In his first season with F.C. Barcelona Regal, as he heads to the Final Four for the first time next week, point guard Marcelinho Huertas knows that he is now closer than ever to lifting the Turkish Airlines Euroleague trophy. Although he was previously known best for his creativity and exciting passing game, Huertas had no trouble helping Barcelona put itself in position to become the Euroleague's best defensive team this century. Of course, Huertas has also excelled on offense, leading Barcelona with 4.6 assists per game while hitting 43.1% of his three-point shots and 83.3% of his free throw attempts. The ambitious Huertas has a chance to become the second Brazilian to win the Euroleague: only Anderson Varejao did so previously, also with Barcelona, back in 2003. He is fully aware that the 2012 Final Four is a unique chance for him and Barcelona to make history, as he told us in this Euroleague.net interview. "We come to Istanbul at a good time and full of confidence. We know it will be complicated; it's the Final Four and that is the highest level in European basketball," Huertas told Euroleague.net. "We are excited and I am sure we will arrive with the only goal being to win the title."
Hello Marcelinho. Congratulations on making it to the Final Four! How excited are you to play at such a great event?
"I am really very happy to reach the Final Four. I was really close to making it with Caja Laboral in the last couple of years, but we lost in the quarterfinals. We have had a great season and lost just one game back in the regular season. We come to Istanbul at a good time and full of confidence. We know it will be complicated; it's the Final Four and that is the highest level in European basketball. We are excited and I am sure we will arrive with the only goal being to win the title."
As you indicated, Barcelona posted the Euroleague's best record so far. How has the season gone for you until now?
"Well, it has not been easy. We worked really hard to get good results. Our team is very capable of doing great things and we have had a great Euroleague season until now. That doesn't mean that it has been easy. Behind our good results, there is a lot of hard work and dedication. The team has always stepped up at tough times and has played really well in the most important games and been ready physically and psychologically. We know what we have to do to beat big teams, even on the road, where it is more complicated."
Barcelona has the best Euroleague defense to date this century, allowing just 61.5 points per game. Was it difficult for you to adjust to a defensive-minded team?
"I believe that Coach Xavi Pascual's defensive systems have helped a lot. We all know exactly what we have to do, how to rotate in pick-and-roll situations, double team in the low post or help when someone drives to the basket. We have been really focused, tactically speaking. We know we can be beaten by our opponent when he goes one-on-one, but there will be help behind you. Nobody stops, there is a lot of activity and we are always focused. That helps us to be a really good defensive team. Our whole coaching staff not only has prepared our defensive systems, but also does a lot of scouting to know how our opponents play. We try to learn their main systems and focus on the most important players and how they play to make them feel a bit uncomfortable. It is all about team defense."
For a pass-first point guard like you, how do you approach sharing the ball with all the talent around you?
"I believe that everybody is happy. Everyone knows he will get his chances and that some players can score at any given time. Being in such a great team means that you have to find out who is having a good night. Sometimes players don't have their best days on offense, but everyone knows this is a very talented group of players. Even though the team needs everybody, we don't depend so much on one particular player. Even if Juan Carlos [Navarro] has a tough night, we still can play a very good game. We have a lot of options and a deep roster, and this is a very good thing. When you are on a winning team, you don't have to be focused on having good numbers to help your team win. Of course, you always want to play well, but there is always someone who can step up and play at a higher level."
You face Olympiacos, and team that seems to keep improving, in the semifinal. How tough is it to face a team on the rise like that?
"They will come to Istanbul with great confidence. They didn't have a great regular season record and didn't win their Top 16 group. It has been a come-from-behind run for them, all season long. People never talked much about them during the season, only when they knocked off Montepaschi Siena – which was the favorite to win their playoffs series – despite not having the home court advantage. That means that their confidence level is really high now. They will come without much pressure and that can be the key for them in the semifinal."
You and Victor Sada are more experienced than all three Olympiacos point guards: Acie Law, Kostas Sloukas and Evangelos Mantzaris. Does that give you an advantage?
"Well, we have to use that to control the game rhythm, that's the most important thing; knowing when to play five-on-five, control the clock to get the last possession at the end of every quarter and avoiding giving our opponent the chance to score last. We have to try to find the player who has the best chances to score... a little bit of everything. Of course, coach always gives us advice at all times, which is very important. Our experience allows us to choose better and to know what the team needs on the court, but our coaching staff is always backing us up and in contact with us."
Of course, stopping Vassilis Spanoulis will be critical for Barcelona. What do you think about Spanoulis and what is the best way to limit his performance?
"What I like about Spanoulis is his ability to score, inside and outside. Even though he is not very tall, he is able to drive like few others... he is great in pick-and-roll situations, reading both the big man and the defense to find the best option. He likes to shoot off the dribble and is great at that. He is also very dangerous in one-on-one situations. I guess those are his strong points as a player. We know he will have the ball a lot, so we have to be ready for everything, especially in pick-and-roll situations, when he is most dangerous. We have started to prepare his defense but of course, I am not going to tell!"
Most of your teammates are Euroleague champions. What do they tell you about how it feels to win the Euroleague? Does it make you want the Euroleague trophy even more?
"That desire [to win the Euroleague] has always been there. I believe it is the biggest thing you can do here in Europe. The ambition and the excitement that the chance to win the Euroleague brings is just immense. Having teammates who already won it, getting to know their experience and seeing the way they enjoyed it when they won the title two years ago motivates you even more."
In five years, you went from a backup playmaker at DKV Joventut to running the point at a Euroleague giant. Would you have believed it if someone had told you that five years ago?
"I would have taken it, of course. I have always worked hard and even if there are obstacles in your way, you have to be mentally strong to be able to overcome them. There have always been a lot of people who believed in me and no matter what, you have to work hard and believe in yourself. I always believed in myself, was ambitious and focused to try to get where I am now. Five years ago, a lot of people would never have thought I would be here; I knew I could do it if I worked hard enough. I knew good things would happen to me. Maybe I didn't think about playing for a specific team like Barcelona, but what was clear in my mind was that I wanted to have a good career and to play in a team where I could lift trophies and challenge for the Euroleague title. You have to go step by step, too; you cannot take a step longer that your leg allows you to. If you work hard enough and you go step by step, good things happen."
This is your fourth Euroleague season. After so many years around, what would it mean for you, personally, to win the competition, to lift the trophy at the end of the weekend?
"It would mean achieving another goal in my career. I already achieved a big goal by joining Barcelona, a team with great tradition. Winning my first Euroleague title and being part of this team's history would be another dream come true. It would be a matter of motivation, too. If we win this season, it will help motivate us to keep winning more Euroleague titles."