Thriving in Europe, NBA return unlikely for Spanish Chocolate

Thriving in Europe, NBA return unlikely for Spanish Chocolate


Thriving in Europe, NBA return unlikely for Spanish Chocolate

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Getty ImagesThings didn't quite work out for Sergio Rodriguez in the NBA.

Touted as a potential franchise point guard in Portland during a short period of time, his career in the States lost steam following a promising rookie year in which he shined in limited playing time.
The slow-it-down system of Nate McMillan's Blazers never fit his style and the woes of his game – defensive lapses, inconsistent jump shot and turnovers – became more apparent than his strengths when he hit the court. After his third season in Portland, he was traded to Sacramento and then to New York – two dysfunctional squads with little semblance of teamwork. He put up decent numbers there, but interest in the NBA was mild and a big offer from Real Madrid drew him back to Spain.
His confidence visibly shot following a somewhat frustrating NBA experience, Rodriguez struggled in his return to the Spanish League. At age 24 and with little evident progress compared to the to the player that had left for the NBA in a much-criticized move four years earlier, things were looking bleak for the flashy point guard. A gold-medal winner with the Spanish National Team at the 2006 World Championship, Rodriguez had even fell out of Spain's coaching staff favor and many were ready to give up on him.
But Rodriguez, also known as Spanish Chocolate because of his similarities to Jason Williams, has bounced back nicely the past two seasons.
In the summer of 2011, Real Madrid hired Pablo Laso, a former point guard that favors an up-tempo game, to coach the long-underachieving club and Rodriguez's career has been on the upswing ever since.
He returned to the Spanish National Team in 2012 after five years away from the squad and won the silver medal at the Olympic Games following a strong campaign with Real Madrid. He's back with Spain this summer after what was possibly the best season of his career and now plays quality minutes at the Eurobasket in a point guard rotation that includes Wolves budding star Ricky Rubio and Mavericks veteran Jose Manuel Calderon.
His efficient play in Europe (without cutting down on the flash) should elicit interest from the NBA. But a return to the States may not be in the cards.

How does it feel to be back with the Spanish National Team for two summers in a row following a five-year absence?

Sergio Rodriguez: I'm very happy. Being part of the National Team is always special. Being out was tough, but it made me realize that I had to improve. I used the time off to work on my game and it slowed down things for me considering how fast everything had gone up to that point.

Nobody likes being left out of a team with such quality, one that won the Eurobasket twice and a silver medal at the Olympics. But I like basketball too much and I always watched the games, especially those high-pressure games where you knew Spain was going to deliver.

Was there one moment where you lost confidence in your abilities as a player?

SR: There have not been extended periods when I lost confidence. Of course I had down times, but not long ones. At the end of the day, I'm lucky because basketball is also my favorite hobby. There's been moments when I didn't feel too good, some during my time in the NBA or my first year in Real Madrid… But I knew things would look up eventually because I was putting in the work. 

How did you feel upon your return to Europe from the NBA?

SR: Looking back, (the NBA experience) wasn't that bad. I played 300 games, I had a blast and lived a dream… and I ended up in New York – starting for the Knicks. When I decided to return to Europe, it was Real Madrid no less, which was a big deal to me. I was going to be able to play at the Euroleague, shoot for championships and deal with the extreme pressure that comes with having to win all the time. When I left the NBA, I felt kind of empowered by the fact that I was joining Real Madrid.

Which of your three NBA stops was the most fun?

SR: The three of them! I had a good time in each of the three. Of course, Portland has a bit of an advantage because it was three years there and it was kind of a family and the stars of the team were growing together at the same time. Then Sacramento was good too. Practices were very enjoyable and it was close to San Francisco. Besides, Sacramento fans are knowledgeable about basketball and one of my references as a player –  Jason Williams – had played there with the Webber-led Kings, which were one of my favorite teams of all time. Then you had New York… Playing there with Tracy McGrady and in that city was a very positive experience. Maybe the timing of my arrival was not the best, though.

Why is your first year in Real Madrid not good?

SR: Personal circumstances and team circumstances. I had to play a different type of basketball than I was used to playing, a different role… Then you have to adjust to that Real Madrid mentality where you have to win every single game. There was a lot of turmoil during that year with (coach) Ettore Messina. He left in the middle of the season. That was just another experience that made me stronger.

Where do you think your career would be at this point if Real Madrid doesn't hire this new head coach (Pablo Laso) that gives you all this confidence?

SR: You never know. It's true he's given me a lot of confidence and helped me grow. But it's also true that I have matured as a player, I know how I have to play and it's taken me a lot of work to get to this point. But I'm very happy with this situation.

Knowing what you know now, would you still go to the NBA at age 20? 

SR: Yes, no doubt. My dream was to play in the NBA and I made it real and enjoyed it very much. There's a lot of players in the States fighting to be in that position, but with me it was, 'Meh, he's not playing much'. But in reality I feel fortunate that I had the career I had in the NBA. It could have been better, but it wasn't bad. Plus it helped me grow as a player. I wouldn't change anything.

Do you miss anything from the States?

SR: Well, you always miss things. But I'm very comfortable in Madrid. I have my girlfriend here and my parents live in the city in which I want to live.

You talked earlier about Jason Williams. He became a more efficient NBA player toning down the flash to his game. You're a more effective player now without cutting down on the flashy plays. How's that?

SR: It's all up to the team. When he was in Sacramento, that type of play is what the team needed. Had he stayed there longer, he could have been both effective and flashy. Miami was a totally different team when he got there with two clear go-to guys in Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade and had to play differently. As for me, I just try to have fun. Now I have fun not just with offensive and flashy plays, but also playing defense, controlling the tempo, performing in crunch time.

Where have you improved the most the past two years?

SR: I'm more calm on the court. Back in the day, I felt like a have to do a lot of things to be efficient. Now I let the game come to me more. There will be a time to do things for the team without forcing the issue. Games are long and you will get your chances eventually.

Is returning to the NBA something that appeals to you?

SR: I remember when I was playing in the NBA that people were asking me if I wanted to go back to Europe. I always said I was fine there, that I felt comfortable and I was enjoying the experience. And it's the same way now. I'm 27 with nine years as a pro player already. Everything goes very fast and I want to enjoy it. I'm happy in Madrid and have two years left on my contract and the potential to win everything here or at least be in the mix. That's all I think about. Like I said, everything goes very fast. I don't want to be that guy that when everything is over basketball-wise has not enjoyed the moment because always thought about the future.

Do you feel you're at your best as a player now?

SR: There are moments during your career when you feel you're great. But for the most part, I feel like I'm more consistent now. I may have ups and downs, but not as big as they were before. I'm more stable now, even with my personal life, and that has helped me a big deal.

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