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César Rupérez renews as Lucas Mondelo top assistant in China with Shanxi

Our coach César Rupérez has extended his contract in China with Shanxi Riu Flame after winning against all odds the last 2 Chinese LEagues and increase his CV that already had 3 Gold and 2 Silver Medals as assistant in the 5 European Championships that he has played with Spanish U20 National Team.

In Shanxi, César Rupérez will share project again with our coach Lucas Mondelo who has also recently signed his extension with the club.

We speak with César Rupérez two months before of starting his new adventure in his third season in China:

In just a couple months you will begin your third season as a professional coach outside Spain and you have chosen the Shanxi Riu Flame team and the Chinese League to do so. 

Which are the reasons to accept Shanxi´s proposal and what can you tell us about their new project?

I have decided to sign again in Shanxi because I feel that we still have challenges there.

After two very successful seasons, we know now much better the Chinese culture, the competition and the players and I hope that it will help us to keep getting good results.

About our new project and after winning the Championship two years in a row, we know that there will be big pressure to win again. 

There are still a lot of decisions to be made about our roster even we know that Maya Moore will stay as the team´s foreigner. 

Unfortunately, and and as it already happened to us last season, we are going to lose some of our key players that will have to return to their home teams.

Few  people could expect the big success that coach Lucas Mondelo and you have had with Shanxi, winning the last 2 Chinese Leagues and specially in a first season in which your team had just been promoted from 2nd division and didn´t have any Chinese international player.

It is also known that in both seasons teams like Zhejiang or Beijing had incredible rosters with just one goal, win the Championship.

Which have been the keys to overcome these difficulties and what is your opinion about the Chinese League after knowing it in depth during these years?

One of the keys has been that during the Playoffs in both seasons our team gave their best version, showing a solid game, with a really characteristic style of game and being able also to adapt defensively to what such strong teams requested.

Apart from having Maya Moore performing really well we needed that the young Chinese players would grow a lot during the regular season and therefore were ready to step up in the key moments.

We can´t forget that some of our key players were players that other teams loaned to us because they wouldn´t play in their teams or even players who had never played in 1st division.

About the WCBA, the level of most teams has raised and it is really tough to win in away games against almost every team.  The signings of some of the best players in the world (Griner, Fowles, Cambage, Jackson..) has made the competition really tougher and also the games against the top teams (Shanghai, Zjejiang, Beijing) in Semifinals and Finals were really of a high level.

After coaching some of the best young European players while in Spanish U20 National Team, you have coached and will keep coaching in Shanxi the player who is considered by many as the best in the world, Maya Moore.

How would you describe coaching Maya Moore?

Coaching Maya is a big privilege. She is an amazing professional that apart from her huge statistics and undeniable print in our game is a true positive leader for the team, making easier our job as coaches.

She also has a spectacular work ethic and has a team first approach to the game, taking care of the little details and helping to her teammates and specially to the younger players to improve and to have confidence in themselves.

In Shanxi you will team up again with Lucas Mondelo with whom you won the last 2 Chinese Leagues and also the Gold Medal in the 2011 U20 European Championship.

Has the return of Lucas to Shanxi been important in your decision to extend your contract? How big has in your opinion been the importance of Mondelo in the club success?

The renewal of Lucas has been a key fact for me to return to Shanxi. 

We have quite different personalities but we make a great team together and after these years things are really easy between us.

Mondelo´s contribution to the club success has been huge.  In short time he has been able to inoculate his basketball philosophy in a really different environment and to adapt it to the particularities that we have found there and getting good results almost since the beginning.  

Until now the Club has only lived success after success and hopefully if one day we are not there they will still be able to do the same.  Time will tell.

After being the only non-chinese coaches last season and winning the Championshio, there is now a strong rumor that says that the Chinese Federation will make some changes in the rules for next season that obviously will make things harder for Shanxi.

They won´t allow any more "Asian" players and also it is almost sure that in the first stage of the Championship non-Asian players (Americans) won´t be allowed either.

What do you think about this new system and what should Chinese basketball do to improve their results at National Team level and perform according to their amazing potential?

I really don´t think that these steps to change the Championship will be a solution to make their players better. 

