April 15, 2021

Copa del Rey: Azofra and Arlauckas: "In the derbies there must be hatred and passion" | sports

Copa del Rey: Azofra and Arlauckas: "In the derbies there must be hatred and passion" | sports

Nacho Azofra (Madrid, 49 years old) grew up in Ramiro de Maeztu, played 15 of his 18 seasons as a professional in Estudiantes, and now continues working in the collegiate quarry polishing young talent. In the golden age of the club, he played a Final Four and won two King's Cups (1992 and 2000). Joe Arlauckas (Rochester, New York, 53 years old) did not win any in his 10 campaigns in Spain – five of them as Real Madrid, with a Euroleague, a League and a Cup Winners – but he was MVP with the TAU in the edition of 1993, curiously the last cup title of Madrid until the first white conquest in the Laso era, in 2012. From different perspectives, both, icons of their colors, lived dozens of derbies that recall, four days of Madrid's duel in the quarterfinals of the Cup, in a meeting with EL PAÍS next to the Palace of Sports, scene of past battles and those that will be fought from this Thursday. From the initial greeting flows the anecdote, the passion and also the pique.

Nacho Azofra The first thing I've thought about seeing you is the bastard you were on the track. You loved to provoke us, to us and to The Dementia. The march went and the sparks flew in the derbies. No need to motivate anyone. We left like motorcycles to win the vikings.

Joe Arlauckas. Dementia still remembering my mother 20 years after leaving Madrid. Poor dear. Leave her alone now, please (laughs). You had a good face, but you were not a little angel either. In the locks blind You knew how to put the elbow where it stung the most, in the ribs. That students put a lot of pressure on us. That they started winning titles was already what we lacked, we thought. He fucked us a lot. Now, it sounds ugly to say, but unless there is an overconfidence of Madrid is difficult to win on Friday.

N. A. You can always dream and the Cup is very motivating, but to beat them in the League a few weeks ago may have come badly because there will be a player from Madrid who has scored. It will be necessary to go for all, sleep a bit the game so that they do not run and force a tight end. That's what I'm asking of the Cup, that all matches are resolved at the last minute. Winning Madrid would be a blow, but when they visualize the titles, the hunger of the winner is activated.

J. A. For Madrid it is not the most important title, but it is key because it takes away a lot of pressure for the rest of the season. Winning allows you to compete better later. You already have something, just in case. They will come out on top also thinking about how they escaped last year's against Barça after many years in a row winning it.

N. A. The Madrid of these years has chemistry and that chemistry of the changing rooms is built with time and with a hard core of nationals that has been in the team for eight or 10 years. We all knew each other. If every year you change to eight of 12 you have to rebuild everything from scratch. Our bond was absolute. I have spent more time in the Ramiro de Maeztu than in my house, I made my debut with 19 years old and I grew up in a brand quarry club. That is the mark of the Students.

J. A. That's more beautiful because it's more familiar. My Madrid was pure professionalism. When I asked when we arrived for dinner, Antonio Martín took me and said, 'Here we are to win titles.' There was good chemistry, but the topic was more direct. When titles are achieved we will celebrate it, they told us. I arrived in Spain in 1988, at 23 years old. I did not know either the Caja de Ronda or the size of Madrid or Barça. But in Madrid I discovered greatness, what it means to be in a great institution. You feel something special when you wear that shirt. It is another roll, but I also love the original perspective of Students, which is similar to that of the high school or the University, play for your usual colors.

N. A. Before, the Americans came to put points, to make the technical and physical difference with respect to the Spanish. Now it's almost the other way around. When quality players leave, it is much harder to retain them so that they stay and compete in their home team. Students could do well to recover the model of the 90s and it will come back at some point, but you have to be patient because it is an economic issue and there are still problems.

Arlauckas, with Madrid in 1996
Arlauckas, with Madrid in 1996

J. A. Now foreigners do not have to be determinants. They are role players. They say that I did not defend, but if I kill myself to defend, so that my opponent did not score and then put four points, I would have been kicked out of Spain two days later. Now there are Americans who are making a lot of money with three points per game. 'Defend well', they say (laughs). I lived the passage of two to three foreigners per team and the appearance of the Bosman Law. There the scenario changed a lot and, as the quantity increased, the quality went down. Every time I talk to the American players, I say, 'You do not know how lucky you are. 90% of things are in English, in our time it was the other way around and it was hard to find out about things'. My beginnings in Malaga were an odyssey. It took me six months to have a telephone line, for example.

