Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Tomas Satoransky talks about Barcelona, the Wiz, Serbo-Turkish teams, calm breakfasts, seeing Neymar at a disco club, Juanqui, Catalans booing, the career path he chose, and paradise on Earth

This afternoon, the Washington Post reported that "Washington Wizards expect Tomas Satoransky to join the team next summer, according to a person with knowledge of the situation." Well, we'll see what happens in the summer of 2016. In the meantime, you can read this longish translated interview Saty did last Friday with Czech Sport Magazine. 

[Photos courtesy of Czech Basketball Federation, Basketmag.cz, Barbora Reichova, and Jan Brabec]

Tomas Satoransky on if he notices that he's become a sports celebrity in the Czech Republic:
"I wouldn't say I'm a big celebrity, but now and then it happens that people recognize me not only in Spain but also here in the Czech Republic, let's say in Prague. In this regard, it helps that the Czech Television broadcasts Euroleague basketball games, and that I play for the colors of such a great club like Barcelona. It's primarily because of the FC Barcelona logo, which is worldwide known. Now that I play for Barcelona even for my fans and friends it's a way better destination than Seville where I had played before. Seville definitely isn't any less beautiful as a city, but there's a direct flight connection between Prague and Barcelona, so for them it's always easier to get there."  

On if lots of his friends stay in his Barcelona apartment during the season:
"Of course (smiles). In this regard it's quite challenging now. People just like Barcelona. The city just really attracts people."

On how many Barcelona jerseys he had to bring home this summer:
"All the jerseys I worn during the season, around twenty. I didn't give away every one of them, I wanted to keep some. People say they would buy my jersey but in Barcelona they basically sell only [J.C.] Navarro's basketball jerseys. It's all complicated, but I asked Barcelona to make me some additional uniforms for fan competitions on my Instagram."

On if Barcelona players are comfortably taken care of:
"Definitely. As far as the care for players, it's at the highest level as there is in European sports. When a player is injured, he's excellently taken care of. Our medical tests before the season are done at the same medical center the Barcelona soccer team uses. A player feels the change quickly -- that he now plays in FC Barcelona."

On if there's some Barcelona code of behavior the players have to abide by:
"We don't have such written code, but I think that players are aware they represent Barcelona -- so they should behave accordingly. Slightly in a more professional way than on other teams. It's all about personal perception: I'm in FC Barcelona and I can't do all the things I'd like to do. Certainly there's some unofficial rules for our team, but they aren't that much different from [Cajasol] Sevilla and other teams. Barcelona's cell phone use policies are not that strict compared to Seville ones under head coach Joan Plaza. Then I couldn't turn my mobile phone on at all. Now we can use them when we have a team lunch or dinner. We can't use a cell phone, let's say to call someone, while we travel for a game, but we can listen to the music through it. But there are no painfully strict behavior rules."

On if he's in contact with somebody from Barcelona front office during the offseason:
"They knew when I'd join the [Czech] national team. I'm  free from communication with them these days, they let me concentrate on the national team. We'll only talk about when I'm supposed to join Barcelona after the EuroBasket is over. I'm glad that I can think about one thing only and temporarily postpone the other one. I always preferred being 100 percent focused on just one goal."

On what the Barcelona brass said during team's exit meeting:
"I'm not saying there was nothing but criticism, however, negative feelings prevailed. We didn't win anything last season... They are not accustomed with not winning anything. We didn't have the best season as a team, but we had great motivation to win at least one trophy. But it didn't happen in the Spanish Cup, nor in the Euroleague or in the Spanish ACB League. It was quite a blow for Barcelona that after a long time there was no trophy after the season. On the other hand, [Barcelona's] soccer and hanball teams won completely everything so the biggest emphasis was on the basketball team this summer."

On what Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual said to him in Tomas's exit interview with him:
"As with every player, he kind of gave me a report evaluating my season. We went one after one to his office and the talk with him wasn't straight friendly but more open [than usual] nonetheless. Individually, my season was a good one, because my role on the team started to get bigger since the midpoint of the season; I gathered loads of experience. The coach thinks I got better in lots of aspects of the game, but unfortunately it's team sport and the only thing I cared about team-wise was to win some championship. So it was a pity that my individual improvement wasn't interconnected with a team success."

