If the NBA kept a statistic for best kept secrets, the San Antonio Spurs would perennially lead the league. Head Coach Gregg Popovich and General Manager R.C. Buford have made a habit of pulling the wool over the basketball world’s eyes long enough to tab a foreign prospect that ends up paying dividends. Tony Parker, Many Ginobili, many forget that they even drafted Luis Scola. Perhaps their most valuable asset has been their patience; they’re willing to wait so long as their team rolls steady stateside, and they’ve been lucky enough to do that for a decade. Tiago Splitter is a couple of months away from proving them geniuses once more. Taken 28th in the 2007 draft, Splitter has mirrored the Spurs’ trademark wait-and-see approach, opting to re-sign a deal with Baskonia that would earn him nearly eight times what the NBA rookie pay scale would allow instead of coming to San Antonio. He made the most of his time in Vitoria: Three All-Euroleague nods (one first-team, two second) and a championship and MVP trophy in the ACB in his grand 2010 sendoff. I ask him about a few things here, but it’s clear where he and his fellow Brazilians are focused.
Freaknick: How nice has it been to have Varejao back?
Tiago Splitter: Oh, great. He’s given us a lot of energy on defense. He hasn’t bee that lucky on the offensive end but I think he’s going to give us a lot of improvement in these next games.
FN: How much could he have helped out in the USA game?
TS: Well, you never know. Of course he would have helped us, but he’s important for us now. He’s important for us against Argentina. I think the key for him now is to get rest so he can play basketball.
FN: What’s the most important thing for Brazil to do if they want to keep moving on?
TS: Well, we’re going to have a tough match against Argentina. They have really good players like Luis Scola, it’s really hard to stop him. Carlos Delfino, another. I think those are two key players but we have three days to study them, to watch them and see how we can win.
FN: Have you talked to Luis at all about the transition to the NBA? He made the switch after playing in Vitoria (then Tau Ceramica, now Caja Laboral) and you’re about to do the same thing. Have you asked him what to expect?
TS: Yes, a lot. We always talk about it. He’s been there for three years, or four, I don’t know. So he always tells me to go over there, go overseas and play like I know. Well, now I’m happy because he’s going to help me and we’re both going to be in Texas so we’re going to see each other a lot.
FN: Is there any one thing he’s told you to look out for?
TS: No, he just gave me confidence. He said that I’m going to play good there, and do come over and do my stuff.
FN: Now that you are NBA-bound there’s been a lot of attention on you in these World Championships. People want to see you play. How do you feel like you’ve performed so far?
TS: Oh, OK. But since three, four years ago I’ve played in top leagues here in Europe. So, you know.
FN: And what don’t some of these people know about these European leagues? Why do some, Americans especially, write them off?
TS: It’s very tough, very competitive. Every night you’re going to have a difficult game, a difficult match and you have to have big motivation every day because every day there are big matches. That’s the big difference because in the NBA the teams don’t always have to win.
FN: You know this Argentina team very well. What do you have to do to win?
TS: They have guys like Luis Scola and Pablo Prigioni who control the game. They have Carlos Delfino on the wing and other players who do a good job. It’s going to be tough, you know Argentina has been playing good for years and in the rankings of FIBA they are the first. So it’s not easy.
FN: Has Brazil getting the 2016 Olympics helped the country get excited for basketball?
TS: Yeah, yeah we needed it. Our team has been out of Olympic Games for like three editions so next yer we have an important qualification in Argentina. But now we’re thinking about the world championships and we’ll have more time to think about the Olympics next year.
FN: One last question, a lot of teams were looking for a better position on the last day of competition and some people think they might’ve lost intentionally. You won your game and now you’re faced with a very tough opening game in the knockout stages. Would your team ever have lost intentionally got avoid a tougher match-up?
TS: No. Why not? Because in the end you’re going to lose. You have to play fair and play to win. But they have to think by themselves.