“You must not kill the enthusiasm of those who have eyes full of dreams. But you have to teach him to think about how much you have to sacrifice to pursue what you want. Discipline. And, before the uncertainty of the future, before the pressure, concentrated in the here and now”. How much are these tips worth, given by a coach with eight medals, five of them gold? How much can a few words from Sergio Scariolo mean to two 16-year-old teenagers troubled by doubts and by a future that seems to promise them great feats on the court? Awa Fam and Mario Saint-Supery are two of the brightest stars of a unique summer for national basketball, in which the lower categories have reached seven finals out of seven possible and the absolute has ousted the US from the top of the the world ranking. They are living proof of what Scariolo says: “We have built something bigger than a handful of titles: a structure that covers from the youngest players to the first team, with a way of understanding basketball and values that can contribute to a better society”.
She is the youngest of three brothers. Tala, 21, plays basketball in Ireland; Her brother Karim, 20, studies and works in Santa Pola, in Alicante, where she has followed her parents, Madoumbe and Arame, originally from Senegal, for more than 30 years. Some parents who, according to the Alicante press, are dedicated to selling in markets. Awa Fam received a scholarship and went to Valencia, to train in one of the leading youth academies in Europe, L’Alquería del Basket. She debuted with the first team taroja at only 15 years old, in December 2021.
Q. What do you consider to be your greatest personal achievement?
A. I have given it a spin and it is difficult for me to try to make a classification. But I think I’m proud of the structure we’ve built with all the teams. It has been a long job, which has involved a lot of people. Beyond the titles that we leave to those who come after, this may be the most important legacy: a way of building a team, of feeling like a group in which so many people work towards the same goal.
Q. We all tend to have a mantra, a life motto that stays with us since we were little, what is the one that lasts the longest in your mind and do you usually use with your players in the locker room?
R. There is something that I assumed from a very young age: whatever you have to do, whether you like it or not, whether it costs more or less, try to do it to the best of your ability. Even though sometimes there’s no one to watch if he’s given it his all, be honest with yourself. Because there is a reward: feeling good, knowing that you have worked hard.
Q. If you have a bad streak, lost games, bad training… What do you do? How do you deal with it mentally?
R. I have to do a memory exercise because, luckily, I don’t remember bad streaks that are too long [sonríe Scariolo]. Intention to separate the emotional from the real. When you can’t move a little away from a result, not only to face a defeat, but also a victory, this proximity can influence you. And you may not be able to analyze frankly and objectively what is going well and what is not. You have to correctly orient the point of view and reflect calmly. Find remedies, rather than get stuck in what has already happened.
Be honest with you. Anything you have to do, whether you like it or not, costs more or less, try to do it to the best of your ability
Sergio Scariolo, Spain coach
Q. How do you mentally prepare a match that requires a final like the Eurobasket against France?
R. In my beginnings I lived the pressure in a different way. There are external components that make the consequences of a negative result seem more serious than they are. But he develops a voice that puts order to that fatalism. It is one of the great teachings of sport: awareness of the here and now. I remember when I went to the university exams, I saw a lot of very nervous people around me. I, who was still a player and not a coach, knew how to concentrate on what I had in hand. I had studied, I had prepared myself. The rest, he couldn’t control. So it was a matter of giving my best and that’s it. A final is like that. You have to stick to the game plan, have confidence and security. No one should envision a path of roses: there will be difficulties, there will be moments where they play better than you, and you have to have foreseen that this will happen and be able to absorb that impact. In this dialogue that occurs with oneself, the more focused you are on how to achieve the objective, the less space and attention you will give to why, to what will come next, to what will happen if…
At the age of four, according to what his father declared to the Malaga press, Mario Saint-Supery was already running and dribbling better than the others. At six he began to train with older boys, so as not to “get bored.” At 15, he was playing against men in the EBA, the third national division, and, in a matter of a season, he made his debut with Unicaja in the Endesa League and in the Champions League. A prodigy on the track to whom his parents demand that he continue having fun and being humble, and that he study.
Q. From your personal experience, what could you advise young players to be more organized and efficient in their studies?
R. When you are an elite athlete, your priorities must be sports and studies. There is little time left for the rest: hanging out with friends, watching tons of TV series or for social media. But it is a matter of giving each thing an appropriate dimension, not removing anything. Other boys that age are likely to let such sources of attraction eat up a significant chunk of their days. And time cannot be wasted, you have to have discipline. One must be clear about how much it costs to become what you want. And the adults who accompany you and the coaches must help to deal with the great frustrations that can be generated. You don’t have to kill dreams, but you have to know how to make young people measure their expectations: that they understand that they cannot become basketball players, that injuries are kept behind every corner and, even, that, even if they succeeded, there are a day when you stop being a basketball player and have a lot of life left afterward. Our boys must be encouraged to work for their own future.
Q. What do you think are the keys, not only physical and technical, so that a young player, who is starting out, can adapt well to the team, improve and stay in the elite for a long time?
R. When a promise receives a call it is because they have a talent that has captured attention. But that’s just the beginning. To stay and justify his presence in a training session —in that five against five of a professional training session you learn things that you never see in the youth academy— other, let’s say, more gray qualities are needed. Concentration, aptitude, knowing how to be useful to that team, daring to go into contact without fear. Everyone can see a bright future in you, but there will be no better partner than the right mix of humility and ambition. I have seen many players with limited talent who arrived because of their effort and many geniuses fell by the wayside. But this is a lesson that is not only useful for sports: these same values can form good fans, good parents of future athletes. The commitment and sweat that go hand in hand with the playful aspect. Sport makes you aware that you have much more to give of yourself.
The foundations of a long-term project
“A fan who has played sports, who understands everything that is happening on the track, will never insult from the stands. An entrepreneur who has played basketball will understand and support young people who go out to enjoy the courts of their city. sport, in short, generates value for society”. It is the opinion of Sergio Scariolo, who, in fact, emphasizes his pride in what they have been able to create in Spanish basketball. Long-term planning with a 360-degree vision that, he affirms, would have been impossible without Endesa’s firm commitment a decade ago, “sponsor of the league, the national team, the youth academy, in men’s and women’s basketball…” he remembers. “We have had, thanks to our sponsor, peace of mind; we have been able to look beyond the short term, build things that will last. Therein lies our secret.” Selector’s word.