On if he wasn't a bit afraid Barcelona would trade him after the title-less season because there was a lot of player turnover on the team this offseason:
"I must admit I wasn't at all. I hoped a bit that I had had a good season and that it would manifest itself. Also, after my exit meeting with the coach I had the impression they still want me, and I knew he's going to stay with the team, too. But it's true that we waited quite a lot of time for the result of Barcelona's presidential elections. Every candidate had a different vision about Barcelona sports teams, even regarding the basketball section. It turned out that the current president [Josep Maria Bartomeu] got reelected and he didn't fire coach Pascual. Our bad year manifested in the arrival of [seven] new players and the creation of a basically new team. Definitely there will be a great pressure next season, greater than in the last season, because if we have two consecutive trophy-less seasons, I think they would have to fire the whole team (smiles)."

On Barcelona sports fans' passion for basketball:
"It's a fact that they are not that much basketball-crazed. But Barcelona fans are notorious for expecting only wins. So it's quite hard to please them. For example we can win twenty games in a row and then lose to Real Madrid, you immediately are a bad team in fans' eyes. Such negative views came, as is usual on big teams, when we couldn't meet the preseason expectations. But the criticism wasn't over the top, we aren't some Serbo-Turkish team (laughs)."

On his daily basketball routine:  
"We play in two competitions [Euroleague and Spanish ACB League] which are demanding traveling-wise, that's why we mostly have one practice daily. When we have two, it's usually on Monday, after a free Sunday following a Saturday game. I live a bit farther out of the hectic downtown, in the Les Corts district, which is the same area where the soccer Camp Nou stadium is located. Our basketball arena named Palau Blaugrana is just next to it, so I'm there in five minutes by car. It goes down well with me, because I really got accustomed to the Spanish way of life (smiles). I wake up quite late, around 9 A.M., half past nine, in order to have a calm breakfast. Our team video sessions begin at 10 A.M. or half past ten, so I manage to be there in time. In evenings, I go to bed quite late, but that's the way they do it in Spain, very late meals, etc., everything is moved two hours later here."

On the big fan crowds in the city when FC Barcelona soccer team plays on Sunday:
"When there's a soccer match, every bar is crowded to the max, you can't go anywhere. After the match is over, the streets are totally jammed by people, I rather stay at home at that time. Sometimes I hear it in my apartment when Barcelona scores a goal. I don't hear the stadium's collective scream, but the excitement and a burst of celebration reverberate across the city like an echo. I don't live quite near the stadium, but you can definitely hear it. I went to a soccer match by the Barcelona Metro underground once this past season. There are loads and loads of people out there. For us basketball players going to a soccer match is complicated parking-wise and schedule-wise. When we know that our arrival from an away game coincides with Barcelona's soccer match, we have our cars parked by our practice center facility. It's important to catch a convenient hour on our return back to Barcelona [from an away game], because if not every player would be stuck in a traffic jam."

On meeting the famous Barcelona soccer players:
"I met with soccer players only when they came to watch some interesting game of ours. Beyond that, I've seen Neymar once at a disco club. It was sort of a high-end disco club, poeple didn't bother him much. And it was obvious he had his bodyguards with him; he was kind of hidden in a corner all the time. Myself and my basketball friends we had our table right next to him, so I could see him. Of course, we knew right away that it's him (smiles). I briefly met with him when he was at our basketball game, but I didn't want to bother him in that club. Neymar was mainly in contact with our point guard Marcelinho Huertas. They are both Brazilians, [Neymar's teammate] Dani Alves too.  They texted each other, they gave him free tickets to soccer matches, etc."  

On seeing the famous couple, Gerard Pique and Shakira:
"They were together at one of our games as well. When my girlfriend Ana found out, she regretted not noticing them. But last summer during the [basketball] World Cup, me and my girlfriend went to Palau Sant Jordi arena to see a quarterfinal game, Slovenia versus U.S.A.; we had seats in a VIP section and we were three seats away from Pique and Shakira. It was obvious that they are without question the most watched couple in Spain. They had to leave from the arena with five minutes to go in order to escape the crowds. Anyhow, when they were leaving all eyes and minds of the fans were on them. It's got to be really difficult for them, just to go out somewhere..."      

