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the will to win
Not only is the football season reaching its exciting climax – all the eyes of European basketball fans are on Madrid for the Euroleague Final Four, and the ACB Playoffs are still to look forward to at the end of the month. In an exclusive interview, Tau Cerámica player and New Orleans native Will McDonald talks to Luc Ciotkowski about basketball in Europe, living in Madrid and the Basque Country, differences in mentality and small Spanish beds.
WORDS by LuC CIOtkOWSkI
30th Apr FOOTBALL Champions League Chelsea v Liverpool, Man Utd v Barcelona 1st May FOOTBALL Uefa Cup Semi-finals, 2nd leg 1-4th May GOLF Seville: Spanish Open 2-5th May CRICKET Essex v New Zealand 2nd May BASKETBALL Euroleague M. Siena v Maccabi Elite, Tau Ceramica v CSKA 3rd May FOOTBALL Premier League Arsenal v Everton, Liverpool v Man City, Man Utd v West Ham, Newcastle v Chelsea 4th May BASKETBALL Euroleague 3rd Place play-off & Final FOOTBALL La Liga Atletico v Recreativo, Barcelona v Valencia, Osasuna v Real Madrid MOTOR CYCLING China: MotoGP 5th May ATHLETICS Belfast: Belfast Marathon 5-11th May TENNIS Rome: BNL d’Italia Campionati 5-11th May TENNIS Berlin: German Open 5-11th May TENNIS Prague Open 7th May FOOTBALL La Liga Espanyol v Atletico, Real Madrid v Barcelona 8-11th May CRICKET Rose Bowl: England Lions v New Zealand 8-11th May GOLF Sawgrass: Players Championship 8-11th May GOLF Milan: Italian Open 8-11th May GOLF Belek: Turkish Women’s Open 10th May SPEEDWAY Leszno: Polish Grand Prix 10-11th May ATHLETICS Cheboksary: IAAF World Race Walking Cup 10-11th May ATHLETICS Desenzano: Combined Events 11th May FOOTBALL Premier League Chelsea v Bolton, Sunderland v Arsenal, Tottenham v Liverpool, Wigan v Man Utd FOOTBALL La Liga Murcia v Barcelona, Real Madrid v Levante, Valencia v Atletico 11th May MOTOR RACING Turkish Grand Prix 11th May MOTOR CYCLING Italy: World Superbikes 12-18th May TENNIS Hamburg: Masters Series 12-18th May TENNIS Rome: Italian Open 14th May FOOTBALL Uefa Cup Final (Manchester, England) 15-19th May GOLF Limerick: Irish Open 15-19th May CRICKET Lord’s: First Test, England v NZ 17th May FOOTBALL FA Cup Final Portsmouth v Cardiff 18th May MOTOR RACING Spain: World Touring Car Championship 18th May MOTOR CYCLING France: MotoGP 21st May FOOTBALL Champions League Final (Moscow, Russia) 23-27th May CRICKET Lord’s: Second Test, England v NZ 24th May RUGBY Heineken Cup Final FOOTBALL International Match Rep of Ireland v Serbia 24th May RUGBY International Match Ireland v Barbarians 25th May MOTOR RACING Monaco Grand Prix 26th May- TENNIS 8th June Paris: French Open 28th May FOOTBALL International Match England v USA, Iceland v Wales 29th May FOOTBALL International Match Rep of Ireland v Colombia 30th May FOOTBALL International Match Czech Republic v Scotland
t the beginning of the month, European basketball will crown a new champion, and, this year Madrid hosts the Final Four- the semi finals and final of the Euroleague. The Spanish ACB regular season finishes mid-month, before the real excitement of the domestic season begins in the Playoffs. Basketball is massive in Spain and, while it can’t compete with the immense popularity of football, it has been established as the country’s second sport for a long time. This year, one Spanish club has made it to the Final Four, Tau Cerámica from the capital of the Basque Country, Vitoria. They will battle it out for European glory with Russia’s CSKA Moscow, Israel’s Maccabi Elite and Italy’s Montepaschi Siena. Playing for Tau, Will McDonald, a 2.07m (6ft9in) tall American, has been been through the experience of adapting to life in Madrid. The pro from New Orleans played for C.B. Estudiantes in the Spanish capital for two years, until moving to the north of Spain to play for Vitoria-based club, Tau Cerámica (official name Saski Baskonia). Will was kind enough to take time out to talk to European Vibe Magazine:
What do you think of your chances of winning the Final Four and taking the trophy back to Vitoria? Well, we got this far, why not go on and win? We’ve got the same chance as the other teams. Who do you see as the biggest threat in the Final Four?
