Interview with FC Barcelona's Pete Mickeal on Ricky Rubio, Fran Vazquez, More
We really weren’t expecting that The Painted Area would become so Euroleague/FC Barcelona-centric all at once here at midseason, but it’s just kind of worked out that way. Jay Aych started with a Euroleague Top 16 preview, and I added an updated scouting report on Ricky Rubio. Now, we have the third piece of our impromptu trilogy, an interview with Pete Mickeal, a 6-6 American forward who is a key piece for Regal FC Barcelona, a team loaded with talent which has a 30-3 record overall in the Euroleague and the Spanish ACB. Barca had been undefeated in Euroleague play prior to a 67-66 road defeat at Partizan Belgrade last week.
Coming up on Thursday, FC Barcelona has a huge Euroleague game against Panathinaikos, the defending Euroleague champions, with the loser potentially facing an uphill battle to qualify for the Quarterfinal Playoffs. (Timberwolves fans will have the opportunity to catch two of their well-regarded draftees – Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic - in one fell swoop in this game.)
The Barca-PAO game can be seen live online on ESPN360 at 2:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, and can also be seen on Sat., Feb. 20 at 1 p.m. ET on NBA TV. (ESPN360 will also be showing Josh Childress, Linas Kleiza and Olympiacos vs. KK Cibona live on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.)
Pete Mickeal is probably best known to American basketball fans for his play as an Honorable Mention All-American with the Cincinnati Bearcats in 1999-2000. He was drafted by Dallas with the last pick of the 2000 NBA Draft, and spent a year on the injured list as a member of the Knicks.
From there, Mickeal won the ABA MVP with Kansas City in 2002, and then bounced all over the world, playing in the Philippines, Greece, Russia and South Korea, before establishing himself as a top player in Spain with TAU Ceramica (now called Caja Laboral), one of the best pro teams outside the NBA, in 2007-08. Mickeal won the Spanish ACB Finals MVP award in 2008, and also helped the club reach the Euroleague Final Four. This season, he joined the juggernaut at Regal FC Barcelona, and in December, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express wrote: “At the tender age of 31, Pete Mickeal may be having the best year of his career, as he finally appears to have broken into the elite category of American players in Europe.”
Mickeal was an engaging interview as he spoke with The Painted Area about his team and career, as well as teammates Ricky Rubio and Fran Vazquez, via phone from Barcelona on Friday. (You can also read more from Pete Mickeal in his blog on HoopsHype.)
Let’s start by asking you to make the case why American fans should be interested in watching FC Barcelona?
That’s funny (laughs). Well, aside from having the young phenom, the 19-year-old phenom Rock Star Ricky Rubio, besides having him, the fifth pick in the NBA draft, we’ve got a great team. We’re a great screen-and-roll team – a lot of options with the weakside three-pointer or the alley-oop.
We’ve got Juan Carlos Navarro, who was in the NBA a couple years ago with Memphis. We’ve got Fran Vazquez, who was drafted by Orlando. Me, who was drafted by Dallas, traded to New York. We’ve got a lot of players with a lot of experience – NBA experience, and also international experience – a lot of championships have been won between us players.
We play exciting basketball, we play an uptempo style. We don’t play a walk-the-ball-up-the-floor style. There’s a lot of flashy passes, a lot of three-pointers, a lot of slam dunks. A lot of fast-break points – I think it’s a joy to watch our team. I enjoy watching my teammates sometimes.
For you personally, it’s been a long road to get where you are now, as an established key player on a top European team. Now you have some of the most efficient stats in Europe, and you’re moving up the Draft Express list of overseas free agents at age 31 – they called you “the Paul Pierce of European basketball.”
So we’re wondering if you still have NBA aspirations, or if you’re more comfortable in Europe, where your market value may be higher at this point?
Well, I get asked this question a lot, I’ve kind of learned how to answer this question. There’s no aspirations for Europe, there’s no aspirations for NBA. What it is, is every year finding the best possible situation for myself. We’re not only talking about money, we’re talking about living conditions, we’re talking about a chance to win championships, we’re talking about a chance to re-sign for more years. Those are the keys for me.
It’s not only about if somebody in the NBA offers me a contract. First of all, it would have to be enough to at least be the same as my contract here, because of the taxes being so high in the States. You get 45% taxes and another 10% for your retirement fund and that’s 55% of your money already gone. And you get paid in dollars. So those are different things on the business side that I understand. The fact that you have to pay your agent in the States, you have to pay so much in taxes, and it’s a different style of living.
For me, I’m very comfortable here in Europe, and I’m also comfortable living in the States playing in the NBA. It’s two great markets. Anybody would be blessed to be in the situation to have both sides wanting you. So that’s the way I look at it – as a blessing more than anything. I don’t really look at it as do I want to be in the NBA or do I want to be in Europe. Every year I’m searching for the best possible situation, and this year I found a great situation here at FC Barcelona.
You mentioned the young phenom Ricky Rubio. Give us a scouting report from an NBA perspective, since we all expect him to make that jump at some point. How would you assess his potential as an NBA player?
The sky’s the limit because I’ve already seen him grow. I’ve been with him now about four months, and I’ve already seen him grow, especially in controlling a team.
And as flashy as he is with his moves, his ballhandling skills or his unbelievable passes, he’s sometimes as good on defense as he is on offense. That’s his skill that might go unknown in the NBA world, but here in Europe they can already appreciate that. I don’t know if he still leads the league in steals, but this guy plays unbelievable defense on the point guard and he rebounds the ball and he’s improved his three-point shooting.
