Talking to Gigi is such an amazing experience that you need just a few seconds to understand you could discuss with him about so many different themes. His courtesy, the way he talks, the way he introduces himself: it’s all about the human being before the great player he is.
– Ciao Gigi, where do we start from? What about your career that we can consider as complete as nobody’s else one for all the different experiences you lived in basketball. Do you feel you are actually living the best part of this career on every side of the game?
Yes, I do. I’ve been in the NBA but actually I feel like I’m living my best since I’m deeply involved in the process. All this has built the player and the man I’m right now.
– Can we say that as it happens actually in tennis, the best part of a player career can start turning 30?
Sure all the players take care of their body better than in the past and this can help you to reach the full maturity, physically and mentally, at this age and in the following years. I’m always astonished seeing guys like Ginobili, showing his skills and making the difference at 40, in a league extremely demanding athletically.
– Let’s go back to the different steps of your basketball life: Siena, Scafati, Rome, Detroit and Boston, before landing to Fenerbahce. Is there a moment that helped you better to become the player you are now?
Yes, it’s about two moments. When I decided to go to Scafati, coming from the great organization of Siena, where everything was good but I did not feel like I was involved the way I wanted to be. I’ll always be grateful to Scafati, the way the let me grow and play in their team. The next big step was the decision to stay in Rome, accepting to reduce my salary to let the team be more competitive signing other players. I had many teams offering me better deals, Virtus Bologna was the main one, but I decided to stay ‘cause I felt it was the right time to play a season with a basic role in team. I was a bit lucky, it ended perfectly with a Playoff Final and an MVP award, the last italian to get that award in the “Serie A” and the only player from a Rome team.
– 5 years in Rome and you lived a very particular situation: just one season started and finished with the same coach. Same story in Scafati. How is important to work with the same coach for multiple seasons? Then, if the coach is Obradovic…
I thought about that situation so many times. In NBA too I lived a change in Detroit and than was traded to Boston and find another coach. It was crazy but even if such a strange experience, I could get some different visuals with so many coaches and it somehow helped me anyway. Obviously playing for the same coach helps a lot. You know, with Obradovic, sometimes we call the same sets on the floor as our coach does from the bench. That’s why we know each other and we know how to face the multiple an different opponents we find.
– Going back to the choices you made during your career, I know Milan was very close to signing you 3 years ago but at the end you chose Fener. Was that about playing for Obradovic, was that about playing for a Euroleague top team or was that about something different?
It was the right choice. Having the chance to play for Zeljko is definitely the most important reason and I was happy to go and play for a great organization I knew Fenerbahce was and then I was eager to play with guys like Sloukas, Bogdanovic, Antic and so many others. In any case, if you receive a call from Obradovic that wants you to play an important role in his team, is there any chance you can say no? I had teams offering me more money, but my choice was not about that.
– Talking to Maurizio Gherardini, your GM, I could feel like that Fenerbahce’s choices about players are really focused on the man before the player. They look for guys open to hard work and to improve as individuals as well as team. Is that a feeling you had once you receive their offer?
You have to select players with clear targets and commitments. You need people that wants to work together and improve. During bad times you can feel the strength of the team and help each other to go through these situations. Everyone needs to have a clear role in the team.
– Can we say that landing in team coached by Obradovic has a sort of “reverse rookie wall”? There’s a tough starting period, but then once you understand what you give and receive from the coach and the team, the situation improves and you perfectly know what to do and how to do it. Do you agree?
Yes, I do. There’s a kind of apprehension and embarrassment in front of a coach like Obradovic, but then you understand and it gets easier. I love the way he talk to us, so direct, so clear, you perfectly understand what he wants, he explains how to do it and he is the first one to understand if someone has some problems. No need to ask him something, he knows it before you ask and he is remarkable in helping his players when they need something. He trusts his players 100%.
– So many trophies in Istanbul, but some loss too that could have been lived as a tragedy. Berlin as an example… How do the team and staff managed that kind of loss?
Better than everyone thinks. A loss it’s a loss, sure, but we knew that playing that final game was anyway a huge experience. We understood we had so many new players that season, Udoh, Sloukas, Kalinic, Dixon and me. We started from that loss and our win the following season started in Berlin. We lived the pleasure to be back all together and were able to go through the next season even if we had big injuries like it happened to Bogdanovic or played a hard Playoff in Oaka, where we won twice.
– The way you play on the weak side is simply wonderful. It’s a kind of perfect synchrony where the players are always moving in the best spots, able to get skip passes as well as ready to play the defensive possession. Do you work so much on this part of the game while practicing?
