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Esteban Batista (URU)
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Uruguay's Batista: ''We want to take Uruguay to the world’s stage''

MONTEVIDEO (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Americas Qualifiers) – Uruguay’s long-awaited dream of qualifying to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 may become reality at the last window of the Americas Qualifiers.

The Uruguayans will travel to Mexico to face the Mexican National Team on February 22. The team will then face Puerto Rico in San Juan, on a pivotal game with qualifying implications.

Esteban Batista has been the leading force for the Uruguayan squad during the Qualifiers with 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. FIBA.basketball spoke with Batista following the conclusion of the window.

Uruguay had remarkable experiences at the November/December window. What can you tell us about that?
I feel that we did a great job and we can’t wait to be in February to play those two games and try to get our spot for China 2019. We had two good games in the last window, but it was a bit frustrating to lose against Team USA because that would have been a huge win for us and we didn’t lose by a huge margin. We played very well during three quarters and we didn’t have a good fourth quarter so we lost against a very good team. But it is what it is and we have to focus now on the last two games, because they are important and they can be the two most important ones of the recent history of Uruguay basketball. We are still alive in these qualifiers and we want to get a spot to China 2019. That is the only thing we have in mind.

Take us back to that thriller against Puerto Rico on the first game of the window…
This games defines our mentality, our fighting spirit and that we won’t ever give up. Puerto Rico is a very good team, and winning that game was a great boost for our confidence. We had a tough fourth quarter, but with our defense and our team spirit, we were able to keep that little margin that made us win that very important one. We were so happy to have won this one, because we wanted to beat one of the best teams of the group and get our hopes alive for a spot for China 2019. It was a thriller; that is for sure! It was a relief to win and to get this one in front of our fans; the energy in the arena was so amazing. We live and practice every day for moments like this, and sharing this with our fans and family was so great, so intense and such a great moment of joy. We are looking for more of those, and to win some more important games coming in the next couple of weeks and months.

What about the crowd in the new arena, and the new home of Uruguayan basketball, the Antel Arena?
It is such a blessing to have an arena like this, this is a huge step forward, a huge plus for us to play our home games. It’s as good as the ones I played into in Europe, and I am so happy to see that it is our house now, and that people loved to be there and were able to put so much energy during the games we played there. The fans are so great here in Uruguay, they love their country, they love the national team and we had such a great time with them during the first two games. They went crazy in the first one when the game was over, everybody was yelling and smiling, that was such a unique moment. I am looking forward to play again in the arena, and I am happy that the future generations of basketball players, not only ours, will be able to compete at home in such a great arena.

The last two games are going to be away from home…
Those two last games are huge for us, and we are going to play with the same intensity despite not having our fans or playing at home. We don’t have the choice but win, as we just want to go to China 2019. We have done so many sacrifices and efforts and we will give an extra one in February to get our spot for the next FIBA World Cup. For our basketball, for our fans, for the team, for the staff, for everyone who loves basketball in our country and many more, we want to qualify for the next World Cup. It’s two games left, we want to give our best and play like warriors like we have been doing since the beginning of the qualifiers. Mexico and Puerto Rico are two very tough opponents, but we will be ready for those two games, motivated like we always are.

You are 35 years old and you are in the final part of your career, How do you love going through this process, this campaign so far?
I love it! I am having a great time, and despite being a veteran and not having the same energy as I had when I was 25 years old, I really do have a great time during this campaign. We have been doing a great one so far, and being part of this adventure is something great, something that every athlete that loves his country wants to experiment at least one time in his career. I just want to help the guys get the spot on the next FIBA Basketball World Cup and enjoy the process. I take it one step at a time and I just want the best for the national team. I am one soldier of the national team and to see Uruguayan basketball doing so well right now is such a good thing to experience. I am a happy Uruguayan, and a happy Uruguayan basketball player who is part of an amazing group of guys that wants to show the world that our country has a great national team.

Would it be a dream come true to qualify for the next FIBA Basketball World Cup?
That would be a dream come true, that is for sure. We want to take Uruguay to the world’s stage and show what we are capable of. We aren’t there yet, but reaching this dream is close to us now, so we will do everything we can to qualify. We are in the third position of the group as of it is now, behind the best two teams – with Canada – of the Americas zone, and we are going to defend this spot and try to keep it during the next window. We want to go to China 2019; we have to go to China 2019. That is the only goal, the only thing we have in mind. We are two steps, two games away from our goal, and we want to be between the teams that are going to compete in the world stage.

Ruben Magnano has been doing an amazing job so far coaching the national team…
He is a winner, a coach that always pushes us to our limits and to learn about how to improve our game and the team chemistry. You know, his résumé speaks for himself (laughs), he is one of the best coaches in the history of South America’s basketball and he is a great addition for us. He has a great philosophy, he wants us to play as a team no matter what and he knows how to build a great chemistry. We are very happy to have him with us and we are looking forward to keep building with him and the staff.