Pedro Calles is one of the best coaches in the Bundesliga basketball and has in recent years experienced a successful development with the Hamburg Towers. In an interview with SPOX the 38-year-old talks about his trip from Spain to the BBL and his short intermission in the NBA.
He also talks about his basketball philosophy, which has made his team so successful in recent seasons, and explains his tight lifestyle.
Mr. Calles, you studied sports science with a focus on basketball. How much scientist is there in you today?
Pedro Calles: Not so much anymore. In basketball, you need to consider various scientific aspects, but let’s not forget that basketball is a game.
A versatile game. What is most important to you?
calls: For me personally, it is important to be able to read my players. That’s the most important thing about my job. To understand who my players are. Putting them in the right position and cultivating them so they can play the best possible basketball.
Why did you actually become a basketball coach?
calls: It also came from my father. He pushed me to try many different sports, but never pushed me to anything. He just wanted me to play sports. At the age of 18, I had the chance to advance my professional career or to go to university. My dad said to me, ‘No matter what you do, focus on your studies.’ So I threw myself over my studies and didn’t play that much basketball so far.
But then we went back to the active area.
calls: During my studies, of course, I concentrated only on my studies. (laughs) No, then I looked to see where I could improve in terms of games and above all in terms of coaching. I played actively again, but the background was that I was better able to scout the opponents’ coaches and their philosophies.
You don’t hear that every day either.
calls: I no longer had the passion to reach a really high professional level. So I could stay close to the topic. And I also trained the kids in the club so I could try things out and make mistakes. In hindsight, I sometimes feel sorry for the kids. (laughs)
Do you know how the kids feel today?
calls: When I was home two years ago, these kids visited me for a game. Once you have been able to leave your footprint and see that your work has changed the lives of these young people for the better: that is one of the most wonderful aspects of my work.
You came to Germany in 2012 from the third Spanish league as an athletic coach. You had a one-year contract in your pocket, but your wife had not come with you (yet). A risky move?
calls: At the time, I was the head coach of Spain’s third division. In my home country, of course, I was advised to stay there and work my way up. But I had a completely different picture in my head. I wanted to keep learning – also as a person. I felt that Germany was the right step to do that. In a new league, a different game system, a different mentality.
How did you get to know the German mentality?
calls: It was easy for me to get here, many Germans speak English. I also get well out of the social system and traditions. After the first year, my family moved to Germany, so I did not have to travel that much anymore.
That’s the familiar story: In your first season as head coach, you led the newly promoted Vechta to the semi-finals, two years later you went straight into the playoffs with BBL newcomer Hamburg. See you with the Rostock Seawolves in the summer?
calls: I have not thought about that yet. (laughs) I was very lucky that we got off to a flying start in Vechta and Hamburg. We achieved good results, but for me it was more important that the structures on both teams grew. I always hope my successor finds a better club than I found before I started.
How would you describe German basketball culture?
calls: Growing. People are very enthusiastic. The teams also create a very professional mix of business and basketball. There is also a lot of development in relation to coaching. Maybe a little more tradition is needed here and there, a little more initiative. To help small towns and small clubs invest in youth programs and get more children involved in basketball. The level of professionalism in Germany is good, also in terms of budget, but I still see a lot of room for improvement in youth basketball. Not only financially but also qualitatively.
In Germany, some sports are a bit overshadowed by football. Your home country Spain is also an enthusiastic football nation, but basketball is much more popular there.
calls: Our basketball heritage is bigger. When Spain won Olympic silver against Michael Jordan & Co. in Los Angeles in 1984, basketball in Spain got underway. I remember from my childhood how basketball was all over the radio and the news at the time. Such great successes usually push for such developments. Similar to the German European Championship triumph in 1993 in their own country.
What have you taken with you from your childhood?
calls: As a person, I like team sports more than individual sports. I want to fight for something with other people. As a kid, I would never be part of the best team, but I would always play for the underdog to surprise people. Therefore, I prefer to see it today when we achieve a good result as a team.