The team we play first, the Russians (CSKA Moscow). They’ve got the biggest budget of any team in Europe. They beat us over there, and here, too. Do you think Real Madrid will be tough to beat in the ACB Playoffs? Well, we’ve beaten them every time we’ve played them this season, so they’ll be more worried about playing us than we are about playing them. In your opinion, is there a clearly different style of play in Europe compared with the NBA (faster, slower, more or less technical, etc.)? European basketball is totally, to-tally different from American basketball... To me, over here the basketball is more fundamental. You have to be smart. You can’t just be a super athlete. You have to be smart, you have to know the game. There’s a lot of guys from here that go and play in the NBA, but it’s difficult for players fromthe NBA to come and play here. Players come here from the NBA and they get cut from their team, like, low teams within a month or two. You know, they go back home, because it’s not the same. It”s a different style of play. You have to know the game in European basketball. Did you find it difficult? Not so much, because I came here straight from college. I started off my first year playing in France, in a low league. I played well and was in a team with a bunch of older players. I played with three American players and two
or them with French passports- so they’d been there for a long time. So they explained the game to me the whole year long. Your first season in Spain was playing for Gran Canaria. After that, you played for Estudiantes for two years in Madrid. What did you think of the city when you lived here? My first city in Spain was Las Palmas, but I went to Madrid and it was great. Great city and great people. The only reason I left was for a bigger team with a bigger budget and European games, you know. If I could have my cake and eat it, too, I’d be on this team but in Madrid! (laughs) I suppose life in Vitoria is pretty different to Madrid? I mean, I know the city and it’s a lot quieter... It’s very different, yeah. They’re more... they’re more serious here. Everything runs smoothly, everything is run more smoothly here. They’re kinda like... More organised than in Madrid? Yeah, almost like the military. (laughs) (laughs) How do you find the Basque Country different from other parts of Spain? They real proud. They’re like, everything they do is Basque, Basque, Basque... and I like that. I actually like that and think that’s what makes them a people, and different. Without being racist, being proud of your culture, you know. I really like that about them. And I love the food...
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Yeah, It’s fantastic! And do they make you feel welcome up there, as an American? Yeah, I never had any problems. And this is basketball, I mean the fans pretty much always make you feel welcome. Have you encountered much racism in Spain? Um... Sometimes. There’s racism everywhere. I’m from America, and to be honest with you, I think there’s more racism in America, much more racism than in Spain. And I think, I don’t encounter much racism because of my profile. I think, my opinion is, if I was just a normal black guy walkiing down the street, then, yes, I’d encounter more. But maybe because the people know I’m a basketball player, they treat me different from a normal black person. Away from the basketball court, what did you like to do here (in Madrid)? In Madrid, I did everything I can think of! It was almost like being at home, I was around a whole bunch of people- from all types of different cultures... And I did everything from going to every restaurant you can go to, to going to the zoo, and the amusement park! And if I got a night off from practice, I’d go to the disco. Not just one type of disco but all kinds. I didn’t just want to go to certain discos because they had certain people there. What was your favourite part of Madrid? What’s that place... Cuatro Caminos. I was letting my hair grow, it was long and I would go to a Dominican shop to get it braided. I’d been going there and the people opened their arms to me, you know. Not from the basketball but just as a normal person. And then I was going to the dinner with the family, and just relaxing; I started hanging a lot in that neighbourhood. I felt kinda comfortable with the Dominican people. What are the things you like most about Spain? The only thing that’s really different is the people. My favourite part is just getting into different things. Every time I go out, go places I see something different. I learned something new nearly every time I went out in Madrid, every time. In Spain and Europe, it’s just got different aspects, the way I wanna live when I go back to America. I think that things are a little different here. When I go home, I don’t see the need for people to spend all their money on rings, jewellery; people don’t do that here. You could be standing next to someone in the street that has the smallest car you saw, and they could have the most money in Spain and you would never know. Is there anything you still miss from home? Of course my friends, that’s the hardest part of this. My friends and family, I mean, that’s my culture: I have been there all my life. I understand that culture better than I understand the Spanish culture of course, that’s why, during season I do my best to bring my family here. I have people stay with me and keep me company. Do you think you will want to stay in Spain once your playing career is over? Yeah, next year I’m buying a home. Once I’m finished playing, I’ll probably do six months over here, or five months over here... Most of you basketball pros are pretty big guys. What with there being a wider selection in larger sizes, do you get team mates asking you to bring them clothes on visits back to the States? All the time! My Spanish friends often want me bring them... T-shirts and stuff in the larger sizes. You get, like, ‘orders’ for these types of shoes... and hats and clothes in the bigger sizes, yeah. I find Spanish beds are usually kind of short, length-wise, and I’m only 1.78 metres (Will is 2.07 metres tall). Have you been able to find a bed in Spain where you can stretch out? No, I gotta have a special bed! We have it in the contract that they put a special bed in the apartment. thanks, Will, and the best of luck in the Euroleague and the ACB Playoffs!
SEMIFINALS, May 2 18:00
M. Siena vs. Maccabi Elite Tau Ceramica vs. CSKA 3RD PLACE, May 4 18:00 FINAL, May 4 21:00
Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad de Madrid