Lucas Mondelo extends his contract in China with Shanxi Riu Flame
Our client and and Spanish National Team Head Coach Lucas Mondelo has extended his contract in China with Shanxi Riu Flame after winning against all odds the last 2 Chinese Leagues and increase his amazing CV that already included 1 Euroleague, 1 Senior European Championship, 1 Spanish League, 1 Spanish Cup, 2 Spanish SuperCups, 1 Gold and 1 Gold Medal in U20 European Championship, 1 Silver Medal in U19 World Championship and 1 European SuperCup among other awards.
We speak with Lucas Mondelo after making official his extension with Shanxi and just 3 weeks before the start of the last training camp with Spanish National Team before the World Championship in Turkey.
You will start soon your third season as a professional coach outside Spain and again you have chosen Shanxi Riu Flame and the Chinese League.
Which have been the reasons to accept their proposal and what can you tell us about your new project?
My main motivation is to keep being competitive and try to fight to win again the Championship in a season in which we lose again an important number of our key players after last year success.
It is also important for me the possibility to keep working with the world´s best basketball player, Maya Moore since we have a really special bond.
I am not the kind of coach that likes to be changing teams every year and I feel that my work in Shanxi has not finished. Also due to Chinese league schedule it allows me to coach both at the club and National Team level. I like to play to win.
Few people could expect the great success that you have had together with coach Cesar Rupérez in Shanxi, winning the last 2 Chinese Leagues.
In your first season, Shanxi had just been promoted to 1st division and didn´t have any Chinese National Team player in the roster while in this second season you also managed to succeed again against clearly stronger teams like Zhejiang or Beijing.
Which have been the keys to get so much success in China and what´s your opinion about the level or Chinese League after becoming an expert in their championship?
First of all, we had to get rapidly adapted to a different world and to the cultural shock.
This is one of the most difficult parts for many coaches and it is well known that many foreigners don´t last too long in China because of this.
Our adaptation helped us in the process of sharing share our basketball ideas with the players and we were able to convince them quite early that our philosophy would help them to win games and be successful and better players.
After this step, I think that the work that we developed in the first couple months in terms of game knowledge and game reading was also crucial to get to the playoffs in our best moment.
Most Chinese teams have a pretty characteristic style of game and it is not difficult to predict what they will do once that you know them. This fact together with some "traps" and new strategies that we prepared specially for and during the playoffs and of course having in our team the best player in the world made possible all these "miracles".
After having already coached some of the best world players in Perfumerías Avenida and in the Spanish National Team, you have also coached Maya Moore during these last 2 seasons and you will coach her again this coming season.
How do you describe Maya Moore and how special is coaching her?
I have been fortunate during my career of being able to coach many real stars and knowing them in depth which makes it "easier" for me to be able to compare them. I´m also thankful and I really enjoy the opportunity to keep coaching our players in Spanish National Team.
To describe Maya Moore is pretty easy. She is "all the players in one" and the player that you would always want to coach.
In her care it is very true that she makes her teammates better and manages to get the best of them, physically and at an emotional level. She gives great confidence to them and makes sure that all of them are fine.
As I said before, Maya has been one of the important reasons for me to continue coaching Shanxi.
In Shanxi you will be again with coach César Rupérez with whom you won the last 2 Chinese League and also the Gold Medal in the U20 European Championship in 2011.
How important has César been in the success of Shanxi and how do you value that he has renounced to great offers as head coach in China to stay with you?
Well, César Rupérez is together with Víctor Lapeña the best assistant coach that I ever had and at all levels. He is a tireless worker and measured that doesn´t have the need of "me" and perfectly understands the structure of "us".
César is also a great analyst and I´m really proud that somebody with this human and basketball level wants to keep working with me.
I also know that sooner or later he will be again a head coach since he is really well prepared for it, he deserves it and is an example of work and honesty.
There is a rumor that says that Chinese Federation is not too happy with the fact that the only non-Chinese coaches currently in their league have won the last 2 Championships.
It is also known that there is a proposal so that the first stage of the Championship will be played without foreigners and in fact it is already confirmed that the Asian player that was allowed until this season, won´t be allowed any more.
What do you think about this new system and what do you think that Chinese basketball should do to improve their competition and especially so that their players would live up to their potential in their international competitions?
Well, first of all it is a reality that Chinese character and mentality are way different than the ones that we are used to and that they have their particularities that of course must be accepted.
We know the rules of the game and we need to work under those rules, adapt to them and be positive.
I think that the mentioned restrictions won´t be positive and won´t help so that the more than 5.000 current spectators will keep coming to the gyms since what fans want is to enjoy the "show" and the great players that we have enjoyed during these seasons in the maximum possible number of games.
I have never liked overprotecting the players and I think that with not allowing the imports to play in some games they will get the opposite effect that they are looking for towards the improvement of Chinese players.
I appreciate that the Chinese Federation had some meetings with me during the All Star to know my opinion on how to improve their competition.
At that point I told them that not allowing Asian players could be a good decision since most of the time they get playing time that Chinese players could be getting and in many cases they are not clearly better than them.
My proposal was also that, same as they do in the men league, they would allow a second foreigner in the teams and that would make the "show" really better, increase the league exposure and make the best Chinese players to practice and play against more high level players.
