have to match up with a player like 213cm Polish center Margot Dydek, who causes every opponent a lot of problems. What is your strategy against her?
Cebrian: It is difficult, and I know her well from the Spanish league where she played for 2 years. I like to play close to the basket but I have to change that against her, box her out so that the other players can drive inside and she cannot block their shot. Sometimes you get blocked, but you don’t have to get down about it because it is normal for a player 213 to block your shot. It doesn’t matter and you have to keep working hard and try to get her into foul trouble so she has to leave the game. If she plays concentrated it is very difficult to beat Poland.
Amaya Valderomo has made a big difference to your team this year. How important is she for Spain?
Cebrian: I think she’s more important for us because of her energy. She’s our leader and when the team is down she brings a lot of energy. Sometimes she scores and sometimes she doesn’t score, but that is not important. What we want for her is the energy she brings.
Is the goal for Spain to win the gold or go to the Olympics?
Cebrian: For us the goal is to go to the Olympics. We have only played in one Olympics in Barcelona and never had the chance to qualify. We always do well when the European Championship qualifies for the World Championship and we make it, but in qualification for the Olympics we always do badly. So now we have to change history and go for the Olympics.