A great start of the season, both individually and as a team, has earned Walter “Edy” Tavares the award as the MVP for October in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. As always, defense was his greatest strength; Tavares averaged 9.5 points and 3 blocks per game in October. Added up, his numbers gave Tavares a 19.5 performance index rating, which was sixth-best in the competition, while on a per-minute basis, he was third with a prorated PIR of 35.4 over 40 minutes. Madrid’s great offense (96.5 ppg., on track to be the best in competition history) starts with strong defense and that is where Tavares stands out as a master of blocking shots, intimidating opponents around the basket and grabbing defensive rebounds to get the fast break started. A year after joining Madrid, Tavares can call himself a EuroLeague, Spanish League and Spanish Supercup champion and is now the EuroLeague monthly MVP for the first time in his career. Along the way, Tavares has also earned a cool nickname, “Sergeant Swat”, courtesy of Joe Arlauckas. Joining Madrid was a life-changing move, as he explained in this EuroLeague.net interview. “This is a team that doesn’t settle for one win and always wants more, until the end of the season,” Tavares said. “It was a great decision to come here because Real Madrid is a really powerful team and I was looking forward to being important on a team at this level and playing a lot of minutes.”
Hello, Edy. Congratulations on becoming the EuroLeague MVP for October 2018. How much of an honor is it for you to get this award for the first time in your career?
“Thank you. It means a lot to me. It means that I am doing things right and have to carry on working that way. I am proud of getting it, it was one of my goals this season. I hope I can get more awards like this because it means that the team is winning; I know it will be difficult, but we work hard every day. Thanks to my teammates. As a center, if they don’t pass me the ball, I am a nobody who would depend on offensive rebounds, so thanks to them, too.”
One of the reasons why you won the award is because Madrid had a perfect October, 4-0. Does being the reigning champion bring more pressure for Real Madrid?
“Yes, of course. We know that being in the Final Four is difficult, so the more wins we get now, the better chances we will have at the end of the season. We know it is early in the season and being the reigning champion comes with responsibilities. All the other teams will be extra motivated against us because we are the champions. All games are difficult and we have to be ready for all of them.”
“We know that defense is giving us the chance to play well on offense. Every time we play good defense, our offense is much better.”
Defense is your strongest point, especially blocked shots. How much do you work on your timing and your footwork? Looking back, your footwork has improved a lot over the years.
“I always try to do coordination drills and jump rope. As my coaches always say, I need to have ‘hot feet’, move my feet fast and react as quick as possible. That is critical for big centers, being able to move your feet fast and in the right direction, as well as knowing when to anticipate. And then second efforts are very important, too. Not all opponents are ready for second efforts; they think you will go for them once, but not twice. A second effort is key: a lot of my blocks are second efforts because they don’t think I will be there, that I gave up and they have a second chance.”
Let’s go game by game. Madrid opened the season against Darussafaka and scored 109 points. Was that a statement, a message for the rest of the teams?
“We knew that Darussafaka is a dangerous team, so we had to be focused. We have to respect each and every EuroLeague team and play with high intensity at all times. When we lower than intensity, teams can do very well against us, so we have to be focused and give our best. Every time you lower your arms, you find out the opponent is leading by 5-10 points. We have to play good defense from the beginning until the end. We know that defense is giving us the chance to play well on offense. Every time we play good defense, our offense is much better.”
Madrid went on to beat AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan on the road. You were down by 15 at some point in the first half and came back. What did you talk about in the locker room to turn that situation around?
“Well, we talked about increasing our intensity and putting more pressure on defense, on each screen. Mike James and Nemanja Nedovic are very dangerous when they play one-on-one. We needed to improve our defense against them and raise our intensity on defense. This is what we did and finally got the win. These two players are very dangerous if you give them space, really hard to stop.”
You returned home and beat KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz by playing hard for 40 minutes. Was it your best game so far?
“I believe so. Baskonia is a really hard-to-beat team because they fight from the opening second of the game until the final one. We know them well and have played against them many times. Above all, they are a tough, physical team, but we were focused and with the right mindset to play against them. If you don’t play against them with the right mentality, they can beat you.”
You grabbed 14 rebounds against Buducnost in just 18 minutes. How satisfied were you with your performance in that game?
“I am never completely satisfied. There are always rebounds that I am not able to get, and sometimes I am really close to getting them, but I don’t. I don’t know the actual stat, but not getting a defensive rebound very often generates a three-pointer against us. Teams make the most out of offensive rebounds and second chances. Every time I don’t get a rebound, it can be dangerous for us.”
“Teams make the most out of offensive rebounds and second chances. Every time I don’t get a rebound, it can be dangerous for us.”
A lot has been said about your defense, but I want to ask you about your offense. You are more solid and balanced than ever before. How hard – and in what ways – have you worked to have better moves on offense?
“Well, I always worked on taking my time to find a good shot. I rush things many times and take a quick shot, sometimes with my feet crossed and no balance. I have worked really well this summer with a coach I already had in Gran Canaria for many years, who also went to check me out in Cape Verde. He explained to me that I have to take my time and read the game better to find the best shot. I also worked with one of our coaches here, Lolo (Isidoro Calin) and he tells me it is very important for me to be balanced at all times. He says that if I have the right balance, I am unstoppable.”
You have been in Madrid for almost a year. In this time, you won the EuroLeague, the Spanish League and the Spanish Supercup titles, and are now the October MVP and playing much more, too. You must be pleased with your decision to join the team.
“Of course, it was a great decision. This is a team that doesn’t settle for one win and always wants more, until the end of the season. It was a great decision to come here because Real Madrid is a really powerful team and I was looking forward to being important on a team at this level and playing a lot of minutes.”
Last but not least, Joe Arlauckas came up with a nickname for you: “Sergeant Swat”! How do you like it?
“I like it a lot! I don’t block shots, I swat them! In pre-season, when I didn’t have the right rhythm yet, the right timing to block shots and I felt a bit heavy, Pablo Laso asked me to stop killing butterflies and start putting the hand up there and jumping the right way! Sergeant Swat is a perfect nickname for me because I don’t block shots, many times I slap the ball.”