Valencia Basket captain Rafa Martinez is on the verge of entering the EuroCup record books in a way that may never be repeated. First, Martinez can become the first-ever player to win three EuroCup titles, after previously lifting the trophy with Valencia in 2010 and 2014. Martinez already holds a competition record for the most three-point shots made (214), but he needs only 4 more points to become the competition's scoring king. He also needs two more games to get first place in that category, and three more starts to be the first player to reach 100. In other words, if Valencia wins the title, Martinez will stand as arguably the most important player in competition history. At age 35, Martinez is far from slowing down; he’s averaged 8.6 points on 41.5% shooting from downtown in 19 EuroCup games this season. As Valencia gets ready to face Unicaja Malaga in the best-of-three finals, Martinez spoke to Javier Gancedo of EuroCupbasketball.com and looked back at his achievements in the competition. "It is something that I could never have imagined. Reaching these numbers is not easy, it takes a lot of years," Martinez said. "When I first signed for Valencia, I would have never imagined that I would reach these numbers. It is a matter of pride and excitement, and another reason to keep working hard."
Hello again, Rafa. Congratulations on reaching your fourth EuroCup final. You had a great Game 3 against Jerusalem, with an outstanding third quarter. What did you talk about at halftime to do so well?
"Thank you, thank you. I believe we played very well in the first half, too! We managed to get a 12-point lead by doing things right and with a very high level on defense. At halftime, we changed a couple of things and they were not able to solve them. We played with a high intensity and that allowed us to run and play at a high rhythm, which is what we wanted. We got a lead that was definitive in the end."
You have been really strong at home all season long. Why do you play so well at Fuente de San Luis?
"At these levels, it is tough to win on the road. Our fans create a great atmosphere and the team has responded pretty well in all the critical games we played at home, all season long. It is very important to be really strong at home because, like I said, it is tougher to win on the road."
You finished the Top 16 with the best record in the competition and earned the home-court advantage for every series. Were you aware of that at all times?
"We were aware of it when we had it within reach, in the final games of the Top 16. We knew it was going to be very important to have the home-court advantage in a best-of-three series. We did a very good job of getting it and are also doing well defending it."
You have made the most three-point shots in EuroCup history. You have two other records - scoring and games played – within reach. What does it feel like to be such a part of this competition's history?
"It is something that I could never have imagined. Reaching these numbers is not easy, it takes a lot of years. When I first signed for Valencia, I would have never imagined that I would reach these numbers. It is a matter of pride and excitement, and another reason to keep working hard."
You and Bojan Dubljevic will likely be fighting for the scoring record. Have you and 'Dubi' talked about it?
"No, no. At least, not to each other! I have to say it is something important for our club, especially in a competition like the EuroCup which gets stronger every year. It is always difficult to reach far in the competition, but the club has been able to do it throughout the years."
You have beaten Unicaja four times this season. How important is forgetting about all those wins and looking forward?
"It is very important to forget about those wins, because this series will be a whole different story. This is a European final in which everything changes. They have been growing as a team as the EuroCup went on, feeling more comfortable and playing better. They won two series without the home-court advantage and have a different mentality, which makes them very dangerous."
In your opinion, what are Unicaja's strengths this season?
"I believe we are similar teams. One of the strongest points is that they play as a team. They have a lot of players who can do well in any given game. Now with Alen Omic, they have a tougher, stronger frontline. Everyone can score and contribute, which makes them a good team, of course."
Unicaja is on a four-game winning streak and like you said, it won two series without the home-court advantage. They are in a good moment. How important is having the right mentality going into a final?
"It is the most important aspect, to arrive to the finals playing good basketball and with a lot of confidence. That will make you compete until the final second. In that scene, both teams arrive in a good moment. We hope we can make the most of all chances and advantages we have to win the series, including the home-court advantage. I am sure the series will go down to small details. You have to play every defense as if it is the last one. For instance, we were up by 20 against Jerusalem, but for those of us on the court, we played as if we were winning by 2 points. You are so focused and playing with such intensity that every play seems to be important."
Your fans know the EuroCup better than anyone else. Can they be a decisive factor in this series?
"It is a very important factor. We need their support in all games, but especially in the most important games. There are times in which you are not playing well, but their support gives you an extra boost that makes you give your best. It is a fact that they helped us a lot in both of our series until now, and I am sure we will get an even bigger support in the finals."
You have the chance to become the first player to win three EuroCup titles. What would it mean for you to lift the trophy one more time?
"Well, it would be a dream come true to win a title of this caliber - again! At age 35, it would be great to lift the trophy again for Valencia Basket. It would be awesome!"