EXCLUSIVE – Matt Costello to Eurodevotion: Baskonia, the freedom under Penarroya and a life-long dream

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Matt Costello, before the match between Milan and his Baskonia, had with us an interesting conversation around some really fascinating topics

The versatile Baskonia’s big man is proving himself as a key player for his club, thanks to his IQ, so useful and impactful in offense and defense, starring in a team that’s delighting every European fan, both in Liga and in Euroleague.

After exploding in a wonderful carrer-high performance against Efes a week ago, Matt Costello was in Milan, while preparing the match with Olimpia, and we jumped at the chance to meet him.

With his rare friendliness and humbleness, the former Michigan State star talked with us about his current team, his contribution on the court, his teammates, Joan Penarroya’s incredible job in relating with the players and in particular he shared some significative thoughts around what’s important in a coach’s approach, somewhat linked to his life-long dream.

Baskonia's key big man Costello interviewed by Eurodevotion

I’d like to start with a personal question. Who’s Matt Costello as a man nowadays?

“A dad, hanging out with my family at home. Just chilling.”

Since you have played both in italian Serie A and in Spanish Liga, what do you think are the differences between the two leagues, either basketball and organization side?

“I was in Avellino, so maybe it wasn’t the best organization experience… they went out when I was there. As far as basketball style, I think the Italian league was a little more fast pace, more run and gun, trying to score, while Spanish league is a little bit more controlled, running more offensive sets, a slower basketball. As far as organization, I had a better experience here.”

Our sources told us that in 2016 Jasmin Repesa wanted you in Milan. Is it true? Were you close?

“They didn’t offer me anything, I probably would have took it at the time. I know he (Repesa, ed) had come to my school and I had the chance to meet him, but no offers around the table to come to Milan.”

Baskonia kind of says “go and play, we’ll figure it out later”. They ask you to play hard, of course, but they’re not trying limiting people for what they do.

Let’s talk about your current team. Baskonia’s known as an offensive team, but you’re capable of great defense too. I think a good part of that is also your work as a versatile big, in switches in particular. What would you say?

“I think we’re trying to improve our defense all year, offense has come pretty easily for us, but we’re just trying to get better on the defensive side. When we have difficult times, I think switching does help us, trying to limit guards’ opportunities. We just have to take the rebound after, because we struggle sometimes doing that.”

Once coach Trinchieri used a definition for Deshaun Thomas, he said he’s like a ‘Swiss army knife’ for the different things he can do on the court. I think that it is a definition that suits well to you either.

I think so too. I don’t do nothing super well, but I just do a lot of stuff here and there, trying to be the best basketball player.

Talking about your team offense, Markus Howard’s coach in high school said that they as a team were “the Warriors before the Warriors”, it was a big quote and i’m not saying it’s the same for Baskonia now, but what do you think about your role in the offense and what can you say about team’s very well-rounded offensive approach?

Our offense is share the ball and try to get up shots. Trying to get as many open shot as you can and when you have an open one you shoot. My role in that is get the ball up when I got a good look at the rim and get it to my teammates, try to make a better shot for them sometimes. I wouldn’t say we’re the Warriors by any stretch of imagination, we just play our brand of basketball, hopefully get some wins.

Where would you rate Markus Howard among the top combo-guard in Europe?

“I would say he’s up there. I wouldn’t really call him a point-guard, exspecially in our team. Sometimes he has to run the one, but most time he’s a two. I put him top 5 for sure, for the stuff he’s able to do, the impact he’s able to make on the game. It’s an immediate impact, when he’s on the court everyone has to know where he’s at, otherwise it’s easy point. He changes the game.

And what about Darius Thompson?

“I put Markus in top 5 for two-guards and i put Darius in the top 5 for point-guards. I talk to Darius all the time about his path, how he has kind of work his way up all the way trough -he started in Italy for a little bit – and just about why it’s taken him so long to get to Euroleague now, because he’s a really good basketball player.”

Still talking about Baskonia, they’re really famous for how great they are in developing players. I just want to know about your experience, what do you think?

I think they give the opportunity to the Americans to come over and play. In a lot of other big clubs, for an American to fit right to the European role it’s hard, it’s difficult to make the transition from college, G-League or NBA right to European type of system, because it’s different. Baskonia kind of says “go and play, we’ll figure it out later”. They ask you to play hard, of course, but they’re not trying limiting people for what they do. You can see it with Daulton (Hommes, ed) and Markus’ issues. I know that Daulton played in Italy, but I think them coming here they have to learn how to play European basketball again: first couple months was a sort of adjustment and now they’re hitting their stripes and they’re doing really well.

When Howard’s on the court everyone has to know where he’s at, otherwise it’s easy point. He changes the game.

Final Four percentage for this team?

“A lot of stuff has to happen before the Final Four, we got to make the playoff first, I’m worried about that. Once we get there, then we’ll do our best to make the Final Four.

I know you’ve said more than a time that in your future you’d like to be a coach. Let’s play a game, let’s say we are 10 years in the future. A sort of job interview… First question, since you experienced college basketball, NBA, Euroleague, national teams too, in what kind of environment you see yourself coaching?

For me, if I had the perfect dream… In Division II there’s a school near my home that’s called Grand Valley, I wanna be the head coach for this team, so I can be close to my family. Division II isn’t quite as serious as Division I, but you still make a living, you make enough money to live throughout the day and it’s good competitive basketball. The scouting is a little bit harder because you have to find the middle ground between the Division I and guys who aren’t gonna make it, but to me that would be the most ideal spot. Now, when I’m finished I can’t just go and do that… but that would be the one I wanna just go to.

What would your coaching models be, not only referring to your proper experience, but in general?

“I would try to take a mix of some of the best coach I ‘ve had. For example some of the structure my college coach had (the lengendary Tom Izzo, ed), I thought it was really really good just to give people a framework, how they could be successful: the sets, the defense, transition…

But also a guy like Joan Penarroya, he gives the freedom to go and play, and have some creativity. Trying to find that balance, giving the structure with the creativity. I would do my best to float that line. Can’t say I would be perfect at it, but that’s what I would try to do.”

Our coach right now (Baskonia’s one, ed) does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen finding that balance, trying to be your friend but also be the leader, the one with the authority.

Right about this kind of topic, what do you think about the fact, since you had an important experience with Michigan, that in college basketball as in Europe it seems to be similar the mindset with which coaches try to control players both on and off the court? And for you as a future coach: players’ coach or a ‘team over everything’ approach?

I understand why college coaches do it, just because you’re dealing with a bunch of young kids, you need some directions and stuff. I think at this point we’re all grown men, so control on and off the court is maybe too much now.

I think for me again it’s a balance, everything is a balance. I wouldn’t wanna say I wanna be a drill sergeant, making everybody a soldier, but I also don’t wanna be your best friend. I want to have some type of command, when I say go run this play, we run this play. I think our coach right now does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen finding that balance, trying to be your friend but also be the leader, the one with the authority.

You can ask three player to your front office, real names or archetype of a player.

“… KD, Lebron and Giannis (laughts, ed). We’ve a really good team!”

So you have the team, what would the perfect coach Costello’s system? What would it be the typical call?

“Give them the ball and go score, you’ll score on anybody with these three guys. You can put me on that team and we score… we would score 150 points in Euroleague! I would just sit in the corner, they would do what they do and would be incredible to watch. (laughts, ed).”

You like the easy wins, Matt! We wish you to fulfill your dream, we would admire a team like that with great pleasure, indeed.

Photo credit: Baskonia Facebook


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