Aito Garcia Reneses is one of those coaches in Europe that need no introduction. He had a career as a player and then moved on to the sidelines, stepping up to the frontline when he coach FC Barcelona in the eighties and the nineties.
Winning the Euroleague was something that escaped him, but in the process he amassed both domestic and continental titles. In 2007-08 he took Joventut Badalona to its best season ever by winning the Spanish King's Cup and the ULEB Cup, and after also being in Malaga and Seville, last summer he joined Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas, with whom Aito shattered the Eurocup season record with an impressive 21-1 run, and arrives to the Eurocup Finals for the first final ever for the club. In less than one season, Aito has taken Granca to the top stage using his talents and expertise with young and experienced players alike. However, Aito is, in fact, one of the people most surprised by those results. "We started the Eurocup on the right foot and we managed to maintain that," Aito told Edu Roca of Eurocupbasketball.com. "And maybe that's when this kind of pride surfaced and we told ourselves 'We are undefeated in this competition, let's try to keep it that way'."
Congratulations on taking another team to the Eurocup Finals. Granca has reached its first European final. How is this situation impacting the club and the island?
"As you can imagine, this is impressive. There is huge joy on the island, but at the same time, everyone is aware that it has not been an easy journey to get here, but long and well-deserved."
The season for the team has been simply outstanding, with just one loss in 22 games. Regarding results there has been no progression at all, since the team started winning from the get-go. How do you explain that? Was the chemistry among the players so immediate?
"Let's see. It's very difficult to combine two competitions like the Spanish League and the Eurocup, and even more so by being from a city that is so far away from all other destinations. And knowing that, we started the Eurocup on the right foot and we managed to maintain that, while in the Spanish League we were way more irregular. And maybe that's when this kind of pride surfaced and we told ourselves 'We are undefeated in this competition, let's try to keep it that way'."
Did you expect, in your first year with the club, such promising results?
"Not really. Because I really think that it is very difficult for a team like Gran Canaria to keep such a high standard in a European competition and the Spanish League. But that is something that the club wanted and we adapted to that, and when you start doing something well, you have to give your best effort. And as I told you before, it's not easy having to juggle between these two competitions and very long trips."
Another year, another European final. How does Aito Garcia Reneses keep the motivation and passion levels intact, year after year, to keep getting this far?
"Well, as long as I can keep it, because I enjoy it, then it's perfect. And then I try to translate that into whatever club I am, in this case, Gran Canaria, which has a pretty good history in basketball since, some 20 years ago, when they made it to the top division in Spain. Since then, they have kept improving and reaching higher and higher and there is a very important aspect to that, which is that the whole island is behind this club and that has a positive effect on the players."
Since you mention the players now, it's impossible to not talk about Walter Tavares, who is having a simply spectacular season. How has his progression been since you had your first practice with him until now?
"From an individual point of view, I am impressed by how easy it is for him to learn new things and how he then translates them into the game. And a player that tall with his mobility is surprising to say the least. From a collective point of view, he has a harder time however. And that is what we are working on more right now, so he can improve also. Maybe not as fast as his individual skills, but hopefully to a point where both sides meet. He is also very humble, so I think we will manage to achieve this goal."
Another key piece in the team has been veterans Albert Oliver and Txemi Urtasun. What did you ask them when you got to the team?
"I never ask anything special of the players, but the same thing to all of them: to give it everything they have and that they do it daily. And I understand it's maybe more difficult for veteran players in this case – more Albert than Txemi, but it's not impossible. They can always learn more things and apply them. In that sense they are always aware of that attitude that can only bring good things to the team."
Let's talk a little bit about your opponent in the final: Khimki Moscow Region. What is the approach that Granca must have towards this two-game series against a team which, for many, is the favorite to take the title?
"We must keep our feet on the ground. We must be humble. This humility that has allowed us to keep beating opponents throughout the season, is the same that has given us the chance to beat them too. And if we have chances in this final, it has to be being humble, and being aware and not thinking about winning or losing, but about doing as good as we can."
Khimki is, without a doubt, a team with high level and experience. How can you deal with so many fires like Rice, Koponen, Monya, Augustine or Popovic at once?
"Of course, the answer is a big team effort knowing that it will be difficult to stop them on all those fronts. But if we manage to slow them down a bit, even if only some of those players, we will know that we will have a better chances to win."
How do you prepare your team on a mental level when it is facing this kind of situation, a European final, for the first time? Could inexperience be the true opponent for Gran Canaria in this situation?
"No. Khimki is the real opponent in this final. Inexperience is just another obstacle we have to overcome. But in general, and I also have convinced some members of the team to think that way and help me with it, we have to be on the same page with what I am about to tell you: when there is external hyper-motivation, what you have to do is remain calm. And then another thing that is even harder, even if the first one was hard enough, is that when things are taken for granted, we have to motivate each other even more to be ready with the right intensity."
What would it mean for the club to win the Eurocup and, therefore, be in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague next season?
"I think it would be a serious problem because the whole island would go crazy and that would be unbearable! Jokes aside... Well it's a joke but not entirely, in fact it would be something similar to what I just said!"