VALENCIA (ACB) – There was a time last summer when Victor Claver had plenty of reasons to doubt himself.
Spain coach Sergio Scariolo didn’t play the talented 22-year-old at the FIBA World Championship, and Claver looked as if he had a hangover from that tough experience at the beginning of the 2010-11 ACB and Euroleague season with Power Electronics Valencia.
Valencia had a hard schedule and couldn’t seem to buy a win and Claver was out of sync.
Life can get better in a hurry because Claver has been named ACB Player of the Month for December.
The 22-year-old has been red hot since Svetislav Pesic replaced Manuel Hussein as Valencia coach in mid-November, averaging 16 points and 4.7 rebounds in six consecutive ACB wins.
In December victories over Fuenlabrada, Menorca, Unicaja Malaga and Alicante, Claver scored 18, 19, 13 and 17 points, respectively.
Valencia have not only climbed into sixth place in the ACB but also rebounded from a 1-4 start in the Euroleague.
With four victories in their last five Regular Season games, they qualified for the Top 16.
"At the beginning of the season, we didn't have everyone healthy, had a hard schedule didn't play well and lost confidence," Claver said to FIBA.com.
"Now with the new coach, everyone is pushing himself to play better every day, in practices and in games, and we have improved."
Claver says that Pesic, who has won numerous titles with clubs like Alba Berlin, Barcelona and Girona, and internationally with Germany and the former Yugoslavia, has been great.
"He's been good for my confidence," Claver said, "and for every player."
In a recent win against Menorca, who were threatening to pull off an upset at La Fonteta, Claver soared into the lane for a dunk but missed.
Some coaches might have lost their cool but Pesic did not.
"He's positive, and knows a lot about basketball," Claver said.
"He knows that we can make mistakes."
Claver then smiled and said, "But I think inside, he was a little bit mad."
While Claver has seen his offensive output improve dramatically, he says Valencia's wins are down to something else.
"The key for us is defense," Claver said.
"Offensively, we have enough quality to score some points but everyone has to play as a team on defense and not give away easy baskets."
Claver captured a European title in 2009 with Spain and also represented the country at last year's FIBA World Championship in Turkey.
He should be a key man this summer in Lithuania when Spain play at the EuroBasket and attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.