50 Years interview: Ferran Martinez, Joventut50 Years interview: Ferran Martinez, Joventut
Even if it was the favorite to take the title in 1992, Joventut of Spain fell victim of a precious last-second triple by Sasha Djordjevic of Partizan and could not claim the European crown. Two years later, Penya was back into the Tel Aviv Final Four, this time with the label of underdogs. First, it defeated FC Barcelona thanks to a rain of triples against a permissive zone defense and in the final it faced the mighty Olympiacos, who was the clear favorite to lift the trophy. However, a young Zeljko Obradovic, in his first year away from the Partizan that had stolen the title from Joventut two years earlier, led Penya to its first and only European crown. One of the main pieces in that team was center Ferran Martinez, who had a successful career full of titles with Barcelona and Joventut, but was lacking the top trophy. “I had not won the Euroleague with Joventut, that would be the only one missing, because I had won the Saporta and Korac Cups with Barcelona” Martinez said in an interview with Euroleague.net. “It was the best basketball moment in our lives. The best post-game celebration came when we made it to Badalona, there was a lot of people everywhere. Everything was wonderful.”
Hello, Ferran. Take us back to the 1994 season. What is the single memory that jumps out of your mind most when you think about season?
“We had a great regular season. Most of us had already played the 1992 Euroleague final, in which Sasha Djordjevic made the game-winning three-pointer for Partizan in the title game in Istanbul. We were very motivated before the 1994 final, even when we were the underdogs and Olympiakos was the favourite. We had a great coach like Zeljko Obradovic, who had changed the game style we had with Lolo Sainz. We were playing tougher, focusing on defense and keeping control of our games. We underwent many changes that season, but we felt strong before the Final Four. Psychologically speaking, we were a tough team and believed we could beat anyone. We played against Barcelona in the semifinal and even when we didn’t start well, managed to rally and get an easy win. Then we beat Olympiakos in the final even when they were the favourites due to their potential.”
Corny Thompson hit the game-winning triple, Joventut opted to foul on Paspalj, who missed a decisive free throw. The urban legend says that Jordi Villacampa spoke to him before the shots. Olympiakos took many shots in the closing seconds but Joventut escaped with the title. What do you remember about that and the celebration?
“It was a very intense game, very tough, with great defense. The game went down to the wire and we had many consecutive possessions in the final minutes because we picked up many offensive rebounds. We missed shots, but managed to get the ball now. We had good ball circulation and Corny found space for an open triple that made us jump with joy. Like you said, we opted to foul on Paspalj. Yes, it is possible that Villacampa said something because the phychological factor was important. One way or another, we were into the game and Paspalj had played a very good frist half but was also exhausted in the final minutes. He was missing each and every shot due to our good defense. He missed the free throw and there were a series of offensive rebounds, nobody had possession and we already knew that time had expired, but the clock stayed stopped. It was a total chaos, even people sitting on our bench entered the floor thinking that the game was over. Those were intense seconds that were too long for everyone, because nobody knew what was happening. When we finally knew that the game was over, everyone was very happy, a dream coming true for everyone. The best basketball moment in our lives. The best post-game celebration came when we made it to Badalona, there was a lot of people everywhere. There were people all over the place on our way from Barcelona to Badalona and when we made it to the Olympic Stadium, the whole place was packed. Everything was wonderful.”
On the way to the 1994 title, was there any talk among the players about the 1992 loss by one shot in the final, or was the subject taboo?
“Well, we didn’t talk too much about that game. It is also true, however, that as a team we were a group since the early 1990s. I had already played a Final Four with Barcelona in 1990 but I joined Joventut soon after that with players like Corny Thompson, Harold Pressley or Mike Smith. We all knew each other in the team very well. There was a great atmosphere in that team. We learned a lot from the final we lost in 1992 that I think that the experience helped us in 1994. We had already won two Spanish League titles and were used to handle the pressure of a huge game like the Euroleague final.”