N. A. If around the homegrown chips to the best possible players, the kids will play better, they will develop sooner, there will be more patience, they will grow in competitiveness … That's what I lived with Pinone and Winslow first and with Vandiver and Chandler Thompson later. But there were and are very few foreigners who become charismatic and learn the language and even play mus. Now there is no margin. There are too many reconstructions each season.

J. A. After winning the European Cup in 1995 I lived one of those reconstructions. It was a title so persecuted that after winning it there was a great feeling of emptiness. In addition to Sabonis, references such as Antonio Martín and Biriukov left. The whole heart of the team was changed and we lost character and experience. The captain had to be a Spaniard who had been on the team for many years, but with so much change, there came a time when that figure did not exist. Everything was rarefied. From 97 until the arrival of Laso, only four titles were won. Many people arrived in those years: Loncar, Savic, Laso, Angulo, Bodiroga, Mikhailov, Herreros …

Azofra, with Students in 1996
Azofra, with Students in 1996

N. A. Herreros' was a bomb for the Estu, but I supported him in everything because he is my friend. Alberto wanted to leave and Estudiantes did not want him to leave, but he also needed the money because it was a delicate moment. Money was very necessary for the club. In fact, I think we did not have a sponsor and we covered that gap with the 250 million pesetas (1.5 million euros) that Madrid paid for the transfer. It was very strange to see him in white. Dementia It took its toll and it was merciless. Alberto, Alfonso, Felipe … it's the law, it's always been like that. Fuck a lot, but the only thing that mitigates it is that they pay for them. It is irremediable that they leave but that they do not leave for free. May the rich pay. Now Madrid or Barca also happens that the NBA takes players away from them as Doncic. They are living that new sensation for them, even that Sergio Rodríguez returns from the NBA and goes to CSKA. This summer, Brizuela will leave many brides. He has picked up gallons and I hope we can keep him.

J. A. In his first white derby poor Mr. Herreros did not put one. Those duels had the same category as the Madrid-Barça classics. In front there are never any friends and, in the Students, the only one who became a friend was Pinone. The rest I hated with all my strength. I was going after them to death. Dementia It was the number one fans in Spain and it motivated me a lot to play against them. Now the players are to have friendships in the rival and these things. I only dined once in my life with a rival before a game. It was with Anicet Lavodrama and I had to explain to Ramón Rivas. I told him that when Anicet was calm it was worse.

N. A. For students, derbies have always been the games of the year. We also hated all of Madrid. In the derbies there must be that hatred and that passion. There is always another twist, intensity and everything. Each basket is celebrated more. Against Madrid this is not worth saying: 'it's 40 minutes of sticks and then everything is over'. Against Madrid the pending accounts were marked in red. Losing I did not like anything. In our derbies the Palace was always full in a few years where it was almost never filled.

J. A. I preferred, without a doubt, to play a game against Estudiantes with the Palace full that with Manresa with 2,500 people in the stands. Those days you could feel the cold, you could hear the echo of the boats … the intense environments against me. The players now are stronger and faster, jump more; but I have the feeling that many do not have that mentality. Now I could play until I'm 45, charge like crazy, be more careful … even do yoga and pilates! But I would not give up what I had experienced in my years. That ACB was beautiful. Almost always they won Barça or Madrid, like now, but any team could win a match as well.

N. A. I played the final of the 1992 Cup almost with my arm in a sling. Today no one would have played in those conditions, just as nobody plays minutes. With 30 seconds of possession and our calendars that could be done because it was going a little quieter. Now the rhythms and calendars are very hard.

J. A. To me who play less is good for me not to take record records. But this looks like ice hockey with the players constantly jumping the fence from the bench. I have never looked to the bench in my life to ask for a change. When I saw Antonio Martin take off his tracksuit jacket I went to the other end of the track to play the madman. I've had fights with all my coaches because of that.

N. A. Speaking of coaches, look Pepu. Hopefully get lucky. His political adventure is a bit surprising, but he's on the move. Let's see how. We will continue much more the local politics because to see him as mayor and having one of the Estu there sending would be a bigger ball than to win Madrid in the quarterfinals. I put an 83-81 in the porra for us.

J. A. Me, a 94-75 for Madrid.

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