When Luis Scola first signed with the Raptors, he was expected to be a role player and veteran mentor – a short-term fix in a glaring hole the Raptors had to fill after Amir Johnson’s departure to Boston over the Summer. What they ended up signing, was a starting stretch-four who could hit the three at a respectable rate en route to the Raptors’ hugely successful season up to this point.
Scola has turned out be a bargain for what he’s bringing to the table. Above all, his character fits right in with the professionalism the Raptors are trying to instill.
Yesterday, I had the chance to chat with Luis in what was a really fun and insightful conversation. We talked about his role with Argentina’s dream team at the turn of century, his development as a three-point shooter, Jonas’ pump-fake, and had the chance to end with a brief anecdote from his Houston days – among other things.
Kiyan: This is a period of rare downtime. How are you enjoying the break, and did you take in the all-star festivities?
Luis: Well, you know, we have the kids in school, so we didn’t have the chance to do a lot of stuff. But we did get around to a few places in Ontario, which was fun. We didn’t actually have a chance to watch many of the (all-star weekend) games. My son wanted to watch a lot, but I kind of didn’t [laughs], so we found other stuff to do.
I don’t follow the all-star stuff that much.
Kiyan: Did you at least have a chance to watch some of Sunday’s game to tune in to what Kyle and DeMar are doing?
Luis: As a matter of fact, we watched a couple minutes of the game. I was very proud of how hard my kids were rooting for those two. I liked it a lot. It was kind of cool.
Kiyan: You’ve been in Toronto for half-a-season now. How do you like it? Any favorite spots you like to hit up?
Luis: I love it. It’s a great city – very cosmopolitan, very open-minded. It’s very beautiful, too. Canada is a very cool country and I’m happy to be here.
Favorite spots? I mean, we haven’t really done a lot of that. When it’s warmer, there’s a couple places around the lake that are very cool where you can ride your bike or hang out at the beach. There’s a lot of restaurants downtown and a lot of different things you can do. And in the Winter, it’s just beautiful. It’s been a fun experience, and I’m really enjoying it a lot.
Kiyan: You were part of that golden generation with Argentina at the turn of the century, and then you obviously did so well in Greece in 2004. What was it like being a part of that historical national team, and more specifically, what was it like playing with Manu Ginobili?
Luis: We kind of grew up together. We started playing together a long time ago – in the 90s. I think ’96 was when we first played together. But, really, it was not just him – y’know? It was a group of people. We were young, we started playing very early, and you could see something was going to happen. Manu just happened to be the face of the group for the outside looking in.
There was pretty much a whole generation of players and we all grew up playing together. We played at the highest stage, which, back then, was unthinkable. For Argentina to have players in the NBA and play in the Olympics, let alone fight for the gold medal – those things were so unrealistic to think of.
I don’t even believe we realize how much of an impact we created on our country. I believe that, as years pass, we will have a better idea, and probably appreciate it a little bit more.
Kiyan: Do you see any parallels there with the Canadian national team, in the sense that, many years ago there wasn’t many Canadian players in the NBA? Now, all of a sudden, you see a rise and influx of Canadian players. You had the chance to play against Canada over the Summer, could you speak to how you see their development? What does the future look like for Canadian basketball? Do you think they can make an impact in the next decade?
Luis: I do. I mean, it’s not that I do – it’s just pretty obvious. The Canadian talent is so high right now, with so many new and good players – players that are going to be all-stars in the NBA. They’re going to be playing for many, many years to come.
There is a group of young kids who grew up together, kind of the same way we did. But ultimately, I think Canada has a bit more potential than we had back in the day.
One advantage we had was we grew up playing FIBA which is such a different type of basketball. Not only different rules, but also the style of play and styles you play against. The style of play changes from day-to-day. You know, we played Venezuela one day, against guys that are 6’5″. And then the next day you play Mexico who have two huge centers, or you play against Spain with Marc and Pau. So there’s a bunch of different styles, and a bunch of different levels of talent that teams have in international tournaments. You just have to get used to all that. You have to be familiar with all of the teams to have a chance to succeed.
I believe with Canada being so much more attached to the NBA, they may not be as accustomed to FIBA. But they do have talent, and that’s what you want. If you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing FIBA basketball or NBA, you’re not going to get to many places. I believe that Canada will eventually figure it out, and they’re going to have great runs.
Hopefully, it will be in a few years when I’m out of the picture [laughs].
Kiyan: You’ve had the chance to witness Cory Joseph’s development first-hand. Can you speak about that?
Luis: I’m surprised at Cory.
He got to the NBA and didn’t have a lot of opportunities. He was playing in teams where it was very hard to judge players. In San Antonio, everyone plays in a system where everyone kind of plays the same. Nobody really plays worse than the other player. You might start one night, play 20 minutes another, three minutes another, or you might be out of the rotation completely on another day. So, it’s kind of hard to judge players and see their full potential in San Antonio.
