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Watch: ‘First two games will be finals which we can’t lose’ says Vella

The Malta contingent left for Ireland on Sunday.

Memories of 2018 will be in mind this week as the Malta national team aims to recreate the successful gold-medal-winning FIBA Small Countries of Europe championship, this time taking place in Dublin. Former vice-captain turned assistant coach RODERICK VELLA spoke with Kurt Aquilina ahead of the team’s opening game against San Marino today…

Roderick Vella has been known as the Malta national team’s point guard for the past ten years.

Together with the rest of the Malta clan under coach Andrea Paccarie, the team took the gold medal three years ago with a 75-59 victory over Norway in the San Marino final. However, this time around, Vella will be
Paccarie’s assistant on the sidelines as Malta play San Marino today (tip-off: 17.00).

“It’s a big change for me personally as I’ve lived on the court for the past ten years as a point guard with the national team. Now the role is totally different,” Vella told the Times of Malta.

“When you’re on court, you feel you can help through direct control of the game but as a coach, you’ll have the ideas and due to my experience, even with coach Paccarie two years ago, I feel I can help in that aspect.

“It’s something I want to do because I’m also training to become a coach – currently coaching younger ages – so this experience will help my development.”

Vella admits this will be a learning experience for him but says that just like the rest of the team, his aim is to win.

“The first two games against San Marino and Gibraltar are very important, especially after such a long stoppage in play.

“We have to be prepared technically and tactically, but ready mentally as these first two games are two finals which we can’t lose. So, the pressure will be there, but I believe we have the quality to get through them and adapt for the next ones,” the former Hibernians player said.

The team will be particularly different from the last edition with MVP Sam Deguara out of the tournament, and Jacob Formosa unable to play, just like Small Nations Games (GSSE) Malta addition Nelson Kahler – both him and Formosa play in Australia and cannot leave because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Obviously I won’t be there (on court), Jacob won’t be there either. But we have a youth element in the roster that has been improving through the years and these players will have the opportunity to express themselves in the best way at this level,” Vella explained.

“As a team, we also suffered a setback during the final week as we’ve lost Samuel Deguara who is crucial for the team as he changes the game.

“Sam gives the team something that currently we don’t have – with him on court, you can rest the team for ten minutes by focusing the game on him and scoring a lot of points. Our aspiration is to go there and win but without Samuel, the challenge will more difficult.”

Malta will have four new debutants for these Games, apart from Alec Felice Pace and Nathan Xuereb who were part of the team for the GSSE – Jack Zammit, Phillip Engelbert, Matthew Scerri, and Ian Felice Pace.

Asked about the team’s aim for these new additions, Vella explained that their aim is not only to prepare for the 2023 GSSE Games but also for their personal development so that they can have a basketball career which may even take some of them overseas.

“We’ve got four new players for whom this will be their first senior experience but I was surprised by how ready they were to make the necessary sacrifices – something which not everyone is ready to do,” Vella said.

“At that age, this is the ideal opportunity to get experience and the chance to play at this level, and live it – waking up for breakfast, video session, training and a discussion with the coach, physiotherapy, and then off to the game.

“This tournament will be totally different to how we live the game of basketball locally. So they get an experience which they will live differently – there, even preparation, especially mental, is different.

On the other hand, with Vella on the sidelines, Peter Shoults will remain the veteran on court and Vella lauded the fact that he will be there for the team.

“Peter (Shoults) has been with the national team since 2004, so 17 years and he’ll be 36 soon so I think his experience will be invaluable,” Vella

“Apart from this, Peter is a valid player who stands out in the Maltese league. He’s valid for the energy he puts into the team – he’s one who gives his 100 percent on the court so it will be something that will help the youths to want to do the same. The age is there but we can turn it into experience to help the team.”

While San Marino and Gibraltar will be Malta’s must-win games to guarantee a successful start, Andorra and Ireland will be the teams to beat.

Asked about how difficult these games will be, Vella explained that especially because of COVID-19, which restricted the number of friendlies the teams have managed to play, the way to know is by watching performances during the tournament.

“Right now, all we have is data and information on their players. With COVID, videos of recent games are only a few or only parts, so we only have information on individual players,” Vella admitted.

“But we know our level. The Samuel setback, especially having come so late, means we’ve had to change our tactics and the way we defend so we’ll have to see how we match with the other teams when we’re there.

“Basketball is unpredictable and you could have a bad game in an easy game but from the records that we have, we are trying to create the best idea.”


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