"I'm so glad that you have this shit in your hands," Sergio Scariolo used to joke with Nick Nurse.

Pau Gasol

Pau  Gasol
Position: PF
Age: 41
Height: 213 cm
Weight: 113 kg
Birth place: Barcelona, Spain

The Italian joined the front row of Nick Nurse Toronto Raptors coaching staff in 2018. A three-year adventure in the NBA organization involved lifetime lessons and a championship ring. But for a true basketball lover like Scariolo, the most romantic thing of that experience was taking care of only basketball-related things.

"When you're assistant, you're away from all these troubles, media, agents," Scariolo smiled in a conversation on the Urbonus podcast. "My three years in the NBA were great because I could get back right into the game and think only about the game, knowing players, system, digging to your own system, looking for wrinkles, different solutions, studying the game from every different perspective. And I don't want to lose that."

After seven years, Scariolo returns on the hot seat of the European basketball club. It can't get any hotter when we're talking about one of the most historical European teams like Virtus Bologna.

Scariolo feels confident at "Casa Virtus" on a shiny Fridays afternoon, 10 minutes after Virtus practice. From his body language and enthusiasm, you can feel how he embrace this opportunity.

A 60-year-old Italian coach knows better than anybody else what it takes to handle the pressure.

Not only because he runs one of the most dominant national teams in basketball history for the last six years (for ten years in total with a two-year break). Scariolo shares a unique coaching path that took him into the business early and carried him through places.

Scariolo started his head coaching career at 29 when he was promoted as the first coach for Scavolini Pesaro. In his rookie year, he managed to repeat the success of Valerio Bianchini and won the Italian championship.

In 1989-1990, another legendary Italian coach Ettore Messina started his head coaching career in the same season.

Being 30 at that time, Messina managed to win the Italian Cup in the same season. More than 30 years later, they met each other at home again, taking positions of the two top Italian basketball teams.

After almost 40 years in coaching, Scariolo is above things that might distract him. The coach wants to concentrate on pure basketball before aiming to win his first title in big international club competition (EuroCup) or repeat his early success in the Italian Championship.

BasketNews visited Bologna and coach Sergio Scariolo to discuss pure basketball experiences throughout his career. In this article, you can read some parts of the interview with coach Scariolo. For the entire conversation, watch the Urbonus podcast.

Coach, it should be a blessing for Italian basketball to have two of their best head coaches back home. But I believe that people might create a rivalry here in Italy, especially when you work for historical rivals. What do you remember about you two being young and ambitious coaches back in 1989, battling for the titles, and how do you now look at this competition?
When starting your coaching career, you're young, ambitious, and you want to win. We were in two top teams, and you might talk about a very, very healthy rivalry back then. Then we were pushed into the first row together the same year, and we were lucky enough to win everything.

I think we have been able to develop a really good relationship. We respect each other a lot, and we support each other a lot way behind the scenes when things are not going grateful.

I think we have been able to stay away from what media have been trying to do forever, to put us one against each other. Sometimes when you lack imagination, professionalism, and ideas, you try to make a story. But it's our responsibility to try to keep it in the right way.

When we're on the floor, a couple of days before the game we're playing against each other, we're doing our best to try to give trouble to our opponent. But when the game is over, we're back being friends, respecting each other, communicating, every now and then. At this point in our lives and our career, we're a little bit above these things.

Honestly, I think who will look for a story there should look somewhere else and try to be more professional. Use your imagination to think about stories and how to fill up these computers in a better way (smiles).

Handling the locker room and communicating with players was always one of your highly regarded qualities. What was the turning point when you clicked in the Spanish NT locker room for the first time and went off from there for that successful era?
I think the turning point was during the 2009 EuroBasket in Poland. We had a crazy injury situation. We had Pau Gasol out for the whole training camp. We had Navarro out. Rudy, Garbajosa were in, but we were basically 20%.

We started really bad. And also, we were in a situation where we were trying to do something different.

We were trying to play Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol together, which was a challenge from a coaching standpoint, but that was something I promised to my guys. Even if it was a little bit against the trend of European basketball, which was already going small back then.

Unfortunately, we didn't even have a single practice to work on this solution. When we started the competition, I realized pretty soon that it wasn't going to work. We needed much more time and practice, mistakes, corrections, and wrinkles.

After a few games, I thought we had to change and go back to the original format with Marc and Pau sharing the five position and Garbajosa with Reyes sharing the four.

Things changed right away. But the way I tried to do it wasn't like, 'okay, this is what I think and feel.' I had a reputation as someone who always kept his promise and his word.

I knew that I would not keep my promise to Marc to start him. But I think that the good of the team comes first.

We had a nice meeting during the championship, where I said: 'listen if there's anything else which should be done differently or better...' And basically, I think they appreciated the way I presented myself to them.

Not like 'hey, we have to do this and that.' That was a point where I was really interested in finding the right word for what they were really feeling, not what they were willing me to hear from them.

Nothing came out. We just said we have to keep doing what we're doing. You're the coach. You make the basketball adjustment.

We know that everybody can step up and do something better or with more intensity and concentration, toughness, and that's it. We blew up everyone with a 20-point difference from there to the end and final game against Serbia.

Which Pau Gasol ability will you miss the most, and which is the hardest to be replaced by players from a new generation?
First of all, we have to be able to split the situation. This, what's going to happen from now on, is completely different from what happened.

