Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Q&A w/ Carlos Morales of ESPN Deportes

(Boulder-CO) I have recently had the pleasure of interviewing Carlos Morales of ESPN Deportes. Following a distinguished career as a basketball coach in his native Puerto Rico, Carlos Morales arrived at ESPN in February 2000 to serve as a Spanish-language basketball analyst, bringing experience and insight to his role covering college and international basketball events and the NBA. He is an incredible basketball resource, and more importantly, was available for me to discuss the current Latin hoops influence, which is prevalent on the Nuggets with Eduardo Najera and Nene, and how the Latin hoops influence is capable of impacting the NBA in the future. Please enjoy our Q & A and I would also like to mention to all the Spanish speaking Nuggets fans out there that the will be able to see Carlos Morales broadcast the Nuggets games on Wednesday against the Suns and Friday against the Spurs on ESPN Deportes.

With no further delay, Carlos Morales of ESPN Deportes:

ND: The Denver Nuggets have quite possibly the most recognized Mexican-born player in the NBA, Eduardo Najera. How would you assess Najera’s career in terms of serving as an ambassador of the game for specifically Mexico, and other Latino players?

CM: Eduardo Nájera is a great ambassador, not only of his native Mexico, but of all Latin America also. He is a great example of maximizing his God given talent by working hard, playing smart, and putting the TEAM ahead of any personal agendas. He has been a favorite of his teammates and coaches wherever he has played, and he has also earned the respect of his opponents because he will always battle to the end to help his team win and won’t back down from anybody. He is a great role model for the younger generation that has aspirations of making a career in sports, because he came from a humble background and has stayed humble even after succeeding in the NBA.

ND: We all remember Spain winning a World Title back in 2006, but does it surprise you how many players from Spain are making such large waves in the NBA?

CM: The gap between American basketball and basketball in the rest of the world has been narrowing for years now. There is very good coaching in other countries and kids are being trained and taught the game properly since they start playing at an early age. That’s the reason why countries like Argentina, Spain, and Serbia have had success in winning the Gold in the Olympic Games and World Tournaments. Usually, if you have good talent to compete against the USA in international competitions, that same talent should be able to perform at a high level in the NBA. That’s the reason why I’m not surprised that Spain has so many players making it big in the NBA. Don’t be surprised if we see at least half a dozen more in the next 5 years or so. That country is loaded with talent and fundamentally sound players.

ND: The Nuggets also have one of the biggest names in the NBA from Brazil in Nene, but there are a plethora of other Brazilian players, Barbosa and Varejao in particular, that have made huge impacts for their respective, and very successful, teams. Is there a cultural component that makes each one of these players uniquely successful?

CM: The case with Brazil is a little different from what we mentioned about Spain and other countries. Brazil is also loaded with talent, but they don’t do as well in international competitions, because their coaching and training is a little below the level of other nations. They do send most of their prospects to Europe to develop, but there is also a big chunk of talent that stays home and gets under trained and under developed. Anderson, Nené and Leandrinho are only the tip of the iceberg; there is a great base of talent in Brazil (as it should be, since it is such a big country), but we don’t get to know about those other players because they don’t have the means necessary to develop and take the next big step.

ND: Talk to me about Argentina, its basketball culture, and if you can, shed some light on what makes these players (Ginobili, Delfino, Oberto, Scola, and Nocioni) so well-rounded when they come into the league?

CM: Argentina’s case is exactly the same as Spain’s; great coaching, training and competitions from the very early stages of development. They have another advantage, with a parent or grandparent who was born in Europe, most of these talented and well rounded kids sign to play professional basketball as natives of European countries (mostly Italy and Spain) when they are 15 or 16 years old. In Europe they continue their fast development playing against the best competition you can find outside of the NBA. Then there is the unique relationship that is formed when they come back to Argentina to play for their National teams. They are taught, and it becomes their mantra, that the only thing that is important is to sacrifice egos and personal accomplishments to contribute to the ultimate triumph of the TEAM. Sounds simple enough, but try explaining that to an American born and raised player. The result is what you can call the ideal player, one that plays smart, is tough, has a great winning mentality, and is willing to do whatever it takes to help his TEAM accomplish the ultimate goal, winning.
ND: What further impact do you see Latino players, and the Latino impact, having on the NBA?

CM: As the world keeps evolving, and walls keep being taken down, so will we be able to see changes in attitudes and preconceptions that have been used in the past to deny full entrance and recognition to the NBA to Latino players that used to be "labeled" just because of where they were coming from. Names like Nájera, Gasol, Calderón, Ginóbili, Scola, Barbosa, Nené, Nocioni, Oberto, Arroyo, Navarro, Varejao, etcetera, have been able to open doors and bring down some of those walls, because they have beaten the initial resistance with their talents and what they brought to the table in terms of being as good or better than most of their peers that were born and developed in the US. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the NBA of no more than 10 years. In baseball, for example, this active recruitment of Latino players for the Mayor Leagues started almost 50 years ago, and you know what has happened; Dominicans, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Cubans have taken over the American pastime. So in the case of the NBA, is a matter of time, perseverance, and a lot of patience, but the time will come when being a Latino player will be seen as an advantage, and not a small inconvenience, by the general managers and scouts that have the task of recruiting talent for their teams.

ND: The Nuggets have played exhibition games in Mexico and it seemed like they were welcomed with open arms. Do you think that Mexico is ready, or could be ready for a NBA franchise in the future? What do you see as the main obstacles? Could it work similarly to what the Toronto Raptors have accomplished in Canada?

CM: I don’t know if the financial situation in Mexico is such that they will be able to achieve the level of sponsorship, tickets sales, infrastructure and other elements that are necessary to acquire and maintain an NBA franchise. That’s for the Commissioner and his advisers to determine, in case they feel that this is an endeavor that is worth considering. As a fellow Latin American, I would love to see an NBA franchise in Mexico, but I don’t think I have the decision elements to determine if it is feasible.

I would like to thank Carlos for making himself available to interview with me, and allowing me to share our conversation with the readership of The Nugg Doctor.

Here is more background information on Carlos:

Born and raised in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Morales played basketball and was a middle-distance runner as a youth. After earning degrees in Business Administration and Physical Education, he started his coaching career in youth programs, eventually coaching at every level of the game in Puerto Rico.

Among his coaching accomplishments, Morales won two championships with the Atleticos de San German of Puerto Rico’s Superior League and was with the Puerto Rican National Team for 10 years, three as an assistant and seven as head coach. During these years, Morales participated in two Olympic Games, three World Championships and three Goodwill Games, leading the National Team to five Gold medals and seven Silver medals in international competition.

In addition to his work in Puerto Rico, Morales has coached professional basketball in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and has conducted clinics and seminars in the United States, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Argentina, Uruguay, the United Arab Emirates, and in his native country. Although devoted to broadcasting, Morales stays close to the game as a volunteer coach for the Amateur Athletic Union and the Youth Basketball Organization of America and is also a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the World Association of Basketball Coaches. Morales is based in Orlando, Florida.

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