The Toughest Job In Ljubljana

20 September 2013

EUROBASKET 2013

14. Alexis Ajinca (France)
"I am here knocking on the door, so I hope I am going to do well against him and help my team," says Alexis Ajinca ahead of his clash with Marc Gasol
By Dimitris Kontos

There is an endless variety of difficult ways to make a living but on Friday night in Ljubljana few people will have a tougher job than Spain's Fernando San Emeterio and France's Alexis Ajinca.

The Spanish small forward will be one of the players who will assume the task of guarding the versatile Nicolas Batum in the second semi-final at EuroBasket 2013.

"He is a huge player, he is an NBA star for a reason and a very difficult player to defend," San Emeterio told fibaeurope.com of the French all-round winger.

"But we will have to do everything to defend him because he is a key player to France.

"Playing in a EuroBasket semi-final is a beautiful challenge in itself and more so against players like him [Batum].

"We will give everything to win."

Ajinca meanwhile will have the no less enviable task of limiting the action of Spain's colossus, Marc Gasol.

"[Gasol's fame] is well deserved," Ajinca told fibaeurope.com.

"He's accomplished a lot of things, he got best defender of the year [award] in the NBA so, he deserves it.

"I give him a lot of credit, he is a great big man, I don't remember how old he is but I am 25 and I am here knocking on the door, so I hope I am going to do well against him and help my team."

Ajinca averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in an excellent season with French Pro A finalists Strasbourg, while San Emeterio has been the leader of important Euroleague club Laboral Kutxa Baskonia for the past five seasons.

The Spanish guard/forward has been adjusting to a different role within the national team every summer and the French center is doing something similar in his first major tournament with the senior national team in Slovenia.

"You need to change the chip in your mind a bit during the summer, because you know that here you might not be the reference player you are at your club," San Emeterio explained.

"You need to cast yourself in this situation and know that when you enter the court, you might be more or less accurate on offence, but you absolutely have to maintain the same defensive intensity so that the team's level does not drop."

Ajinca takes a similar approach to his responsibilities within the national team context.

"I am enjoying it all the time, I knew I had to step up my game and play harder and get rebounds and do what my team needed of me, so far I've been doing it and I just hope to keep it up," he said.

"I think it's going to be a tough game and the team wants me to stop Gasol in the paint and go get rebounds, so that's all I am going to do.

"I am going to play as hard as I can and just do it.

"It's never easy. Especially against a great big man it's never easy.

"It's easy to say but hard to do."

San Emeterio has been casting himself in a supporting role for Spain every year since the 2010 World Championship and he would not spend his summer in any other way.

Fernando San Emeterio (Spain)
"I love basketball, I love playing basketball so I never really thought that I could be on vacation instead," says Fernando San Emeterio  in regards to his summers with the Spanish national team

"I love basketball, I love playing basketball so I never really thought that I could be on vacation instead," he said.

"It's very nice to be able to represent your country, to play in a European semi-final, these are achievements that you cannot experience with your club.

"There are players here that play in the NBA, so you cannot play against them in the Euroleague, it's a different and very nice experience."

Ajinca had to wait for four years, since he represented France at U19 level, for his chance to suit up for the senior national team.

He was not on the French team that lost to Spain in the EuroBasket 2011 final or their

squad but his desire to help his country finally prevail over the two-time European champions is as intense as that of his veteran teammates.

"We know it's a semi-final but at the same time we know that this is the team that beat us over the last years and we definitely want to improve and show that we are here, and we have to break this spell," Ajinca said.

"Every time we've played them, even in exhibition games, they've won even if it was just by one or two points, they still won.

"So we have to stay focused and do it."

"We know they really want to beat us and they are a great team, but this is not a premature final," San Emeterio said.

"It is a big game but the final will be what it is, on Sunday, and we need to be at our best against France to get there."

 


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