We could take two different pictures, to capture the right image of Sito Alonso. The first one was taken last September in the neighbourhood of Barcelona, where he attended a friendly game between Unicaja Malaga and Red Star Belgrade, and a hundred young kids surrounded him asking for photos and autographs, dreaming to have the possibility to work with him like “Ricky and Rudy” to become future superstars, and he answered with smiles and words of encouragement for each one them, because in basketball as in life everything starts with a dream… The second one is represented by this interview, sitting not in front of a cup of coffee but of our laptops, at one thousand kilometers of distance: but he shows the ability to talk, answer, explain, make the meaning of his sentences come to you in the same way he always used to do when talking to the players. This is Sito Alonso. He could be the perfect definition of the modern coach: he lives in the present, he is naturally projected to the future, but at the same time he recognizes the value of tradition coming from the past. Perhaps because, at 35, Sito Alonso is a very young basketball coach but with… 25 years of coaching experience behind him.
“It’s true, I started coaching at 11. My father was the GM in an important Spanish club. He needed a coach for the youth team, and instead of searching for someone from outside, he decided to give that responsibility to me: I always attended games and practices with him, I was always ready to help or to be the referee. He preferred to have his son in that role, because he thought I was ready enough to do it”.
To be a basketball coach was something natural in your life and a mental attitude, but at the same time you were also a basketball player. How did you choose your way?
“I played basketball since I was a child, and I wanted to become a basketball player in the ACB League. I was making all the steps in Zaragoza, but when I was 18 I had to stop for one year because of an injury. When I restarted, I understood I couldn’t play the same anymore; I was not so fast as before. I realized I couldn’t become a player at ACB level, so I decided to move on to coaching… I have been coaching for all my life”.
The decision was made, the path was chosen and ready to be taken.
“The club of Huesca thought that I had what it takes to be an assistant coach, and two years later I became the head coach. I was 22 and we played in EBA, the second Spanish league. That was the beginning of everything”.
Looking back, which are the “events” or “key points” that defined your career?
“I have been very lucky, I have to say that. My father was a basketball coach, so he gave me great support and advice from the very beginning to become a better player and a better coach, teaching me to be the person in charge of what I had to do. Later on in my career I came across many important people who influenced me, and I always thought it was important to try and learn something new every day. I spent 4 years with Aíto Garcia Reneses, working hard and producing important results together, but in general I tried to take on positive things from many coaches, never copying them but always trying to develop what I learnt and innovate”.
So this is how you created your basketball philosophy. Or did you simply take it day by day…
“My philosophy is easy. I always like to help players and teams to be and give their best, understanding and developing their characteristics and potential. I want them to be free to play, but at the same time I ask them to work hard every day to improve their game. Technically, I like to teach my teams to take advantage from the spacing, between the arc of three points to the basket. I like them to attack the opponents starting from the defense. Basketball is something more of a philosophy for me, it’s true: for many years I have been involved and I wish to be for many more, basketball is surely my life and represents most of the things I need to be happy”.
You worked with many young players who then became the professional players at the highest level, what do you think you got back from this?
“I don’t want to say that I am the person responsible for making them become such good players, but I helped them achieve their success. And watching them play at the highest level in the NBA or in the ACB gives me a great feeling. I think of Rudy, Ricky, Tomas, Ribas, Norel, Eyenga, Jelinek, Franch...”.
And what about working together with Aíto Garcia Reneses for so many years? Was it a valuable experience that will follow you throughout your entire career?
“Yes, it’s true. Aíto is one of the most important coaches of European basketball history and present. He has been able to maintain such a great level over so many years. He is a special one. He knows how to listen to the players and assistant coaches, how to involve them in the best way. When he decided to leave Badalona, it was a very difficult moment: I tried to talk with him, I tried to convince him to continue our work there together, but it wasn’t possible. He knew that the club didn’t have the financial basis to make the next big step. Then he asked me if I wanted to go with him, but he told me I was the only coach who could help him keep our philosophy progressing there. It was a difficult decision for me: in our last season, we won the Copa del Rey and the Uleb Cup, and only we knew how tough the situation was…”
But he told you that you were the “unique” coach who will bring your philosophy on and that was your decision...