I didn’t realize what kind of player he was going to be, but this year he’s been unbelievable. He’s gotten a lot better and he’s grown confident. I believe that right now he’s playing at an unbelievable level and I think he’s got a huge future ahead of him.
Kiyan: Are there certain things Kyle or DeMar do to make life easier for you on the court?
Luis: Well, the things that they do to make things easier for us is just the way they play, because they are our talented guys. They’re our leaders and are going to carry us to wherever we want to go. We can’t win at the level we want to win and we can’t get to places we want to without Kyle and DeMar.
Without those two guys happy and playing well, we’re just not going to get to where we want to get to. They make us win, and that’s what you want. It’s the highest thing you can ask from somebody.
Those are our guys, and we need them to be happy. We need them to be feeling well, healthy, and motivated – because that’s our shortest path to where we want to get to.
Kiyan: When you came to Toronto, most people expected you to be more of a role player – a savvy veteran and mentor to younger players. Not many expected you to be the starting power forward. You’re having an amazing season – shooting well from three, spacing the floor, and you’re so crafty around the basket.
Did you expect to have such a big role with Toronto when you first signed?
Luis: Well, I always kind of had the highest expectations with the challenges I faced. I have very high self-confidence, and I approach every challenge trying to get out there and get to the highest level I can. It doesn’t always work – sometimes I don’t get anywhere near my highest ceiling. Or sometimes, I actually do a little more than what’s expected of me.
But I was always coming here with a lot of expectations. When we talk about roles, I think it was clear at the table when we talked that, I can still play. I can help the team with regards to being a good pro, working hard, and help the young guys make better decisions on and off the court – all those things I can do, but I can still play too. I’ve been playing for a lot of years, and yeah, it’s true that I’m 35 now.
I try to be ready at every practice and every game. It’s been going well so far. So as long as I continue to work hard every day I think I’m still going to be able to play and to help our team on and off court. Hopefully, this situation continues for a few more years. I know that it’s going to someday get to a point where things will change – and that’s OK, that’s the way basketball is.
But for now, I still can play.
Kiyan: Are there any day-to-day routines that you follow, and have these routines changed at all throughout the course of your career?
Luis: Well, as long as you start getting up there in age, you start to pay a price for everything that you do wrong.
When you’re younger, you get away with a lot of stuff that you shouldn’t be doing. You don’t sleep that well, or you don’t eat that well, you may go out once in a while – you may do all those things and still play great. But then, you get to a point where you pay a price for doing those things. And eventually you get to a point where you need to be really perfect. Sometimes, you just try to be perfect just to maintain. And that’s something you try to tell younger players earlier in their career – that when you’re perfect, you see the benefits, and you just get so much better. You evolve, make progression, make money – all those things.
It makes a lot more sense to try to be perfect early rather than try to adjust when things are going south. But that’s not the way human nature works, and it didn’t work that way with me either. When the years start to kick in, each year, you have to sleep more, and eat a little bit better. Preparation for games and practices takes longer, and you have to spend a lot of time in the training room.
So the older you get, the more you have to do.
Kiyan: If you could go back and give advice to your 20-year-old self, what would you say?
Luis: I’d give the same advice that I give to guys who are 20 now – just start working on those good habits now. It’s going to get worse, and it’s going to get to a point where you HAVE to do those things in order to play. If you start doing those things early, by the time you really need them, it will be natural to you. Like, for me, I didn’t do those things when I was young. And in times where I really needed them, it was a shock. It was hard to change all my habits. And indeed, a lot of players who try to adapt at that particular point – it’s too late and they’re out of the game.
When you’re 20, you pay no price and you get a lot of rewards. Then later, you have to work harder just to maintain. It makes more sense to start early.
And I would probably react the same way all 20-year-olds react, saying what is this old guy telling me? I have a job, I get to play, and I don’t need those things. That’s human nature, that’s the way we think when we’re young. We think we’re invincible and we think we know everything – just like I did. The truth is that we don’t.
Kiyan: Are there certain things that you try to pass on to Jonas?
Luis: He’s a great player already. He’s got ten years ahead of him at least – maybe more. He’s got all-star games in front of him. It’s going to happen, and there’s nothing anybody can really do about this.
Everybody wants Jonas to do good. When I try to talk to him, it’s just to see if I can help him a little bit making professional decisions outside of the court. Sometimes we talk about tricks and footwork, or preparing him for the right mindset for who he’s playing against and knowing his opponent. If he’s playing against someone really strong who can’t jump very high – how are you going to go around him? You have to move a bit faster, a bit quicker. Or maybe the next day he’s playing against a guy who’s not as big, but is long – like Pau Gasol. You can’t pump fake against those guys because they won’t jump. So I try to talk to him about those little tricks to give him a little edge.
Kiyan: He has a really efficient running-hook, but he also has the infamous pump fake. Is that something he needs to work on – perhaps playing a bit quicker, making his pumps a bit more game-time, and hesitating less?
