Pedro Martinez has been a head coach for nearly half of his life as a near-constant presence on Spanish League sidelines since he won the 1990 Korac Cup with Joventut Badalona at age 28 – in his very first month on the job! His resume includes two runner-up finishes over nine EuroCup seasons, in 2008 with Akasvayu Girona and with Valencia Basket last season, before they won the club’s first Spanish League title. Until now, however, his only Turkish Airlines EuroLeague experience was four games in 2005 with Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, the same team that called him back after losing this season’s first four games. Not only has Martinez turned a tough situation around, qualifying Baskonia to the playoffs, but he has relished the opportunity to finally compete against the best teams and coaches in Europe, the subject of this newest Coaches Corner.
First of all, it is great to be back in the EuroLeague. I feel privileged to coach in the EuroLeague. I always felt privileged to coach in the Spanish League, and this is one step higher in our profession. Only 16 coaches can work in the EuroLeague. I still don’t make many future plans, but the best thing about the EuroLeague is being able to coach some of the best players in Europe. The EuroLeague features the best players and the better-structured clubs, all of whom aim to be at the top level. So taking part in the competition is a goal and a matter of pride for those who have the chance to coach in it.
I have not been in the competition for a long time but followed it, down to the details, each season. Logically, I know it well by watching it on TV, all the teams and all the coaches. From one point of view, I came to think that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be back in the EuroLeague and work against these great teams, so it is a big challenge for me. I have had contacts with other EuroLeague coaches in the past but we had never faced each other. For instance, Ioannis Sfairopoulos of Olympiacos was PAOK’s assistant coach for many years, and when Juanan Morales – who I won the 1990 Korac Cup with – played there, I went to PAOK to see some of their practices when Ioannis was an assistant coach. So I knew him even thought I had never played against one of his teams, and now it was kind of fun to face him in the EuroLeague after so many years. Other than that, I have a lot of respect for all coaches out there, but even when I knew most of them, I had not played against them all.
I had faced Zeljko Obradovic before in the Spanish League, because he coached Joventut Badalona and Real Madrid in the 1990s. I had never played against him in European competitions, and when you play against the coach that has pretty much dominated the competition for more than 25 years, it is always a big motivation.
At these levels, it is the talent and how good players are that really makes the difference, but it is undeniable that every coach is watching what everyone else is doing out there. There are certain trends, both on offense and defense, things that someone does and others copy, adding some small variations to adjust that idea to your team. That has always happened in basketball and of course, in the EuroLeague, too. Like I said, basketball has trends. For instance, a trend in modern basketball is defensive switches, which comes from the NBA and many EuroLeague teams are implementing.
Basketball has changed a lot since I was promoted to coach Joventut in the early 1990s. Society has changed, as well as behavior and the way people interact with each other. That has an impact in a job like this, in which you basically work on human relations and group direction. Everything has changed, also tactics. You now coach in a different way that you did before, players have different physical and technical skills than before and therefore, the game has changed and coaches have to adapt to it.
The Internet and new technologies give you access to a lot of information that was not there before. Therefore, technical staff has changed a lot, there are more people now and they are better prepared when it comes to technology. The competition changed, too. Now you play many more games than before, and that has an impact on the way you practice and scout an opponent. Head coaches can gather a lot of information now, but I think it is a mistake to pass on all that information to the teams. It is different to get the information than how you handle it and what you show to your players.
The EuroLeague competition system, a round-robin league, makes it different than when it had two group stages. Back then, the goal to make it to the next round and now, it is much more motivating, a much better competition system.
What has surprised me about the EuroLeague is how balanced it is between 16 teams. It is difficult to find such a balanced competition. Added to this fact, the intensity in each and every game has impressed me, too. It is higher than any other competition – the speed of the game, the way you play defense, how each team performs really close to their maximum level. Since the competition is so balanced, every game is important and there is a lot at stake, which makes everyone very motivated.
I value a lot seeing the small details from all the teams we played against. Each team has a similar style book, but with different small details, small actions of the game that makes them very interesting, especially for someone like me to likes to study my opponents and study basketball in general.