Valencia Basket Club has stormed into its fourth Eurocup final by making all the right moves at all the right times, more often than not with the odds against it. Valencia played better and better throughout the elimination rounds, getting to the final with a 26-point road win against Nizhny Novgorod. Despite battling injuries all season, Valencia's average victory has been by 25.9 points. Its 97.5 performance index rating per game is second-best in the competition this season and the team averages 84.3 points per night, with excellent three-point (43.6%) and free throw (83.9% percentages. All is a credit to head coach Velimir Perasovic, who is now aiming to lead Valencia to a third Eurocup title. A three-time Euroleague champion as a player, Perasovic has been coaching for a decade. Having joined Valencia in January 2012, this will be his second Eurocup final with the club and winning it would be a huge achievement, as he told us in this Eurocupbasketball.com interview. "If you look back at the teams that were in the competition, there was more than 20 teams that had played in the Euroleague in any of the last three seasons. The fact that Euroleague teams joined the competition in the Last 32 made the Eurocup stronger," Perasovic told Eurocupbasketball.com. "We all agree that we are facing the strongest Eurocup ever; it is a fact. Winning the competition this season would be a great success and a matter of pride to everyone, not only for me."
Hello, coach, congratulations on reaching the Eurocup Finals. The team brought some players back from injury and seems to be doing better in every round. Does the finals arrive at a good moment for Valencia?
"Well, I think that our team got stronger with the return of these players. We had a very good dynamic which has been cut due to the break the competition is having (between the semifinals and the finals). We will see how we arrive to the most important days - the finals."
This is your second Eurocup final, this time with a two-way series format. As a coach, is it more difficult to prepare a two-way final or does it give you a bigger margin for error?
"It depends, everyone can have his own opinion about this. I think you have to take the competition as it is and prepare it in the best way possible. Like I said, everyone can have its own thoughts about this. Some people will think that a Final Four format is better, others prefer a two-way series... Honestly, I don't know which is the best format. It is what it is, we have to take it and prepare as much as we can. In a two-way format, we know it is like an 80-minute game and like you said, there is a bigger room for mistakes but not only for us - for our opponent, too."
The team has won with great regularity in the Spanish League, but not in the Eurocup. Why has it been more difficult for Valencia to win in the Eurocup?
"The most important fact is that the team arrived where it had to arrive, to the finals. How our road to the finals was is not important right now, not as important as being in it. It was hard for us to play both competitions in the beginning of the season. We played a Spanish League game and had to compete in the Eurocup right away. With the injuries we have, maybe we didn't have the mental toughness we needed to face two games in such a short period of time. It has happened the same to some Euroleague teams, playing a Euroleague game on Friday and having problems in the Spanish League on Sunday. It is just an opinion, and it is true we lost more games in the Eurocup, but none of them was decisive - and that's truly important."
Valencia based its elimination series success on its strength at home, being focused early and getting big leads right away. How did you prepare your team to step on court so focused?
"I don't agree with us not playing well on the road in the elimination series other than the one against Khimki, which was a tough game against a very powerful team. In the other two series, we dominated the game against Alba Berlin and lost in the end because we had full control of the series, and we beat Nizhny Novgorod by 26 points. The team has been really consistent on the road in the elimination rounds, more than in the group stages. In that sense, I am calm because the team has shown a good level on the road. If you don't play well, we can lose, no matter if at home or on the road."
You have already faced Unics twice this season. Do you think that the fact that both teams studied each other already can be a factor in this final, leaving less room for surprises?
"It is true that we lost twice against Unics this season, but by a narrow margin of points. And it is true that we didn't have players who are back from injury at this time. Vladimir Lucic and Pablo Aguilar are back with us and we didn't have Serhiy Lishchuk, who may also return in time for the finals. We have to see how we are able to compete against such a powerful team as Unics. It is true that they dominated us, especially on our home court. The game in Kazan was open and we had many injury problems. We rallied in our home game and had a chance to win but the start of the game was decisive. We all know how talented our opponent is. The fact that they only lost twice in the Eurocup and once in their domestic competition, three losses in the entire season in so many games, says it all about what they are able to do."
What do you like the most about Unics? Which can be the keys to this series?
"First of all, if you want to win a final, many players have to be at a high level and we have to play with the toughness required at this level. Unics is a physical team and we have to challenge them. It was hard for us in the past - they are a very, very physical team. We have to make good choices, too. If a team makes good choices, it plays with more confidence, and that always helps. There can be many keys: we could talk about tactics, rebounds, playing offense in certain situations, defense on Goudelock... In the end, there are many important things to win a series like this."
Valencia has been able to overcome several key moments - against Asvel, Ostend and of course, against Khimki - showing great mental strength. Do you think that this winning mentality can have a big impact in this final?
"Like I said before, we arrived where we wanted to arrive - to the final. A lot of teams started the Eurocup season and we weren't able to play better in the most important games. This is very important: it means that when the team gets into it, it really does the job. Every time we had to win, we always delivered in all those games that you mentioned and throughout the elimination series. This gives us the confidence that we will also step up in the finals. I repeat - this is just talking. We have to see how we feel before the games, how fresh we are and what our mentality is, because there is no room for many mistakes."
You have won three elimination series without home-court advantage. Has it been difficult to prepare every series knowing that Game 1 would always be at La Fonteta?
"No, isn't important to me. It would be a real home-court advantage if you played two games at home and one on the road. When you play in a home-and-away format, I personally think it is not that important. It can have good and bad things, because rallying is never easy. Still, it is not a decisive factor to play Game 2 on the road."
You are still a young coach but with experience for big teams. What would it mean for you to win the Eurocup title?
"Well, it is an important title. It would be a huge success for me, especially because this season, the Eurocup is completely different due to its talent level and number of teams. If you look back at the teams that were in the competition, there was more than 20 teams that had played in the Euroleague in any of the last three seasons. The fact that Euroleague teams joined the competition in the Last 32 made the Eurocup stronger. We all agree that we are facing the strongest Eurocup ever; it is a fact. Winning the competition this season would be a great success and a matter of pride to everyone, not only for me."
Of course, winning the Eurocup would bring Valencia Basket back to the Euroleague. What would it mean for the club and the city of Valencia to return to Europe's top competition?
"People talk too much about this - and the more you talk about it, the more it turns into a myth. From my point of view, Valencia is at the Euroleague level. A lot of Euroleague teams are below our level and the fact that we are not playing the Euroleague cannot get us out of our way, which is carrying on growing and playing all competitions the best we can, being able to compete in all of them until the end. I don't think it is so hard for the team not to play the Euroleague. In the end, our fans come to the gym in big numbers and this has to fill us with pride."