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05.01.2009 10:53

La Bomba reveals all

Carles Cascante

Eleven seasons in the basketball first team bring with them moments of elation and disappointment, triumphs and defeats, incredible memories, unforgettable friendships and an awful lot more.

After a season in the NBA which though enriching in terms of experience, at a personal level was not that successful, Juan Carlos Navarro was delighted to accept an offer from Regal FC Barcelona to be the standard bearer for a new Barça project. At the halfway stage in the ACB League season and on the verge of the Euroleague Top 16, Navarro reviews how things are going this season, how he sees the team and what it’s like being in a group that is constantly growing.

We’re in the old Picadero gym (Palau Blaugrana 2), which is a court you know well. Lots of memories, I guess?

“Yep, I have lots of very good memories of this court. I spent a lot of my youth here as I came up through the age levels and finally achieved my ambition of being in the first team.”

If someone had told you when you were playing in the academy that one day you’d be Barça’s marquee basketball player, would you have believed them?

“To be honest I wouldn’t have. You realise things as you move up through the levels. At first just being at Barça is a goal you’ve achieved, but I think that when you begin to realise that this is for real and that you could keep on going up is when you’re playing junior basketball. But it is true that I would never have thought I would get so far, and what I want to do now is go even further.”

You’ll always remember 23 November 1997 when you made your Barça debut and scored 10 points in 10 minutes. That really made you a favourite of the fans...

navarro.jpg“You’re right, I’ll never forget that day. It’s a great memory for me although the game with Granada had been settled by then. At any event, having the fans chanting your name on your debut is great. That’s quite a few years ago now, of course, and they still seem to like the way I play, and so I’d like them to continue enjoying my basketball.”

In your eleven seasons as a Barça player, who’s helped you most and given you support when you most needed it and been there for you?

“My family and especially my wife. She’s always there at home and she’s the person I talk to most. She listens to my worries and what’s happened during the day and that’s really important. My family in general have always been there, from my wife and daughters to my parents who took me along to training at the Picadero...”

Who were the key players in the team in the 1997/98 season when you made your debut, the ones that maybe you hoped you could be like one day?

“I remember that there was Roger Esteller, who was playing really well, and Sasha Djordjevic, who was another key figure. The best thing about that season was the experience I gained. I was very young and I used to do things without thinking, so it was good for me to share a dressing room with experienced and extremely good players like those.”

Out of all the team-mates you‘ve had over these 11 seasons at the club, which one would you choose and why?

campions_eurolliga.JPG“There are lots, but if I had to choose one I’d probably go for Nacho Rodríguez, because he helped me a lot when I started out, and Roberto Dueñas. These guys help you and you don’t know why but you just hit it off with them straightaway both on and off the court. Another important player who I got on really well with was Sarunas Jasikevicius. He was one of the key guys when we won that treble in the 2002/03 season.”

What are the milestones or motivations for Juan Carlos Navarro in this team?

“Being a key player in the team motivates me, something which wasn’t true about the team I played for last season in the NBA. However, it’s all about trying to guide your team-mates when it comes to winning things, which is what we want to do this year, and also being a model of sorts for younger players in the team.”

How do you deal with being famous?

“I think reasonably well. You get used to people recognising you in the street and you get used to signing autographs or having your photo taken with people. However, all of that is just a reflection of the way you’re doing things. If things weren’t going well, then you wouldn’t get that sort of recognition for sure. That’s the upside. The downside? Well, I will admit that sometimes I’d like not to be noticed, especially when you’re with family and friends, but that’s one of the things about our job and I have no problem with it.”

Let’s talk about other team-mates and friends of yours who are in the NBA. Are you following Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernández in their rooky seasons?

“Yep, and they’re doing really well. They were outstanding in the ACB and I didn’t doubt that they’d do well in the NBA. They’re right up at the top of the rooky ranking and they’re players with character who have a natural talent for the game.”

Do you ever get used to the pressure of being a team leader?

QM3D3532.JPG“Sometimes it can tire you as well, especially when all of the pressure is on you, but that isn’t the case this season. OK, I’m an important player but the team is well-balanced and packed with quality players. There’s more than one reference point now and that’s important when it comes to building a great team. But the pressure’s okay. You get used to delivering and when things don’t go quite so well people wonder why. But that’s sport and I’m fine with that and I don’t put that much pressure on myself because if you do that you don’t play well.”

You’re only 28 but after so many seasons at the top, have you ever thought about what you’d like to do when you retire?

“Maybe something to do with basketball. I haven’t actually given it that much thought because I hope I still have some way to go. At the moment I have this season and the following four at Barça and I would hope to end my career here. What I am sure about is that when I do retire I’m going to take a year off to be with my family. We’ll see how things look after that.”

With the Menorca game you equalled Andrés Jiménez’s record for the second highest number of appearances for Barça in the ACB. Now you’ve gone past him with 378 and the only person ahead of you is Epi. What do you think about all that?

“I think it’s a really important milestone. I found out at the end of the Menorca game. However, you should also remember that Epi had already been playing for a number of years before the ACB was set up. But I’m really pleased to have overtaken a legend like Jiménez. I think it’s yet more proof that I’m at one of the best clubs in the world and that the people who’ve coached me over the years have believed in me.”

The team is now back to playing that great basketball we saw at the start of the season. Why do you think that is?

QM3D7088.jpg“I think we were hit by the stress of a lot of travelling. We were playing really well and it coincided with the US tour. Those long trips and the change in time zones and your body having to get used to so quickly, all of that had an impact and we paid the price. Everything went really quickly, but now by contrast we’re once again picking up our best form. I think we have a team that’s going to last, and as I said before, we have great players. It’s well balanced with solid defence and quality offence.”
La Bomba reveals all
Family and friends to relax
When you aren’t playing, training or travelling, what do you like to do or would you like to do?

“I would like to be at home a lot more because four years ago a wonderful thing happened when my daughter was born. Now I’ve got another and, as you might imagine, they are my priorities. Maybe before I had kids basketball was higher up there, but that’s changed now. The other thing I like doing is spending time with my friends, as that helps me to switch off.”

What’s the best way of spending your free time?

“As I said before, the most important thing is being with my family or going out to dinner with my friends. The thing I really like doing is talking about all sorts of things after dinner and then maybe if I can going on to have a drink somewhere else with them. The other ways I use to switch off are reading books and watching films, although I also do that when I’m travelling with the team.”

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