Coming up on his 20th anniversary with Montepaschi Siena, general manager Ferdinando Minucci shows no signs of letting up – either in terms of hard work on his winning ways. Minucci’s rise through the ranks in the 1990s coincided with Montepaschi’s increase in prestige in Serie A. Achieving the lofty title of General Director and Vice President in 1999, Minucci’s hands-on approach through the 2000s has created a veritable European basketball powerhouse, with four Italian Championships (and a current three-year run), three Italian Supercups and last year’s Italian Cup titles to its credit.
As though confirmation of the excellent work done in the Montepaschi front office were necessary, Minucci has most recently been bestowed the Italian League Executive of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008, while also being named Euroleague Club Executive of the Year in 2008.
Mr. Minucci recently took ten minutes from his crazy-busy schedule to tell Ball in Europe about winning, the secrets of success, more about winning, his club’s adaptation to the current financial crisis, and his favorite thing about the job – Here’s a hint: It starts with “W”.
How does one get involved in professional basketball in a football-mad country like Italy?
There’s not just soccer in Italy. In Siena, for example, the passion for basketball and soccer is equally distributed. We have a lot of fans, not just in Siena but throughout the country, and the thousands of children that participate in each of our Basketball Generation project events prove that there’s a lot of interest in basketball.
Was yours a basketball-loving family when you were growing up?
I lived just a few yards from PalaMensSana for many years. It could be considered a sort of imprinting.
And how did you decide to jump from media to the basketball world in 1990?
It was a gradual switch that became definitive in 1992. I spotted huge growth in Mens Sana and it was a challenge I wanted to undertake.
What is your experience in playing the game?
I worked hard and I’ve seen hundreds of games, but I haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to playing.
Who is/was your all-time favorite player to watch?
And who has been your favorite from your own teams?
There’s not one in particular. If anything, there are a lot of them. If we’ve achieved these results, it’s because the concept of team has always been more important than individuality.
Has Montepaschi Siena been hit hard by the economic crisis? What was/were the result(s)? Will the club be OK financially in 2009/10?
The crisis has hit everywhere – that’s evident – but our philosophy has always forced us to act in strict respect of the budget. We have never gambled with our economic stability with risky moves. We renewed our contract with Banca Monte dei Paschi for another three seasons and that’s a fundamental step for our future. I repeat: we work in strict respect of our budget.
There have been a lot of rumors about huge NBA names like Allen Iverson coming to the Euroleague. If you had the roster space and/or finances, would you sign an Iverson?
There are a lot of players I could sign if I had the budget available that the first 10 Euroleague teams do. But that’s not the case, so I’m not even going to think about it. Our job is to discover players with great potential and make them grow. David Andersen, David Vanterpool, Bootsy Thornton, Shaun Stonerook, Rimantas Kaukenas, Romain Sato, Terrell McIntyre, Ksystof Lavrinovic: those are just some of the players that no one even considered that went on to become big stars in Europe.
What are your day-to-day duties for Montepaschi Siena? Do you often attend practices, coaches’ meetings, etc.?
We’re lucky to have our administrative office just a few meters from court at PalaMensSana. It’s clear that my immersion in basketball and the team’s life is total. But I never intervene with the coaches on technical matters. I think that roles must be clearly defined: The general manager has to worry about running the club; the coach about the team.
What’s the best thing about your job?
What did it mean to you to be elected Euroleague Club Executive of the Year in 2008?
It was hugely satisfying, because those who voted for me were colleagues from all over Europe that know the hardships a club like ours can face trying to earn a top stop on the continent. It is a very prestigious award which I share with everyone that works with me each day to achieve even greater results.
Euroleague PR has described you as the man “responsible for building Montepaschi Siena into an Italian League juggernaut and a Euroleague contender.” How much credit do you take? In general, what is necessary to build “an Italian League juggernaut”?
It takes a sold plan, gradual growth and respect for the budget. And it also takes the experience of a lot of losses, which were important in learning how to win.
Immediately following the Euroleague draw in July, you said, “I think we can arrive in the Top 16.” Would you like to make a further prediction? Can we expect Montepaschi Siena in the final four in 2010, for example…?
The goal of anyone in sports is to win. We certainly can’t start the season thinking that we don’t have the capacity to achieve big goals. Sure, I’ll make a prediction: Montepaschi will do all it can to win.