On coach Xavi Pascual and his style of coaching and system:
"We play according to coach Pascual's philosophy. We have up to 150 offense sets in the playbook. That is the hardest part... Coach Pascual is [usually] calm, but I've seen him fed up at times, when we don't run a play as well as we should run it, e.g. at practice when we do a five on zero transition drill. Sometimes, he tells us to run a play which we didn't use for one month and you still have to have it in mind and be concentrated on it. There are sets for out-of-bounds throw-in plays, plays against zones or other types of defenses, etc. We permute the plays often, even during the season, so that they are not easily decipherable. When we have an important game, we add some plays, too. But it's quite hard to maintain all of this in your head. We have lots of great players and every one of them can call a play to his liking. It's truly about thinking what is the best play to run in that particular moment. Our tactical preparation is at the highest level. When I compare it with my previous teams [USK Prague, Cajasol Sevilla] and the national team, on those teams it was custom having around 20 playbook sets. Our Sevilla coach Aito [Reneses] gives his players a lot of freedom, even under [my first Sevilla coach] Joan Plaza we didn't have much more than twenty. I came to Barcelona and here's this huge number. [When we come back for training camp this fall] there will be new ones, best suited to our new players. But coach's most favorite sets doesn't change, they are in the playbook season after season. I hope he doesn't change absolutely everything (smiles)."

On his individual workouts during the season:
"Actually, there's not much time for them... We have two games a week, all the traveling. Every so often I go to the weight room or shoot at the basket."   

On creating the team chemistry in Barcelona:
"It's hard because the majority of players usually joins the team later, one by one. Almost all our European players are going to play at EuroBasket. But it depends on how a player is prepared, if he's in shape, his basketball IQ, if he picks up things quickly. I think in Barcelona we have lots of elite basketballers, as far as Europe is concerned, so our newcomers are going to mesh with the rest of us quickly."

On thinking fast as a player and Barcelona center Ante Tomic:
"I think [that I'm such a player]. We have players that are incredibly skilled in reading the game. At every position. Ante Tomic, to me he's one of the best centers as far as reading the game and passing. He's easy to play with, he does everything the way it should be done."

On if there's time in Barcelona for going out with teammates:
"Certainly it is different than in Seville. There we had a great luck because we were all but everybody in the same age group, just a bunch of young guys, we did everything together and it was great. The atmosphere in the dressing room was unbelievable. Here in Barcelona is great too, but since the majority of players has their own families and we spend a lot of time traveling, they relax mainly at home and spend time with their families, which is understandable."

On if he's the same prankster, as he had been in Seville and is on the Czech national team:
"I'm not seventeen anymore, so I calmed down a little. But now and then, I manage to do some jokes, after all this is my sixth year in Spain and I'm fluent in Spanish."

On his veteran teammate J.C. Navarro:
"He's our star. You can't quite compare his popularity with the soccer stars, but he's a local legend and people still stop him [to ask for an autograph]. It's almost mind-boggling that he can't go anywhere [without people stopping him]. He's a great phlegmatic by nature. In the locker room I sit next to him, on the right side, so we are in a conversation quite often; we talked about everything possible. I think that by the end of the season, we had good chemistry together. His nickname is Juanqui and he's one of the most laid-back people I've known. He's a big star here, but he doesn't act like it. He's not a big talker, either. Furthermore, I think our relationship is good because I speak Spanish - he's doesn't speak English much." 

On traveling as a Barcelona player:
"Mostly, around 70 percent of our travels, we fly by charter. I great because let's say we have an Euroleague game on Friday night in Turow, Poland, and then an ACB League game on Sunday morning. So we immediately flew from Turow to Seville, where we played the league game. It simplifies the travel and thus we have more energy to spend for actual games."

On being a FC Barcelona player [Note: overall, Saty played 68 games last season]:
"Of course I had some expectation [what it would be like]. It didn't surprise me that it's such a great club, I had already played several games against them. But overall, the conception of the team and of the whole organization is awesome. Really, everything is cared for, to the slightest details, even marketing- and PR-wise. I felt it at the beginning [when I came here]. I perceived it most in our games -- when we came somewhere to play. My very first game for Barcelona was against Badalona, which is a city in Catalonia. The way their fans welcomed us before the game... Unbelievable. It's just like, here comes the Barcelona team and you can see the enthusiasm in their eyes. Paradoxically, we had bigger attendance numbers at away games, not at home. Now [that I'm a Barcelona player] I feel something I didn't quite realize before: that it's true that in Spain nobody helps Barcelona. Maybe it'll sound stupid that I'm saying this, because I play for Barcelona. At the beginning I did not want to believe it, but in some games, especially with Real Madrid, it shows. If there's a 50-50 call, the referees tend to whistle in favor of Madrid, not us. Most probably it's connected with Catalonia and the national aspect. For example at Copa del Rey, when the Spanish anthem is played, the Catalans boo. So this doesn't help us, either. [We had three Spaniards on the team last season], but we didn't deal with or talk about it. What we did do is making fun of our trainers in a friendly way -- they are Catalans through and through."

