NOVI SAD (FIBA U19 World Championship) - One of the biggest prospects in Novi Sad is Spanish forward Víctor Claver. The long talent of Pamesa Valencia is the classic modern forward, with long arms and the ability to do just about anything on court.
In the tough Spanish league he already played a big role for Pamesa, including in a play off battle against future champs - Real Madrid. Last year in the U18 European Championship, he played a key role when Spain won the bronze medal.
Claver is leading his team in rebounds and blocks. In points, assists and steals he's "only" second, which gives a perfect example to the versatility in his game. Standing at 205cm Claver averaged in seven games so far 17.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg (4th in competition) and 2.4 apg.
The team who stopped Spain from playing the finals last year was France. After the 100-83 loss to the same French team in the World Championship's quarter-finals, it seems Spain got a jinx - their Northern neighbors.
Spain opened the tournament with a tough win over Puerto Rico but then came three wins in a row that put them in a great position. Following were two close loses by a single basket to Turkey and Australia, which sent Spain to face France for the top 4 spot.
With three losses in a row, Spain will now play for the 5th place in the competition, and according to Claver, in a special interview to fiba.com, this is the place Spain is worthy.
What went wrong for you in the quarter-finals?
"We started with the right mentally but they gave us a tough time in the inside game. When we improved that they shot very well from outside. It took us time to adjust to that and by that time it was already too late."
Is 17 points the real difference between Spain and France?
"I don't think so. At certain point we cut the gap and it was a closer game, but our mentally was weak and this is why we never got in the game and didn't play our full potential."
So the potential of the Spanish team is to be in the top four, or you're worth 5-8?
"I believe we deserve to play for the 5th place, because we didn't play good enough. If we are playing for the 5th place that's what we deserve. It's a realistic position for Spain."
How do you find the mental strength to play now for the 5th place?
"We need to forget about the loss in the quarter-finals. It's not easy because when you come to such a game you have many expectations, and after such a loss it's not easy to get yourself together. We have to try and do our best mentally to play like a group and focus on the game against Argentina. We beat them already by 20 points, but they fight and play hard all the way."
The U20 team did very well in Slovenia and won the silver medal. Did that give you extra motivation to come back with a medal?
"Yes, we are very happy with their success. We followed the tournament of the U20. There's a big difference between European and World Championships, but that particular team showed they can go beyond the expectations. They played like a team. That's always an inspiration when a team plays like that."
You had a chance to revenge the loss in the U18 semi-finals to France. Did you think about this before the game?
"Of course. That gave us a motivation, but the biggest one was to play in the semi-finals of the World Championship, because as a player you don't have many chances to do that. Seems like they are always putting us out."
Are you happy with your personal performance in the championship?
Yes and no. It could have been better. I'm happy to a certain point, because I believe as a team we did a decent work. But I also think that in some point of the championship, when my shots didn't go in, I wasn't able to help my teammates. I did a decent tournament, and so did the team."
What's your prediction for the semi-final between USA and France?
"I didn't see their first game between USA and France, but I know USA won pretty easily. Both teams have very similar game-style. They are very athletic and strong. In the semi-finals this can be a different story than in the first game. I think it will be a very intense game, and maybe the result can be different.
And for the semi-final Brazil-Serbia?
"I also believe this game will be a close one. Serbia has been able to play bigger than the expectations probably, because the fans are fantastic and it always gives extra motivation. Brazil is kind of the surprise of the tournament. They beat one of the favorites and they did it just now, and that will give them a big push, and they have a lot of energy. They were underdogs. Team effort and playing hard helped them make it. I see both semi-finals games as close match-ups. It won't be games that will be decided in the third quarter."