The next 7DAYS EuroCup champion will be crowned on Wednesday night after Valencia Basket hosts Unicaja Malaga in the finale of their best-of-three finals series. While there are many experienced players on both sides, no one can match the experience or the credentials of Valencia forward Romain Sato, who not only won the 2014 EuroCup with the club, but also celebrated the 2011 EuroLeague title with Panathinaikos Athens. The always-productive and positive Sato is averaging 6.1 points in 22 EuroCup games for Valencia this season at age 36. He understands the mix of determination, poise and focus needed to win a game of this importance, as he told EuroCupbasketball.com in this interview. "It can go down to one loose ball, one offensive rebound... one action that can change the game. The only thing I can tell my teammates from my own experience is that we have to come out and play hard as if it is our last game – and this time, it is the last," Sato said. "I am trying to focus on getting ready for this game. That is the best way I can help my team right now."
Hello, Romain. First of all, how is the team recovering, physically and mentally, after Game 2?
"It is a final and things like this can happen. We have to regroup, focus and think about the next game. The winner will be the EuroCup champion and that is what we are focused on right now."
What happened in Game 2? How did Unicaja to beat you like they did, from start to finish?
"You know, we didn't play well in the beginning and if you watch the game again, they dominated. We made a lot of shots and that kind of changed the game. We cannot win Game 3 if we play the way we did in the last one. They dominated everything: loose balls, rebounds, everything. It is a final and we have to change the way we played so that we can do better in Game 3."
You mentioned rebounds. You won that battle in Game 1, but were heavily outrebounded in Game 2, 40-24. Is this the main thing to take care of in Game 3?
"Unicaja is a physical team that plays very strong. Everybody is on the glass! If we can't get the ball, if we don't rebound, we cannot go on fast breaks and that is the key for the game. If we don't rebound, it will be hard for us, like in the last game. If we want to win, we need a better game rebound-wise; we have to do a better job on that. And they know if we can rebound the ball, it will be better for us, too."
Valencia used different shot selection in Game 2. The team took 33 three-point shots and 22 two-pointers, which is very different than in Game 1 (24 threes, 38 twos). What can we expect this time around?
"Well, we have to find the balance, inside and outside, finding good shots. It also depends on how our opponent is playing defense. Right now, you don't know what to expect because Malaga can use a lot of different defenses against us. Like I said, we have to find our balance in game and play inside-out a little bit. I didn't know we shot so many threes in Malaga!"
You play Game 3 at home, where you have won your last 22 games. Can that make the difference?
"Well, it would be great, and this is why we fought for the home-court advantage. I think that it will help us a lot in this game, especially at this point. This is the last game of the final and our fans will be there to help us and give us the energy we need. We have to be ready and give everything we have until there is nothing else left."
It is a big home-court winning streak; what allows you to play so well there?
"We know we have our fans behind us and it is a great thing to play at home. We feel more comfortable and know we can get it done when we play there. It is our place, to be honest, and for us, playing the last game of the EuroCup Finals at home is a good thing. Hopefully we will do what we have been doing all season. Yes, we play at home, but we have to come out and play hard, especially against a tough team like Unicaja. They brought their energy in Game 2 and this is what we need to do in Game 3."
Can experience make a difference in this game? You have four EuroCup champions, including yourself, who also won the EuroLeague...
"From my own experience, it is never easy to win a championship, and I am sure my teammates will say the same. Never. It can go down to one loose ball, one offensive rebound... one action that can change the game. The only thing I can tell my teammates from my own experience is that we have to come out and play hard as if it is our last game – and this time, it is the last. Unicaja played the EuroLeague last season and has experience in physical games. But yes, we have a lot of experienced players; Fernando [San Emeterio] played a lot of big games, we got some guys like Rafa [Martinez], who has been in many finals, so I am trying to focus on getting ready for this game. That is the best way I can help my team right now."
How exciting is it for a professional athlete to be in a do-or-die game like this?
"You know, I have played a lot of finals, but right now, this is the game I want to play. We worked hard all season to have this chance and now, we are here. What can you do? Just go out there, work hard and have fun, give everything you got. We have to forget about everything we have done and just play hard. It is 40 minutes and after that, you don't want to think 'Okay, we had a good season' or 'We beat 25 teams.' You want to play for 40 minutes and fight in every single one of them, for every rebound, every loose ball, until you have given everything you have."
Does the fact that you won the EuroLeague and the EuroCup, the feeling you got when you won, motivate you even more to go all the way again?
"Man, that is one very good feeling. That is our goal this season. When you start playing in pre-season, you want to win something and now we are there again – and I want more titles! You always feel it is the final one, and you really want to win. Yes, of course, I won the EuroLeague and the EuroCup, but I want to win it again. On Wednesday, we have to bring it and hopefully we will be the best team out there."
What message would you send to Valencia fans ahead of this important game?
"I always say that they are like the sixth man on the court for us. They have been great not this year, but the four years I have been playing in Valencia. There is nothing else I can say to our fans because they know what to do and are going to be there for us. They have done a great job and I hope they can keep pushing us. This is the big one, the big game. Hopefully we can get this win together and have fun!"