On not playing for statistics:
"It's really not my style. Yes everyone watches the stats, but all that counts in the end is the team success. Here's one example: Vicor Sada, who played here for six years, never had any great numbers. But he was one of the most important players. That's why he lasted six years here. I think what playing for Barcelona is all about is this: You have to give the team something which other teammates can't give. I'm no big scorer -- although I had some good scoring games. At start of the season I tried to give the team a burst of energy on defense, where the coach assigned me a lot to defend the scorers. I mean, coaches greatly value players who defend. You've got to offer something which the team doesn't have at that moment. I always tried to be a versatile player and I still think I don't play for the stats. But of course, I'm not saying the good numbers aren't relevant."

On if being a starting point guard for Barcelona is easier or harder than the job he had in Cajasol:
"It's a lot easier in this regard: I have good players with me on the court, players who greatly read the game and basketball situations. This is the easy part. The harder or different one was this: I had lots of shooters around me, but the opponents didn't play me honestly - at least in the first games - and they let me shoot. But I shot quite well and my shot percentage went up, so now it was tough for them to let me shoot. This is how you have to play the quality teams like us: you gotta pick your poison, you gotta risk something. Of course, teams try to press me up and down the court. I have plenty of options around me on offense to feed the ball, I just have to choose the right one."

On the arrival of the Puerto Rican veteran PG Carlos Arroyo:
"Like Marcelinho [Huertas], he'll certainly help me a great deal. I always try to learn something new; Carlos is an experienced and a great player. He played for about twenty teams [actually, 16 teams], played both in the NBA and Europe. He'll be a great addition, I'm looking forward on him. [Shooting guard teammate] Brad Oleson texted me that it ain't fair I'll defend a 36-year old guy at practice, that he'd like to be the point guard. Joking aside, [I believe] Arroyo is still going to be in good basketball shape. After all, just two years ago he was one of the best guards in Euroleague."

On if his second year in Barca will be a better one:
"I don't know... It'll be difficult. My advantage is that I know the coach, his philosphy, how he likes to play. Teams already knew me in the ACB League, but there's going to be more pressure for me in the Euroleague. I think it's going to be even harder than in the first season. On a big club like Barcelona, you always play under enormous pressure to win, but I'm looking forward to it."

On if his dream of playing in the NBA is close at hand:
"I'm really happy that I made this step with Barcelona. It wasn't a huge leap, but it was a step up in my career. One never knows how it could have happened otherwise, but... I think this gave me something more, something I could use to my advantage in the future in the NBA. The NBA's still my dream, I want to try if have what it takes to play there. I got a contract with Barcelona for the upcoming season, then we'll see what happens next summer. I don't close any doors. In Europe, Barcelona is definitely my first priority. We'll see if the Wizards present me with some offers."

On his 6-year pro career so far and his immediate future:
"[Starting my pro career] I didn't have any expectations, because when one expects something, the result is usually disappointing. The career path I chose with my agent Phillip Parun was the right path for me, it was sort of natural. Probably it had to happen this way. I hope that my career will continue to move up gradually and that my progress will continue, too. I try to get better all the time. We'll see how our national team plays at EuroBasket and if a team success comes -- a success which has eluded me so far in Barcelona."

On his love of good food, quality restaurants and his girlfriend Ana who is a basketball player and a daugther of well-known Czech gourmet and restaurant critic/reviewer Mr. Maurer:
"I never ate poor-quality food; I always loved good gastronomy and good restaurants. But knowing [Maurer] has a great effect on me, because we search for interesting places and restaurants to eat. In this regard, the city of Barcelona is paradise on Earth for me and Ana. It was funny that before our first date, I didn't know at all who she was [Note: she works for her dad's business as a project manager.] and I wanted to take her out to eat at some quality restaurant (smiles). I tried like hell to pick the best restaurant, but then she texted me back: WELL, I WAS THERE JUST YESTERDAY. A GOOD ONE IS THIS MEXICAN ONE... OR THIS. AND THIS... I realized that something must be behind this. She's an excellent cook, too. That's my one big luck because I don't cook at all."

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