Thoughts before the play-off
The schedule of the Italian championship, much discussed and not without reason, which requires a stop of 12 days between the last game of the regular season and the first one of the playoffs, allows some time for reflection and a balance, although incomplete, of what our season has been so far.
Reaching the second place at the end of the regular season being the team that has benefitted of the league's second biggest budget for the senior team's players isn't an incredible achievement. It simply means that we have done our job and that it is a starting point for looking with ambition at the future and continue to improve, with humbleness and a deep sense of the obstacles that we have overcome and that still we are expecting to face on our path.
This is the spirit I talk to my players with, when I show my satisfaction for having achieved three out of four goals that we set earlier this year: to improve last year's results in the Euroleague, the Italian Cup, the regular season and the playoffs of the Italian League. The last is also probably the most difficult one, perhaps also the most important one too in the plans of our club at present, but we will talk about this later on.
None of us wants to make a comparison with the past: the Olimpia is growing, and we must also give merit to those who worked here before us, starting with Piero Bucchi's excellent job in the past few years (not to forget also Dan Peterson's contribution for a few months).
Our real merit, which comes from our self-confidence and experience that give us the ability to read clearly the different situations, is to me merely the fact that, although respecting everybody's views, we have listened only to the ones within our organisation, team and club, i.e. those people whose role is to give opinions and take decisions. It reaffirms the principle in sport, especially at the highest level and in situations of great pressure, which is by now very clear to me: you must consider all options and opinions, but above all you must go on, believe in what you do, passing over your beliefs to those around you.
However, in my opinion, the results' metric shouldn't be the central element but unfortunately we live in a time and in a country in which when you end up at the seventh place instead of an expected sixth it is considered a tragedy, while maybe if you reach the ninth position in place of a forecasted tenth, it will be seen as a triumph. I honestly think that results are certainly a key element in sport but that, for a team like ours that has got an ambitious three-year program to reach top positions in the Italian and European basketball, results can never be the only parameter, the only evaluation criterion.
What might be hard to see from the outside is our successful efforts to give us an identity, behaviour, discipline and systems on the court that we will be able to continue to refine and build on, with the obvious difficulties that we had at the beginning of the season and all those obstacles that are still on our path.
I was referring to the fact that from the outside it is hard to see, although not for the coaches' trained eye. I confirm from the inside the feeling that I had from the outside: by far the most qualified component of Italian basketball at the moment, as average quality, is that of the coaches, at least those I have met and coached against within our league.
We believe that the core of our team (hopefully the facts in the playoffs will confirm that) needs just a couple of well-targeted additions to keep growing and improving with continuity over time, while continuing to work on the foundation already laid down and with the same principles, with an extremely interesting average age that makes us look with optimism to the next season.
Finally the topic "Italian players" which, again, I would like to make a clarification on: there isn't a competition on who is giving more game minutes to Italian players. It is true that the Italian League is offering a financial bonus to the clubs that have given overall more minutes along the regular season to Italian players, and that the Olimpia is the second team after Scavolini Pesaro among the teams whose Italian players have been on the court longer.
Beyond the financial bonus, though, there is no assignment of a title or any other prize: it just shows that this is our style and that the line taken, no better or worse than those of our opponents (everybody will make their own assessment from their point of view: the whole movement, the national team, the results, etc.).
Surely it is a line in contrast with the one of the dominant teams of recent years, marked by building the team only with players over the age of 30 and by giving an extremely secondary role to the Italian players. I reiterate it, I do not consider our choice better or worse, but it is ours and we are happy that is paying off.
This break also allows us to look with increasing attention to the upcoming Olympics. We are at a stage where we are monitoring very closely the physical condition of all players, and obviously someone worries us more than others. With the physician, athletic trainer and assistants we are creating customised work plans in order to compensate the very different situations of the various players, which could end their activities with the club much earlier or much later than their team-mates.
The next step will be compiling a list of 24 players to be submitted to FIBA, which then will have to be be reduced up to the official final list of 12 players: we are anyway still evaluating criteria to complete the list, based on the physical condition of our players and a working group wider than 12 units.
For my last point, let me put aside sport for once, and talk about fashion. I have just been shown the official uniforms that will be worn by the Italian National Olympic teams, designed by none other than the very Giorgio Armani himself, under the EA7 brand which also sponsors our Olimpia Milan. Regardless of political, economic or business elements that I am not competent on or aware of, and limiting myself to an aesthetic judgment, after seeing the uniforms that we will be wearing in London with the Spanish national I'm frankly a bit jealous!