“Yes, and my first year as head coach in Badalona was wonderful. I was 32, and we finished at the 5th place in ACB, even without Ricky for the first 4 months of the season. We set up a 22-10 record, one of the best in the last 15 years of the club. I also liked the Euroleague experience, even if we were not lucky. We had to win the crucial game against Alba Berlin, but we missed a number of important players because of injuries. Anyway, I took Euroleague on as a new experience to learn from, as you always do when you play in the best competition for the first time. I experienced many great moments, the best one was our game in Slovenia. We went there with a very young team, I started the game with 17 year old Franch, and he was still on the court when we finished the game, together with Ribas, Tomas, Eyenga and Norel. We won the game, but most of all we got a very good result”.
In your opinion, what happened in the second year?
“Our bet was very tough, we wanted to go on with those young players: we had Franch, Jelinek, Eyenga – as we did Americans – Tomas and Norel in the same roster, we didn’t have enough experience in the team. Anyway in the first round we got an incredible result, 5th place with 11-6, but then we started the second round without three players for a month, and we lost 6 games. I could have asked the club to sign a more experienced player, but I decided to go on with the young players we had: it was our bet, we knew since the beginning that we were called to try to be competitive with a very young roster. After those 6 games, we were still in the 7th place, and Tripkovic was close to coming back. But the club couldn’t take the pressure… it’s a coaches life”.
What about your feelings for Badalona?
“I absolutely kept a good relationship with them. I worked there for 7 years, we knew each other perfectly: we ran a project together, insisting on young players. For example, while I was still assistant coach, we missed Elmer Bennett for a month because of an injury, and we signed Andre Turner for a month. My first year as head coach, we missed Ricky Rubio for 4 months, and we signed Josep Franch, class 1991. That was our project, the first year we did good, the second not as good, because we missed three players at the same time and maybe I should have insisted on signing a more experienced player to help the team in such a difficult league as ACB was. But I worked with those young guys for 5 years and I really appreciated it”.
What have you been doing after leaving Badalona last March?
“I tried to focus on what would be the best for me, and I tried to keep learning more things. I went to Athens to meet the head coaches of Maroussi and Panellinios and attend their practices, and I watched all the ACB games, analyzing every detail, to be ready to come back in any moment. But I want to be clear: I am a basketball coach; I am not just an ACB coach. I like the challenges, and I don’t mind if I’m coaching in Spain or in another country. At the same time, I recognize that one of my best characteristics is working with young players, because they need to work longer than others and each one on a special program, and I know how to do it, because I love to understand where and how each one has to improve, but I am a basketball coach for any kind of team, young or very experienced ones. You always have to adapt yourself to the team you coach, and that’s what I am able to do”.
Why did you decide to join Zoran Savic’s INVICTUS Sports Group?
“I thought I needed a change in my career, and I wanted to find the right person to motivate me in the best way. This person is Zoran Savic: he has the kind of character I need, he insists greatly on motivation as I do, and he likes innovation in the same way. Listening to a person with such a high level of experience as a player and GM is something I really appreciate, and I think everything came in the right moment”.
You seem to be a very “modern” coach: how do you see the future of basketball?
“I would like to see innovation in many of different aspects of basketball… Like the possibility to run longer projects based on young players without financial conditioning, but also innovation in the game, both in offense and defense, and a new way of collaborating between coaches and referees. I would also like to see players working more during the summer period, to improve and develop themselves. And, as the basis of everything, I would like to see people being able to talk with sincerity in basketball”.
That is Sito Alonso. Modern yet respectful of tradition and of people he met along his path. In the end, this is the most important characteristic in order to be able to innovate, improve and create, for himself and for everyone around him, in the real “social network” of basketball which he is a part of.