He has so much more confidence in his three-point shooting, and we all know he can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. I mean, you’ve got a guy who can do everything. His confidence is so high, this is the reason he’s so good. It doesn’t matter if he misses a shot or if he makes an unbelievable pass and doesn’t complete it perfectly, he’s still going to go back the next play and continue to play.
For being 19, he’s well beyond his years. For me, his mind is the same type of mind as Steve Nash for passing and having the mindframe to control the game. We’re not talking about having the exact same skill level, we’re talking about having the mind to control the game, in any situation.
He’s 19 years old, but believe me, nobody in this locker room looks at him as 19. We look at him as Ricky, that’s it. He’s proven himself. I’m the only one who jokes with him and calls him “Young Fella” (laughs), but that’s it. He’s proven himself. He goes to work every day, he comes in early to shoot. What I’ve learned for him is that his work ethic is second to none – this is what’s going to get him to the top.
What do you think might be the toughest part of his transition to NBA, eventually?
With two years here playing on the best team in Europe, playing against good competition against other great point guards, I think it’s going to be an easy transition for him because the game in the NBA is so wide-open – it’s played perfect for him.
Up and down, he can run all day. He can play screen-and-roll all day, he can play transition – in the NBA, you’ve got a lot more of a transition game than in Europe. Guys go up-and-down a lot more, shoot the ball faster.
Here, teams run more sets. It’s very rare that we go up the court and shoot a shot early in the shot clock. We run our plays through. We take shots on fast breaks when we have the opportunity but mostly we run our plays.
Now, our team’s got transition and the half-court, too, so that’s why we put a lot of points on the board. And we also boast the best defense in the Euroleague, and Ricky is the leader of that defense. He’s the guy who has the stop the point guard.
On your blog on HoopsHype, you mentioned that you call him “Rock Star”. What’s the craziest scene of fans interacting with Ricky Rubio that you’ve seen in Spain?
Well, he’s got the long, bushy hair and he wears his shorts down… down low (laughs) – and the Rock Star thing came in our first game of the year. We played a team in Galicia, a northern part of Spain, and I saw two girls actually… I mean… I mean… whoa… I don’t know if they passed out, but it was very close to that. I mean, it was unbelievable. I just couldn’t believe it.
There were people when we opened the door to come out of our hotel room, and they were already there on the floor. We couldn’t even go to the elevator because they were waiting to see him. And I’ve seen girls... this girl’s face was so red, and she broke down, on the ground. On the ground! Like, two of them – they broke down on the ground. It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that in basketball.
So, he’s like the Beatles or the Jonas Brothers?
He’s like a Jonas Brother, that’s right.
Fran Vazquez is a guy who really stands out when watching FC Barcelona. The stereotype around European bigs is that they’re slow and plodding, but Vazquez is very active, and has length and agility more like an NBA big. We know about the Orlando situation, where he was drafted 11th in 2005 and then chose not to come over.
Do you ever get a sense from talking to him about whether he’s content to stay in Spain, or if he ever might still be interested in coming over to the NBA at some point in the future?
I speak to Fran every day, he has the next locker to me, so I probably have more communication with him than most of the other guys. The thing about the Orlando situation is that he’s never commented on it. He has never said one word about it, and with me, if a guy doesn’t say anything about it, I’m not going to force him to talk about it (laughs). He hasn’t said one word about it, ever.
Fran is the type of guy who goes about his business. He does his job, he’s a very humble guy, and he leads by example. He’s not a big talker. He’s one of those blue-collar guys. He goes to work, he’s gonna play defense, he’s gonna block shots. He’s gonna dunk everything close to the basket. It doesn’t matter where, he’s dunking it.
I’ll tell you what: Orlando could use a guy like Fran Vazquez. With the screen-and-roll, the guy can shoot jump shots at the top of the key very, very well, and he also can roll to the basket and finish. He has a great combination of skills that are very rare for European big guys. He loves the top-of-the-key jump shot, that’s his favorite shot. And he also loves to roll to the basket for the alley-oop and you can throw the ball anywhere close to the basket, and 9 times out of 10, he’s gonna finish it.
Last thing… your team has been very impressive, and you have lots of guys with NBA experience or who are NBA prospects. So the big question is: how many games would your team win in the NBA?
Well, it depends on different situations. On October 2nd, the Lakers come here to play us – well, we’ve already been in training camp since about August 23rd. So, we’re already a month-and-a-half ahead. We’re in shape ready to play our first regular-season game, and the Lakers have to come here and play us when they’re fresh off of vacation in the Bahamas or wherever, and they only have a few days to prepare for us. That game might be a little different because we’ll be ready to go.
Now, you talk about February and the All-Star break, and our team being at the peak right now, and the NBA teams also being at a high level, then you have to see.
I like to get into debates a lot, but when it comes to Europe and NBA, it’s two different games, two different rules… It would also depend on the rules we play. If we play by FIBA rules, as you’ve seen in the recent Olympics and the World games, the USA struggles a lot when they play FIBA rules, there’s no doubt. Now, if we played NBA rules, I’m sure USA would always dominate.
You’ve seen Argentina years ago, with Ginobili, Scola, and these guys – they beat these guys in the World games in Indianapolis and the 2004 Olympics under FIBA rules. In 2008, the USA avenged themselves and they won, of course, but they didn’t do it easy (laughs). It was a difficult game against Spain – it came down to one or two possessions.
So, it depends on the rules we play. If we play FIBA rules, it’s going to be a very, very, very difficult game for NBA players to play. We all know that, we watched that – the World games and Olympics are evidence. There’s no doubt about it. We play NBA rules, maybe us guys in Europe have a harder time. It all depends on the rules we play.
Thanks for your time today, and best of luck to you and your team.
I appreciate it, thanks a lot.
Again, you can read more from Pete Mickeal in his blog on HoopsHype.