Chinese League has been growing in the last years in a big part due to the arrival of some of the best players in the world who make the competition stronger, more attractive for the fans and also make the basketball world to costantly check what is going on in China.

Probably, the main reason for these changes is their obsession to protect the Chinese players (especially the ones in National Team).  

In my opinion, a stronger competition would make that the Chinese players would perform better at international level.  There are some things that would be positive for Chinese basketball like making the competition longer (playing more games) or allowing a second import in each team, like in the CBA.

Due to your fast success in China it may seem "normal" to win the League there. However, this last season your competitors signed WNBA superstars like Britney Griner, Elizabeth Cambage, Nneka Ogwumike, Sylvia Fowles or Lauren Jackson and it is close to impossible to sign the good Chinese players since they belong to their clubs almost for life.  Being Shanxi a "new" team it is really difficult that your Chinese players are of the
caliber than other teams have. 

How good is the level in Chinese League and if you had to rank your rosters compared to the rest of teams, where would Shanxi rank?

In the first season our team was a new team in 1st division and even only making the playoffs would have been a great success since our goal was trying to be in the best 8 teams.

We took advantage of the "surprise factor" during most of the regular season and playoffs being able to beat Beijing at Semifinals and Zhejiang in the Finals which were really a lot better rosters than we had.  But we played as a great team and the girls were unbelievable during the playoffs.

In the second season, the level of our roster improved but I think that it wasn´t still at the level of Beijing, Zhejiang or Shanghai, who had also a top foreign players but also experience Chinese players.  Despite that, we were able to reach to the key moments in the season in our best moment and after overcoming life and death games in every series win our second championship.

After these two season in Shanxi we can say that you are "adapted" to Chinese culture. Is it true that there is really high pressure in Chinese teams both for the players and the coaches?  How did you manage to make yourself so valuable and loved by the Club ?

Pressure and control over the players and coaches is something really normal in China and they also see it as normal. 

They think that under big pressure everybody will perform at the maximum level.  This has been the most difficult thing to get adapted to because our vision in Europe of how to get good results is different.

Since my first day in China, I have tried to understand how they think and to understand that they have a different system to find and solve the problems.  It is important to know that if you work in a different culture many of the things will be done under their logic.  So understanding the situation and adapting to it probably is one of the reasons why I´m in good relation with everybody in the club. 

Of course also that we won both championships...

Your return to Shanxi is great news for the fans in Taiyuan. After each game a lot of fans were waiting for Lucas and yourslef to take pictures and in some of the playoff games there were 10.000 people watching the games.

How important is your relation with the fans and what part of the team success they have?

To be honest it is hard to believe still today the expectation about our team in Taiyuan.. as you said the fans wait for us, take pictures, ask for autographs, stay in the airport until we arrive and that is something that still surprises me after these 2 years.  

The games in our gym are really magical due to our fans and we feel really loved.  The fans have been really an amazing help and an instrumental part of the success of the team in these years.

After two years and with all the success and experiences lived, how do you remember our call to offer you to coach Shanxi Rui Flame?  Could you imagine what would come after?

I remember that I was really surprised that the possibility of coaching in China existed. It almost seemed a joke at the beginning. Once that I knew all the details I realized that it was a very good option and I didn´t hesitate to accept it.

Of course it was impossible to imagine everything that would happen to us after that moment and it have been two very intense years in experiences and things lived. Also it was very difficult to imagine these results and that we would still be coaching there for a third year after two championships.

After your contribution to the titles of Shanxi and your succesful adaptation to China you have had the option to be the head coach in one of the best Chinese teams and with a long-term project.

However, you have preferred to stay with Lucas Mondelo and we know he has always given you an important and active role in the team.  In the future, going back to be the head coach is one of your expectations?

Yes, of course.  In the future my intention is to be head coach again. However when I received the proposal I thought that it was not the right moment to do it.

I like being in a winning project like Shanxi has right now and to work with Lucas Mondelo, who gives me an important role and makes me feel really valued was interesting enough to make me choose the option of returning to Shanxi with him.

I think that these years are helping me to grow as a coach and it is a great experience that will help me in my next challenges.

In the following videos you can watch some of the best moments of Lucas Mondelo, César Rupérez and the Shanxi Riu Flame in the past playoffs:

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