He is a reigning world champion with the Spanish national team, and now, after leading Real Madrid to its second ULEB Cup Final appearance, power forward Felipe Reyes plans to lift his first continental trophy, too. Reyes stepped up when it mattered most for Madrid, posting 23 points and 16 rebounds in the second game of the semifinals against Unics Kazan to finish as the competition's top scorer and rebounder in that round. Reyes, entering the prime of his career at age 27, has been playing with even more confidence than usual this season, and it's source comes as no surprise. "The gold medal and the World Championship title have been very important for all the players that belonged to that team," Reyes told ULEBcup.com. "They give you extra confidence, something that you didn't have before. You really believe in yourself even more and realize you are a better player than you were, or at least better than you thought you were."
Felipe, congratulations on reaching the ULEB Cup Final. Very few players have had the chance to be world champion and lift a continental trophy in the same season. What would it mean to you if you could add the ULEB Cup to your personal roll of honors?
"It would mean a lot. Like any other player, it is important to win titles at the domestic or continental level. When it comes to winning the ULEB Cup, it is not only winning an important title, as it also comes with a Euroleague ticket for next season. This was one of our priorities at the beginning of the season. Our goal was to fight for every competition and this is what we have done so far. We made it to the Spanish King's Cup final and could not win the title, so we hope that won't happen again this time. We are all looking forward to this game, with a lot of confidence. We know it will be tough, but of course we can do it."
With Madrid facing elimination in the second semifinal game against Unics, you were unstoppable, scoring 23 points and pulling 16 rebounds, your career high in ULEB Cup or Euroleague play. Was that one of your best games ever?
"Yes, I consider it one of the best, due to the importance of that game. It was a do-or-die game for us and I happened to play a great game, even close to perfection. This is one of the games I will always keep in my mind."
In the final, you will face Lietuvos Rytas, an experienced team that won this competition in 2005. What do you know about them and what do you have to do in order to win?
"We played against them in the pre-season, but they have changed a lot, and we have also changed because of injuries. L.Rytas is a solid team with a lot of great shooters at all positions. I think that, more or less, they are quite similar to Unics Kazan, a team in which every player can hit the outside shot. If we want to win the final, we have to be really focused as soon as we step on court, not allowing them to take outside shots and start feeling confident."
Your older brother Alfonso was with Madrid when it lost the ULEB Cup Final in Charleroi three years ago. Considering that he has taught you a lot already, will you seek his advice before this title game?
"I will call him, but I won't ask him much about the game, because I have already played too many finals. I am proud to play the ULEB Cup Final, and it is true that my brother played it before me, but I don't think it is necessary to speak to him about this. Maybe I will call him to ask him about the atmosphere in the final, because I already played in the Spiroudome, too, when I was with Estudiantes."
Real Madrid started slow in the ULEB Cup, losing three of its first four games, but has since won 11 of 12 to reach the final. What effect did those early losses have on the team?
"Well, those losses came when we were unbeaten in the Spanish League and everything seemed to be working well for us. We didn't play the same way in the ULEB Cup, however, and I think it was like a wake-up call. It helped us to face games with more intensity and we even managed to win our regular season group in the end."
You played the ULEB Cup for three seasons with Estudiantes and before this first appearance with Real Madrid. What do you think about the ULEB Cup's evolution in terms of playing level and organization?
"Like you said, I have played the ULEB Cup for many years and the playing level is better than ever this season. It is also true that we had to face a very tough regular season group, so I might have an elevated impression. But I really think that the playing level has increased over the years. It was really tough for us to make it to the ULEB Cup Final."
Congratulations, too, on becoming the ULEB Cup's all-time top rebounder recently. What advice would you give young players who want to become better rebounders?
"I was told about it and it is a nice thing to happen. It is difficult what to tell the young players out there. The most important thing is positioning well to get the rebounds, as well as wanting to grab it. We have to work hard in order to get the best position to grab rebounds. Instinct is important, but it is the will to grab rebounds that is most important in the end."
Since returning with the World Championships gold medal, you seem more focused than ever. How important was the gold medal for your confidence, especially for such games such as the ULEB Cup Final?
"The gold medal and the World Championship title have been very important for all the players that belonged to that team. They gave us a lot of confidence, as we all belong to the world champion squad. They give you extra confidence, something that you didn't have before. You really believe in yourself even more and realize you are a better player than you were, or at least better than you thought you were."
Is it difficult sometimes trying to live up to the legacy of Real Madrid name or do you take as motivation trying to match the club's past accomplishments?
"I don't think there is an extra motivation to play for Real Madrid. Of course, you have more pressure playing for this team than in any other. Everyone speaks about you in the press, but pressure and responsability is something that you have to deal with and carry on your own. The best thing you can do is try to forget about having too much pressure, avoid thinking too much about it and try to play the best basketball you can."