After a slow start to the season, Sharks’ head coach was kind enough to give some time before the Foshan game to discuss the early stages of the 2012/13 CBA season, the impact of foreigners in Chinese basketball and how DJ White and Gilbert Arenas are settling in at the Yuanshen.
Andrew Crawford: Looking back to last season, the Sharks had a similar record, give or take a couple of losses and still made the playoffs. With regards to this season, do you feel people forgot that or that maybe expectations have been too high?
Daniel Panaggio: No. I think it’s a pretty simple analysis. Last year, our foreign players [Mike Harris and Ryan Forehan-Kelly then later on, Marcus Landry] were performing at a higher level. This year, we’ve played most of it with one foreign player [after] Gilbert [Arenas] got hurt six minutes into the season and missed eight games.
AC: So the criteria for assessment is different?
DP: You need to look at the reasons. If you look at the road win [against Xinjiang], we got, we had one foreigner, they had none- and that was a tough team but they had no foreigners [meaning that the Sharks had a substantial tactical advantage]. If you look at the Guangdong [Tigers] game, we were ahead in the first quarter. They didn’t play their foreigners in the first quarter [meaning Guangdong could play both their Americans for all of the remaining quarters as per CBA rules thus enjoying a huge advantage]. Foreigners tip the balance in this league- and we basically played with one [for most of the early part of the season].
AC: Do the players still think they can recover from the slow start to the season?
DP: We do, and there’s a silver lining on this [the Arenas injury]; it’s put the onus on our Chinese guys to step up and to perform- and in the last game [against Fujian], we were carried by Liu Wei, Max [Zhang Zhaoxu] and Geoffrey [Liu Ziqiu].
AC: You talked last season about wanting the Chinese players to take ownership of this team. Do you think this is happening now?
DP: I think Liu Wei knows, I think Geoffrey is stepping up and I think Max is playing some really good games recently so yes, it’s their team.
AC: Max is someone I wanted to talk about. He had a slowish start to the season but he had a fantastic game against Fujian. Do you think it was the presence of Wang Zhelin, a guy who many people see as a big rival for that center spot in the Chinese national team that got him pumped for that game?
DP: Well, I think Max played well even before that [Fujian’s visit] but I know this, I know I didn’t have to give him a motivational speech for that game.
AC: Liu Wei has been in fantastic form of late. What is making him come out with such fire?
DP: I don’t know what it is other than he feels that at this point, his future lies with the Sharks. He’s probably at the age where you’re probably thinking about the next Olympic games four years down the road and I don’t know if he sees himself there- he probably doesn’t, so he’s come out pretty focused and playing at a very high level.
AC: With the Arenas signing, DJ White has gone under the radar since he got here. How much of an impact do you think he’s made?
DP: He’s had a huge impact as all foreign players do. This is DJ’s first trip overseas and I think it’s a great learning experience for him and he’s picking up as he goes along and he’s getting better all the time.
AC: What sort of adjustments do you think he’s had to make since coming to the CBA from America?
DP: [In the NBA], DJ was playing a very limited role so when he came into a game he was just trying to do a couple of things. He didn’t have to carry the team, whereas when you come to China, it’s all sitting on your shoulders. That’s a huge responsibility in terms of concentration, in terms of preparation, in terms of energy; all of these things, and if the team isn’t doing well, fingers are going to be pointed in your direction.
AC: He’s clearly revelled in being ‘the Man’ and getting big time minutes. Do you think this is going to raise his ambition for the future and to maybe go back to the NBA?
DP: Exactly, that is exactly what it is. He knows that not only is this is a learning experience and a chance to grow but it’s also a great benefit to him because if he can master this situation, it is going to lead to a very profitable career
AC: We should also talk about Gilbert Arenas. Even though he’s been on the sidelines until the last couple of games, what has he brought to the team?
DP: He’s helped our younger guys understand what’s going on in the court and share his experiences with them so it has been very positive. Now he’s been able to play a couple of games for us [and] even though its been fairly limited minutes and he’s not at full strength, he’s helped us by making great passes, talking to guys out on the floor and being a calming influence.
AC: Do you think that’s been missed due to the obsession with how many points he’s scoring and what he does without the ball gets missed?
DP: Well firstly, I think he will score more once he feels a little more comfortable and gets in a little bit better health but I think it probably has been missed. I mean, if you look at his rebound numbers, and his assist numbers- in his first game [against Guangdong] he had seven rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers so that’s a big help for us.