Everybody knows it, but when we're being able to keep that in mind when it's going to be time to deal with these guys, to ask them to set goals, to ask them for specific performances, we have to be realistic and supportive because their task is just to be themselves.

Try to be the best version of themselves, but not like Pau, Marc, Chacho, Navarro... That's impossible.

Pau has been unique not only in Spanish basketball history but also in European and world basketball history.

How he was handling situations, the way he was always giving the right answer, always being there to help his teammates, for his leadership some time by his example, more rarely, when it happened, it happened in a right way, also verbally in the locker room.

I've spent so many words on Pau, especially the last couple of weeks. I can only add that I spoke to him, I know he has many different projects, but I hope basketball will be able and smart enough to present him with a challenging and intriguing project to keep Pau into its family. We can't afford (to lose) players and people like that when they quit being players.

You were a big reason for convincing Ricky Rubio to come to Tokyo Olympic Games, although he had doubts about representing the Spanish NT last summer. The following day after the Olympics, Marca's article stated that Rubio had concerns about his future in Spain NT. What's his status right now? 
The situation is always the same. These players want to wait until the end of the season and see how the seasons go before making the decision, how they feel mentally and physically.

It's true that Ricky communicated to me that he didn't want to come because he had a very, very tough season in the NBA. Then with Covid, he wanted to spend quality time with his family. He has a baby kid.

I tried to make him see the situation from a different perspective. I tried to make him see the half-full glass. But the rest of the team was way more decisive than me, more efficient and conclusive than me, to convince him to be part of the team.

I think he didn't regret it because he had a great Olympics (smile). After becoming the MVP of the World Cup, I think he made another step upwards in the last Olympics in his run towards excellence.

A lot of European coaches come to the NBA as assistants. Meanwhile, some US coaches are coming to Europe. But it seems that we're missing the middle part of that bridge. For example, European coaches don't get the head coaching opportunities in the NBA, and overseas coaches are not very successful on the Euroleague stage. What is missing in this NBA bridge?
You can be there in the 15 coaches staff, which is good. But you have a real coaching responsibility when you're on the front of the bench.

And I don't recall many European coaches being there, which is something to think over. 'We want you here, we want you to help, but we're extremely cautious in giving front-of-the-bench responsibilities to European coaches.'

And then, from there to the final step of becoming the head coach, actually only Igor (Kokoskov) did it, but he was working in the NBA for 20 years. He got American citizenship... It's a very special situation.

But still, that amount of time that went when Igor started and got the Suns job makes you understand how difficult it is. How the NBA teams executives, players, or whatever you want to call need a lot of time to feel confident to give that kind of responsibility to the head coach.

On the other hand, I think that there are more opportunities for American coaches to be hired from European teams as head coaches. Way more than vice versa. It's true that most of the time, it didn't work. In this case, it has been because of a lack of flexibility and ability to adjust, understand, and respect different basketball.

Sometimes it happens with players when they play in a big team. He thinks that he goes to the lower level team and he will be maybe a specialist, role player in a big team, and he thinks that he will do whatever, shoots, dribble, pass.

But probably that's not the case. Probably you're going to still be a specialist, maybe with more playing time, more money, but perhaps if those are your skills, the odds are that you're going to be a good role player in that team too. That's a little bit of what happens.

Sometimes they think that 'hey, I'm from the NBA, higher-level basketball, and I would be dominating in this competition, without even studying it, analyzing it, without even really trying to understand what this competition is about.

I think that the situation has been difficult. It's been a lack of opportunities in one way and probably a lack of humility to understand the situation and to understand what they have in their hands coming from there to here.

Coach, you're back in the European club after a seven-year break. How do you feel?
Honestly, I feel good. I feel good in a city and an organization. I feel lucky to be in an organization where a big owner and entrepreneur is investing money.

I feel that I get to work my ass off and do my best by providing support and help to the whole organization using my experience in so many different places in Europe or the NBA if I'm required to.

But at the same being in my place as a coach, I'm happy to be there. Honestly, I don't feel the need to be much more than that. I love coaching.

With the NT for two months, you have a lot of stuff to do. But at the same time, my three years in the NBA were great because I could get back right into the game and think only about the game, knowing players, knowing system, digging into my own system, looking for wrinkles, looking different solutions, studying the game from every different perspective. And I want not to lose that.

Of course, as a coach, you have to take care of different things, which come with the position. But at the same time, I want to keep being deeply into the game because this is what I love.

Honestly, I don't need to do something which I don't like at this point in my life. Of course, I get to help things work, make a group of the players feel good and supported, and feel all the organization takes care of everything around them. That's part of my job.

But what I really love is the game. I don't want to be distracted that much, and I want to really try to be on top of the game and my daily job, in my practices, game plans, post-game, my players' development, and all the stuff.

Watch the full conversation here:

The article says: 'wasn't easy for him to leave the USA. ' Does basketballnews.com know Toronto is in Canada not USA?
Thank you for reporting a comment

Add comment

We have the right to remove comments which are offensive, contains abusive language, or violates other rules of the website

Free throws this season

Points made: 22,0
Accuracy: 81,5%
Place in standings: 2
Record max: 22
Record min: 22
Most made FTs: Alessandro Pajola