SAN ANTONIO (NBA/FIBA Americas Championship) - The years may be flying by for its star players, but somehow the San Antonio Spurs still remain serious contenders for the NBA title.
Currently the team with the best record in the league with 48 wins and 14 losses, the Spurs are expecting to do better than last year when they were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
Even if their 'Big Three' of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is getting older, San Antonio can always count on someone from their impressively deep roster to step up and deliver.
One such player is Brazil international Tiago Splitter.
The former Caja Laboral star has been proving over the past few months that he can be one of the most efficient centres in the league.
However, his transition from the ACB to the NBA was not as easy as expected. Arriving in the biggest league in the world with the status of a Euroleague superstar, the 2.11m big man needed two years to figure out how he best fits in the Spurs’ system.
Having gained more and more importance in San Antonio’s game, the 28-year-old - who helped Brazil to a fifth-place finish at last summer's Olympic Games in London - is seen as one of the corner stones for the Texan team's future.
FIBA.com caught up with Splitter to talk about his season and the progression of Brazilian basketball.
FIBA: How happy are you with the way the Spurs have played so far this season?
Splitter: We’ve been playing at an incredibly high level since the start. The routine between the players is more efficient now than before because we know each other better. I also think that our team is better than last year because we learned from our elimination in the Western Conference Finals. For example, our defense is more solid now. We are a serious title contender, there’s no doubt about it.
FIBA: What makes the Spurs increasingly competitive year after year?
Splitter: I think that the franchise has been building a culture of success every year. We can say that San Antonio's DNA is about winning and fighting to reach the top. From the first day I arrived, I’ve been feeling that way. Everyone is guided by the same passion and the same motivation to win titles. That’s perfect for every basketball player.
FIBA: What about you personally? This is your third season in the NBA and your best so far.
Splitter: I learned a lot in the last two years and now I just have the opportunity to play and show what I can do on the court. I feel very good this season because I’m also in very good shape and I’m confident. The staff and all my teammates trust me. I know that I can do better than that, but I’m pretty satisfied by my performances so far.
FIBA: You are one of the pillars of the Brazilian national team that came in fifth at the last Olympics. What do you think about the progression of the team in recent years?
Splitter: Brazilian basketball has been improving a lot in the last few years. We have five players in the NBA, and then some, like Marcelinho Huertas, who are playing in the best teams in Europe. We had the opportunity to play at a great level during the Olympics, and we showed everyone how good we can play basketball. There are still some things we need to work on, but we have a solid team. Our future is bright.
FIBA: Can you talk to us about the importance of performing well at this summer's FIBA Americas Championship?
Splitter: This will be a very important competition for us because we can qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. It’s going to be a tough tournament, but we’ll try to win the title after losing in the Final against Argentina in 2011. The next three years will be very important for us. We will try to keep improving as a team, thinking about the next competitions, but also having the 2016 Olympic games in mind. It’s going to be incredible and everyone is enthusiastic about playing at home.