You didn’t play much in the 1992 Final Four, but two years later, were the top scorer on the champions. How did the change in your role come about?
“Well, that’s not exactly true, because I was injured in 1992. I used to play more than 30 minutes a game in 1990, but I had a severe foot injury and that is why I missed the 1992 Euroleague final and also the Olympic Games that year. I was beginning to practice when the 1992 Final Four took place and once I was recovered in 1993 and 1994, I played fulltime again. I underwent surgery three times but I was back on court, playing a lot of minutes with Obradovic, but also before with Lolo. Games like the 1994 Euroleague final that change a career and that’s what happened not only to me, but all the players in that roster. We were the Euroleague champions, you feel like a chosen player and that changed our careers for the best. It was a collective success and a great memory, too.”
Athough he had already won, obviously against Joventut in 1992, that was Zeljko Obradovic’s first year out of Belgrade and he was far from becoming winningest European coach ever. Was his eventual greatness easy to see early that season Joventut?
“I think so, yes. When he came to Badalona, Obradovic signed to completely change our playing style. Joventut had won back-to-back Spanish Leagues with Lolo, who also did a great job, and Obradovic modified our style. He was a young coach but quickly showed that he was a winner. He had the winning mentality of all former Yugoslav coaches. He learned the job from coaches like Bozidar Maljkovic, who had led Jugoplastika to two Euroleague titles. He is one of those coaches that write their own history in European basketball. He keeps winning titles because is a great coach in a team like Panathinaikos. I played for Panathinaikos and they always have a great roster, as well as putting a lot of trust on him. He knows how to get the best out of each player. This is what he is doing in Panathinaikos now, and also what he used to do in Joventut.”
Facing Barcelona in the semifinals was strange for some of you? Or normal since you played each other frequently in the Spanish League?
“It was a special game, especially for me, as I had played for Barcelona for the best part of my career. I had lost the 1990 Euroleague final against Jugoplastika but I also won many titles, including several Spanish Leagues, one of them against Joventut. Of course, I wanted to win the game but the entire team was very motivated because we faced our archrivals in the best scenario possible. We didn’t play well in the first half but everything changed after the break due to our three-point accuracy. Barcelona tried a zone defense in the entire second half and we managed to succeed against it to get back in the game. We were a tough team to beat and we all thought that the game wasn’t over until the final buzzer. That was the message that Obradovic gave us all the time. We always had to play with as much concentration as possible.”
You were on the side of title-game frustration so many times before and after with both Barcelona and Joventut. Did 1994 make your career complete in a sense, where it might have been incompete without a European title?
“Of course, no question about it, because I have every European title I could have won. If I had not won the Euroleague with Joventut, that would be the only one missing, because I had won the Saporta and Korac Cups with Barcelona, as well as league and cup titles and even the Intercontinental Cup… The Euroleague title was missing and I truly think I could have won it with Barcelona, because we had a great team when we faced Jugoplastika in 1990. We could have won that game, but we didn’t. I also lost the 1992 Euroleague final with Joventut and I also thought we would win that one, but it was in 1994 when I finally lifted the trophy. I also thought I would win the Euroleague title in 1996, when Stojan Vrankovic had that block on Jose Montero… But that’s life and I am happy with the career I had. Not only it was the biggest title of my career, but also the success of a generation of players like the Jofresa brothers, Villacampa, Smith, Thompson or myself, who were also a group of friends that reached as high as possible.”
What does it mean to a basketball-only club like Joventut, and its fans, to be on the short list of continental winners, even just once?
“It means getting to the top as a club, as well as a collective success for the entire city of Badalona, not only for Joventut. Badalona means basketball and the entire city experiences this sport in a very special way. It is the basketball capital of Spain. You walk around the city and see kids bouncing basketballs and a lot of schools. Young players had us as their reference and that Euroleague title helped to make basketball even bigger in the city. Joventut is back as an elite team in Europe and those who saw us win the title bring their children to the arena now. It was way more than winning a title, as the entire city was proud of that.”