Pierre Oriola (Tarrega, 26 years, 2.06) is an athlete who had to go through many adversities before leaving behind the anonymity of the LEB (Spanish 2nd division), where he played with Manresa, Forca Lleida and Penas Huesca.
However, in these last four years, his career has gained momentum. It was the Sevilla team of Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez that opened for him the door to the ACB in 2014. With Pedro Martinez’s Valencia, he conquered the Spanish League and got an invitation to the country’s NT. When FC Barcelona came in with a four-year contract and the one-million-euro clause already paid for, Oriola had to prove that he could become a key piece in coaches Sito Alonso’s and Svetislav Pesic’s picture.
No matter if Barca wins or loses, the Spanish forward is constantly the toughest player on his team and also the one that is willing to give everything on the floor just for the sake of the blaugrana (blue and red) jersey. TalkBasket.net met him after the Catalans had crushed Olympiacos Piraeus at the Peace and Friendship Stadium (55-76), in a conversation about basketball, leadership, Euroleague legends and, of course, players who enjoy the privilege to play for their favourite team!
Tip: Don’t miss the second part of the interview with Pierre Oriola, where he talks about his other “love”, apart from Barca.
Q: What made the difference for Barca tonight?
A: The high level of aggressiveness that we had since the beginning and until the end of the game. We have been more aggressive in the passing lines, in defense and that has made Olympiacos not feel comfortable. It is a team that runs very well in fastbreak situations and plays a lot in transition. We didn’t let them do that and they did not manage to find their game. We were able to contain them every time they attempted to get closer.
Q: It seemed that you learned your lesson from the game against them in Barcelona, especially in the rebounding department.
A: Above all, we learned that we must avoid the easy baskets that they make in fast-break. Spanoulis’s open triples have not been so successful. Let’s not forget that in the beginning of the second quarter he clearly dominated the game and he was the main reason that our lead was cut down. I think that we did well on rebounds, predominantly the offensive ones. That was the key to Olympiacos winning the first game in Barcelona.
Q: Last year FC Barcelona got an easy win against the same opponent at the Peace and Friendship Stadium. It seems that this particular gym suits your team.
A: It is not easy, since Olympiacos is a very talented, experienced team that has played in many Final Fours, having won two of them. Especially in their home-court, where there are so many people, it is very difficult to beat them. If you start the game well and you are able to take away their fast-breaks, their aggressiveness and their game in transition, it becomes much easier to win.
Q: Do you think you have a better group of players this season than last year?
A: Yes, especially the important thing is that we have maintained a core of players from last year, with the same coach and the same philosophy. We have added players with experience in Euroleague such as Pangos and Singleton, young people like Pustovyi who help a lot when they are on the court; Kyle Kuric also as a new reinforcement, although he’s not having his best time because he doesn’t score so much. The group is very good because we have kept many players from last year.
Q: To what extent does this win change Barca’s goals?
A: At the moment, we want to qualify to the play-offs and get as high as possible. After this victory we surpassed Olympiacos in the standings. You have to be optimistic: we must take the third position that Efes now has and then try to beat them, too. Every time you win games like that, you feel closer to reaching your goals. I believe that the fourth or fifth place can give you the privilege of not playing against the three teams that are ahead in the standings (Fener, Real Madrid, CSKA) throughout the whole season. They are a priori the favourites to be in the Final Four and also the most experienced of teams. Because of that, we have to try to get the fourth position if we can and if not, keep the fifth one.
Q: You signed a four-year contract with Barca in 2017. That’s a long time, at least for European standards. How do you envision your future with the team?
Α: I’m happy. I had always dreamed of playing for Barca since I was little and now I have fullfiled my dream. The truth is that I am super-happy to be in a club that respects me a lot. I am very fond of Barca, but there were many times that I also suffered watching the team both in football and basketball. I remember, for instance, the triple of Printezis that left Barca out of the Final Four (in 2015).
Q: I guess you know that Printezis is a die-hard Olympiacos fan.
A: Well, very much so. He has spent his entire life here. In the end, it’s his club. He loves it and, apart from that, he is a great player and whom I really admire very much.
Q: How is it for you and Ante Tomic to take the reins of the team from Juan Carlos Navarro? How is the team without him?
A: I think nobody can take the reins from Juanki because, in the end, Juan Carlos is a unique player, a legend. It is impossible to take the reins from him or become what he has been. That said, the team is totally new without him. We are a team without a brilliant player or a star. Well, we had to reinvent ourselves to build a good group without Navarro.
Q: Do you think Spanoulis could surpass him as the best scorer in the history of Euroleague?
A: I don’t know how many more years Spanoulis is going to play, but obviously it could happen. Spanoulis is also a great player, a legend of the Euroleague and of European basketball in general and if he keeps performing at this level for many years, why not?
Q: Is Pau Gasol going to join the Spanish National Team in the upcoming World Cup?
A: I hope so. I wish he would. It would be for the good of Spain if he could play and help the National Team to try -why not?- to win the World Cup.
Q: Have you talked to him?
A: No, I know he was injured some time ago. I guess that Navarro is going to do that (laughs).