Back in the 2011 NBA playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs were eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies in six games in the first round of the series. In that series, Spurs rookie center at the time, Tiago Splitter, didn’t play until the final three games of the series.
For Splitter, he had a rough rookie season transitioning to the NBA, as he only played in 60 regular season games in 12.3 minutes per contest.
Fast-forward two years later, and there were the Spurs facing the Grizzlies in the 2013 NBA Western Conference Finals, and this time, Splitter played 26.3 minutes in all four games, on the Spurs’ way to sweeping the Grizzlies that year.
Sunday, in 2014, where Splitter is now an NBA champion, he spoke with GloboEsporte.com about how he’s learned to understand Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, and how Spurs guard Manu Ginobili was one of the key players to help in Splitter’ transition to the NBA.
Splitter described how it was Ginobili who helped him from the beginning in the transition process from Europe to the NBA:
What I had to do, what Popovich likes, what he dislikes, what I do on the court, how I have to behave myself, all these details … most was that I passed the Ginobilli – explains Splitter.
Ginobili was also interviewed in the article, and he said he had heard positive things about Splitter from other players each of them had connections through. Ginobili said he knew Splitter wasn’t a player who was going to score 30 points and grab 20 rebounds, but instead a player who was going to do the dirty work that doesn’t always end up on a stat sheet.
Going back to Splitter’s rookie season, he said he was constantly being asked by the media why he wasn’t becoming a core piece in the Spurs’ rotation in his first year. At some points, Splitter himself wondered if he made the right decision to come to the NBA, but all through that process, Popovich told him he was working hard, but they just couldn’t fit him into the rotation at the time. Popovich told Splitter as long as he kept working hard, he would eventually get his chance.
By the way Splitter’ last three seasons have shaped out – three Western Conference Finals appearances, two NBA Finals rides, one NBA Championship – it seems Splitter has made the best of his chances in being a core piece in the last three seasons.
According to Splitter in the article, while most in the public see Popovich as a strict sergeant type of personality, he’s learned to see Popovich as a “cool” grandfather/father-type of figure behind the scenes.
On August 30, Splitter will try to help Brazil compete to win the 2014 FIBA World Cup. From there, it’s off to training camp with the Spurs in October, where the team will try to do something the franchise has never done through it’s run of five titles – win back-to-back championships.