Like all basketball lovers, the Chilean team coach Cristian Santander is waiting for Tokyo 2020. This is what he confesses in his dialogue with El Deportivo. And while he thinks the United States will win the gold, he also thinks they will have a tough fight. In fact, lost to France at its premiere. The Argentine coach warns that there will be a close fight for the podium, highlights the triumph of the Bucks in the NBA and assures that “Giannis Antetokounmpo is a very good example for young people around the world.” Regarding the Red basket and his options to reach the 2023 World Cup, he confirms that “you have to dream, because the boys will make a great effort.” Of course, it clarifies that it is not the same to play in a professional league than in North American college basketball.
I imagine Olympic basketball will continue …
There we will be seeing what we can, because the schedules do not accompany much. And the one that doesn’t, we’ll see later. I imagine they will be on some platform or something.
Will the United States get the gold or is it already a long race?
America is the favorite. He will end up suffering, because the wear on these players in these last two seasons has been very great. Also, I think it was good for him to lose some friendlies, like against Nigeria and Australia, to be an alert. For this type of team, the slap of losing puts them on alert. I think the United States will still be the Olympic champion.
Spain gave him a tough fight in the last match …
It is true, but in the last quarter the United States dominated it… And the thing is that Spain and Australia are doing things well, they are going to give that fight, because when they play against the United States they have nothing to lose. They are released, they are released.
Will they be very competitive Games?
From the beginning, teams like Serbia and Lithuania, which is another powerhouse, have already been left out. There is no simple team. I think that Japan – being local – and Iran we could say that they are the ones that are out of the medal possibility. The other ten, anyone is eligible for medals.
Do you think something new will be seen, tactically?
I think if. Events such as the World Cup or the Olympic Games are the competitions for which the top countries prepare the coaches. There are new strategies, new tactics and something new will be seen. There is a tendency for basketball to play more and more open, each time with more three-point shots, each time faster. This has been going on for several years now and this will continue and even increase.
What is your opinion of Gregg Popovich, the coach of the United States?
It is one of the best in the history of world basketball. In addition to all his wisdom, he is surrounded by an excellent coaching staff, so he will put all his knowledge at the service of his team.
Do NBA players have a hard time getting used to the FIBA game?
Yes, it is especially difficult for them when they have not played FIBA for a while. There are some who play FIBA more continuously, because they go for their national teams and then they recover their memory, let’s say. Obviously, it is something that costs them because it is another rhythm of the game, another friction and some different rules. So it takes them a few games to settle down.
Did you see the Power Ranking that FIBA got, with Australia, Spain and the United States; in that order?
What happens is that this is a study done by Paul Nielsen, who is a British journalist specialized in basketball. And he comes up with a formula with the last friendlies and games that each team has played. So, as the United States lost those two friendlies, they put it third. It is a speculation that is based on the last thing that was played, but it is more of a game than anything else, that Power Ranking.
Which team do you see reaching the final against the United States?
Spain and Australia would be the eventual candidates to reach a final. In addition, there is Slovenia that takes all the clean and jerk from Luka Doncic, it can end up winning. Because here the important thing is not who reaches the final, but how they eliminate each other and then be able to play a final. You have to see the crosses as they are. That is why I tell you that there are several that can qualify for a medal.
Did you see the NBA final? Is Milwaukee a fair champion?
I think so. In the playoffs it was the best team. It was a rare season, different leaders alternated, several teams. But as they say, when push comes to shove, Milwaukee is the rightful winner.
And what do you think of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo?
It’s the ideal basketball biotype. The player that every coach would like to have. The truth is that he has taken a giant step with this being a champion, because it seems that if he wins it works and if not, it does not work. Giannis validates his full potential with the championship. Above all, I highlight the attitude he had in the last game, as if saying ‘this is not lost on me’.
And what do you think of his story of overcoming?
The truth is that it is a very good example for the youngest from different sides.
What’s next for Chile? Can you dream of the World Cup?
It is a good generation of players. It is an important process that must be carried out now. We depend a lot on where the players can sign, hopefully they reach the best leagues in the world so that this has an impact on the national team. After they are available, so hopefully we can have all of that. And dream, you have to dream, because the boys will make a great effort. They are already doing it by having gone abroad to study, to play. I have no doubt that at some point a good result will be achieved.
Chile had never had so many players in major leagues …
Yes, but I make a difference with that. I say that we abroad have four players who are active in professional leagues and four who study in the United States. And studying is not a professional league. It is important that they are in the United States, it adds to them, they will improve and everything. But it is not a professional competition. And we have to find a balance in that communication that we all give. It seems that we have eight players abroad and it is not so. There are teams that have more or many more players in major leagues. Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina or Brazil itself … Those athletes are in professional leagues, they are not so much in the United States. We here have a devotion to the United States and it is something else.
Will it also depend a lot on the draw that touches to reach the World Cup?
We are waiting for the draw to take place in August. Well, FIBA Americas distributes the countries by ranking, so from Argentina and Brazil we will have one, from Venezuela or Uruguay we will have one and from Panama or Colombia as well. So there we will see, but always under the premise of arriving as well prepared as possible.