Unfortunately it seems that they decided to take only my first suggestion and it won´t be good for us since we lose our starting point guard, japanese Yuko Oga.
Logically I do know that it is difficult to make political decisions in a country like China and that they can think different. We will play under the rules that they decide and try to compete under those circumstances.
From the distance it may seem that your efficiency in China and winning the Championships could be "normal".
Howerver, for example in this last season, your competitors have signed WNBA superstars like Britney Griner, Elizabeth Cambage, Nneka Ogwumike, Sylvia Fowles or Lauren Jackson and to sign good Chinese players is close to impossible since they belong for life to their mother clubs. Being a "new" club it has logically been difficult that your Chinese players have the same level than others have.
¿How good is Chinese League and please be objective, how do you rate the rosters that you had in these last 2 seasons compared to the rest of teams?
With the exception of the last two teams, whose level is lower both financially and roster wise, I firmly believe that the level in Chinese League is quite high since all the best Chinese players are playing there and also many of the best players in the world are also there, real WNBA stars.
For me it is a beautiful and hard league and about our rosters I think that the first season we had the 6th or the 7th best roster and last season probably the 3rd or 4th best.
After these two years in Shanxi you have pretty well adapted to Chinese culture.
Is it true the level of high pressure over the coaches and players there?
What is your secret to handle pressure so well during your career and to be so comfortable under it?
Yes, in Chinese culture the pressure and the interventionism are quite common and the only "secret" to deal with them is improving your skills in demonstrating that what you explain is effective and to have a good background and experience in negotiation.
When this is not enough, you also need some prestidigitation both in practice and games and ability to disguise situations.
Winning also helps, of course..
Your return to Shanxi is great news for all your fans in Taiyuan. After each game a legion of fans waits for all of you and takes pictures and autographs with César and yourself and in some playoff games all the tickets were sold and almost 10.000 people were cheering for your team.
How important is your relation with the fans and what part of the success of Shanxi team they have?
Our fans are basic for us. As you know well, the average attendance during regular season is around 5.000 people that have fun with the big show that the Club prepares for them before and during the games. It is really at NBA level with contests, presents and performances.
For our team, our fans are of great help. They put big pressure over our rivals and they support our team a lot, cheering for them and making the players know how important they are for them. Also there is always more than 100 people in the Airport when we return from our away games. Things would be really different without them.
Two years later and after all the success and experiences lived, how do you remember our call to offer you coach Shanxi Riu Flame?
Could you imagine at that time what would come later?
Your call was in a key moment in my coaching career since we had already qualified for the European Championship in France (that we would end up winning) and I had already won everything that a coach can win at club level.
That offer was together with Spanish National Team the biggest challenge that I had faced until that date, arriving to a club and league with a great professional structure at all levels and where the coach has the treatment that deserves both financially and in work conditions. It was like a dream.
What came after has been a mix of frenziness and thrill... basketball at the highest level but in a completely different culture.
During this summer you have had proposals and interest from some of the best teams in Europe to get you back to our continent and everybody remembers the Euroleague that you won with Avenida in 2011.
Is in the close or mid future of Lucas Mondelo the intention of returning to Europe and try to win more Euroleagues? And what is your opinion about next Euroleague?
It is not easy for European teams to compete financially with China but for a few exceptions. This season is quite special because we play the World Championship and therefore until October I´m not available to coach at the club level.
Of course I enjoy Europe and in my mid term plans to return and try to win again the Euroleague is definitely a very strong possibility and something that I want to do.
About current Euroleague level, I think that it has quite dropped in the last seasons. We only have to compare the rosters three years ago and the rosters for this coming season. Most of the best players are in the russian and in the top 2 turkish teams with just the exception of other 3-4 teams who also were able to build good rosters.
Another fact is that there were 24 Euroleague teams in 2011 while for the 2014-15 season there will be only 15 teams.
However, I don´t think that there is any unbeatable team and that we, as coaches, work for that, to reach where budgets don´t reach.
This season the Final Four returns and I think that one of those positions is possible for different teams, being Salamanca one of them.
After making history 13 months ago with Spanish National Team, winning the Gold Medal in the European Championship in France, you are currently preparing all details with your staff to try to have a good result in the World Championship in Turkey. What are your feelings until now in the different short training camps that you had with the team and what are your expectations for this Championship?
Our sensations are really good because our players are highly motivated and focused in working hard. It is a big pleasure to coach them with such high level of intensity, focus and unselfishness, a TRUE TEAM, they put theirselves at the service of the team... one more time.
The possibility that Angel Palmi, spanish NT general manager, has given us to do "active rest" having three short training camps during the summer is really important to have everybody ready to start our final training camp in August the 26th.
After that, the World Championship will be really difficult. United States and Australia are teams that are above the rest, Turkey plays at home and France is always France.
Then there are other teams, among them Spain, like Brasil, Canadá, Serbia, Czech and some others with real possibilities of reaching Semifinals.
We will compete for the maximum. That is how we know to do things and we have the big responsability of wearing the shirt of Spain and to have on our neck the Gold Medal that this team won last summer. To be competitive is our true challenge after the departure of two legends.
We want to develop a team for the European Championship in Hungary that qualifies for the Olympics in Brazil 2016 and to keep building the National Team that we hope will play in Spain in the 2018 World Championship. A dream of our president, José Luis Sáez, shared by all of us.
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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