Well, to tell you the true it’s not about working so much but it’s more about feeling confident each other and being perfectly aware of what your teammates do. Coach is asking us to move on the weak side so that the defense, that needs to look at the ball too, must concentrate on more situations and take care of different threats. We don’t have to give them just a few spots to defend. Then after so many years and games together, I know where I can get better assists from Sloukas or Dixon.
– Final 4 means Zalgiris for you. Zalgiris means Jasikevicius and a kind of perfect season. Do you agree that during regular season games they were the team that created more problems to you, especially when you won in Kaunas where you played maybe your best performance of the season? Is Jasi the coach more similar to Obradovic right now? Similar body language and so many common offensive sets?
Yes, I agree, Jasi is somehow really really close to Obradovic as a coach, he lives the game the same way and has a system with so many plays like we do. But pay attention, it’s definitely not a “copy and paste”: there is so much of Jasi in Zalgiris’ great effort and success during the season. They are tough, intense and physical, maybe we are deeper and we must play where their game can be a bit less impressive.
– Sergio Llull can be a kind of novelty in the Final 4, something like a “crazy variable” we did not expect to see until we saw him back during the Playoffs series against Pana?
He can change so many things, he has great skills, talent and has a great personality to be a huge factor in Belgrade. I followed his recovery, we are friends, we played so many games starting from when we were young. He impressed me with his recovery, being back with Pana and playing immediately “the Llull way”.
– Talking about Italian players I wan to say something that’s a bit provocative. I recently saw Jayson Tatum with the C’s dominating a game in the NBA Playoff. He is 19 as well as you were when you moved from Siena to Scafati since you were not playing a big role in Siena. In my opinion Datome meant to italian basketball in those years something so similar to what Tatum means to US basketball now: so, why italian teams do not let young players show their skills, sometimes benching them ‘till they are 25 or something similar? Is that a reason of the bad situation of italian basketball?
First of all you take full repsonsabiltiy of comparing me and Jayson Tatum…
– Ok Gigi, I told you I wanted to be provocative…
Well it’s a difficult situation and sometimes saying this or that we play with career and we play with guys that do not deserve it. Italy is not Serbia where you are young until 19… First of all I want to tell something important: the generation of italian players before mine where working harder than what we did. Not so many coaches are open to play the young guys since they run the risk of being fired just for a single loss, so they play US or veterans mostly to reduce that risk. A second important point is about Bargnani, Gallinari, Belinelli and me, the 4 italian players in NBA. All of us got confidence and important roles in teams coached by strangers: Blatt, Djordjevic, Repesa and Filipovski. Does that mean a lot? I don’t know but that is the true. So many good players found recently an important role just because of special needs of the teams or injuries of the starters, not because the coaches were convinced about their talent. And this is bad, because the actual level of italian basketball could allow so many teams to grow new young players. This could be the moment, why not?
– You have been there and then came back. NBA and Europe: is the difference still so important?
NBA is still another level, and it’s about talent and athletics. What is different is that actually they trust overseas players as it was not in the past. 450 NBA players are not the best overall and in European leagues there are great players that perfectly understand the importance of a single game, due to pressure coming from the fans, the ambience and so on. 82 regular season games are so many that it’s normal to see some game not so interesting and not played at full effort. Then it’s about where you play in NBA too: I lived two different situation in Detroit and Boston.
– We discussed a lot in Europe about the new Euroleague format that started last season. Do you feel like playing in a very competitive domestic League as the Turkish, or Spanish, or Russian one can help to keep on staying more focused and highly involved, better then playing minor leagues as it happens in Italy, Germany, Serbia or Lithuania too?
– I prefer a highly competitive league like the one we play. You have to stay always focused, it’s not a kind of lights on/off. To do that you need a deep roster as we have with 15 players of the same level. Sometimes we have out of our 12 players great players like Sinan Guler. We can rotate our big players, at least 3, during the season and that helps a lot. Then you know, being coached by Obradovic does not allow to stay a single moment without the best focus…
Last but not least, I’d like to know something about the coach, something you could feel once you started playing for him, something that impressed you…
– First of all when I arrived in Fenerbahce I was deeply impressed the way he was eager, hungry to play the best basketball and to win games and trophies. He is number one about this. Then he impressed me with his being so sensitive and emotional with all his players. As I told you before, he is able to understand perfectly when there’s a problem and you don’t need to ask for his help, he knew it before. More he is such an humble person. You know he is Obradovic, a legend, a winner of everything, but he never talked to us as the legend, but just as our coach that wanted us too share which was the best decision, perfectly explaining why it was like that. He’s simply remarkable.
Discovering Gigi’s universe is such an amazing experience. In a few words he is able to explain his thoughts and his ideas about basketball as well as life. Emotional and humble. As his coach.