Luis: Yeah, he’s got a pump-fake, like a Jack Sikma-type pump fake – but it’s amazing. I think that THAT pump fake is the best pump fake of all inside players in the league.
The problem with it, is, that he doesn’t shoot that shot that often. So people don’t believe him, they kind of know that he won’t shoot it. So coaches will tell their players, don’t jump, he’ll never shoot it. So I think he needs to develop that shot – that face-up pull-up right in the defender’s face. Once he gets that, it will open up so much stuff for him.
And he knows – it’s not like I discovered this. But to incorporate something new to your game, you really have to have a lot of confidence. So I kind of like to stay behind and push him to do it. I went through the same process trying to shoot 3s. I had a guy behind me telling me to ‘shoot it, shoot it! Don’t worry if you miss. Keep going, you’ve got to shoot it. You’ve got to shoot it.’
It gets hard. You need the confidence from coaches and players to add something to your game. So I try to stay in that department, to support and grow his confidence so that he can shoot that shot and get a lot more moves and stuff from the post.
Kiyan: You spoke about your three-point shooting. This year, far and away, marks the most three-pointers you’ve ever taken, and you’re shooting a very efficient 43%. What was that transition like? How did you start shooting threes at this level, was it just a matter of shooting in the gym over and over again?
Luis: Y’know, the game is going in that direction. Everybody is shooting threes. Teams are looking for three-point shooters. It’s much harder to defend if you have four shooters on the court. This Summer, I was a free agent, and everybody was looking for stretch fours.
The game is going that way, and you have to shoot threes at some point. When I was playing in Houston, they really helped me with it, and explained to me the importance of shooting threes, and why the game is headed in that direction. But that year was a bad year – I had to change teams. And then I started shooting threes in Phoenix, but it went south very quickly that year and I went back to focusing on my strengths. And then I moved to Indiana, and they really weren’t looking for me to (shoot threes) do that, they were looking for me to fill a different role.
I could never really get it going – until I got here. But again, you need confidence, and all the coaches were behind me, helping me to work, not only on a day-to-day basis, but also to stay confident in my shooting. It also helped that I made my first six (threes). So, when you make your first six shots, that gives you a good ten more. So that grew my confidence, and at some point, that’s all I needed.
Kiyan: When you look at the Raptors’ roster, from 1-15, what is the biggest weakness you see?
Luis: I don’t see a weakness. I think we have a pretty balanced team.
We have a young team – maybe that’s a problem. You really need experience to win at the highest level. But this team has been through a lot. They’ve been in the playoffs twice, and they lost in the first year but it was kind of like, everyone was so excited, and they fought so hard. And then they got there again, winning 49 games and grabbing home-court advantage. And then, y’know, it didn’t go well. Nobody was happy, and all the players knew they had to get through it.
I kind of feel that everybody is on a mission, and that could make up for the experience problems that we have, because the guys have been through it, and they really want to take it to the next level.
I believe that, talent wise, we’re ok. We have what we need. We have the players, and we have the system. We’re winning, and it’s working. When the time comes, we need to be able to mentally match up with the strongest teams. Teams like San Antonio and Golden State – those guys have been doing that forever. They get to the all-star break and they just shift gears. They never lose.
That kind of mind-set, of shifting gears mid-way through the season and never looking back, that’s something that’s really hard to do, but we have to be able to match that intensity.
Kiyan: How much do you attribute the teams’ success to Dwane Casey, and what is it like working with him? The way he’s developed this team year-by-year is really impressive, but above all, he seems like a sincerely great person.
Luis: I think he gets all the credit. He’s the coach, and we’re playing basketball the right way. We have a good system going which works almost everyday, and (the credit) can’t go to anyone else but him. If you had to point to someone as the main reason for what we’re doing, it has to be him.
Kiyan: You’ve been in every NBA stadium and have played for the Raptors for half-a-season now. In terms of market and fan-base, where do you rank Toronto?
Luis: I think this particular situation in Toronto – it’s better than anywhere else in the league. The thing is, people keep talking about markets and cities – how big the city is and all that. But we don’t have a city, we have a whole country behind us. We went to Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and we have fans everywhere. Our games are on national tv, and I think Toronto is huge for the NBA.
Toronto is as good as any city in the States, but also, like I said, we have a whole country behind us.
I think it’s an unbelievable place to play.
Kiyan: Before I let you go, I’d like to end with an inquiry about your singing career. From what I understand, you have a 2nd career waiting for you in singing. I haven’t heard your singing voice myself, but Shane Battier says you do the best rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart.’
Luis: Oh my God… No! [laughs]
That was behind me, and I can’t believe it’s coming back to haunt me. That was a bad day. I have to forget about that day at some point.
Shane’s got a foundation, and he does these galas and he does karaoke. All the players went there, and sang. I happened to sing that Bonnie Tyler song, and it was not good.