From setback to comeback: Conde ready to lead Spain's redemption charge
MADRID (Spain) - Any successful era ends at some point and even if Spain's disappointing seventh place on home soil at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021 was painful, it may have been for the greater good.
Or at least that is how Maria Conde is feeling about it two years later.
It was a brutal experience for everyone involved when the co-hosts meekly relinquished their title in front of their own fans in Valencia. Not only missing the Semi-Finals for the first time in a decade, but losing out on a place at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022, which condemned them to a first absence at a global competition in 10 years.
"I THINK I AM LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE BEEN AROUND SO MANY GREAT PLAYERS." - Maria Conde
While on the surface it was a hefty bump back down to earth for a team that had won three titles in four editions heading into that ill-fated FIBA Women's EuroBasket, it did provide Spain with an unexpected chance to push the reset button. Albeit after the subsequent Tokyo Olympics had ended.
Importantly they made some key changes, but didn't throw the baby out with the bath water. Having delivered unprecedented and historical success, Lucas Mondelo was replaced by Miguel Mendez as playcaller, while several of the younger players were able to spread their wings a little wider.
Her Women's EuroBasket debut in 2021 proved a challenging one for Conde
"Looking back now, maybe it's a good thing it happened," mused Conde, when reflecting on Spain's 2021 struggles.
"Obviously it was not possible for us to keep the same rhythm that there was there for so many years, but nobody had ever really done it at that level for so long.
"WE WERE SAD TO MISS OUT ON THE WORLD CUP, BUT IT GAVE US AN OPPORTUNITY TO START FROM SCRATCH."
"What happened was always going to happen at some point. But I think it has brought us all together and for the younger players who have come, it has given them a lot of time to go through the changes."
She added: "We had the summer off last year and while we were all very sad that we missed out on the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, I think that in the long run it gave us a rare opportunity to start from scratch."
At this year's edition, Conde will be elevated up the leadership list and may even be slated as Spain's leading light. After all, she has cemented her status as one of the best wing players in the European game after a couple of standout seasons in EuroLeague Women with ZVVZ USK Praha - including successive Final Four tournaments.
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Yet with a typical measure of modesty, the 26-year-old is reluctant to underline her own credentials. Instead, she prefers to explain her desire to keep learning from some of the great Spanish veterans who will continue to play.
For while younger players, like the brilliant Raquel Carrera for example, are growing in stature and can be game-winners in their own right, Spain will still have the legendary Alba Torrens and brilliant guard duo Silvia Dominguez and Cristina Ouvina when they take to the floor this summer.
"I have been lucky to have been around so many great players," smiled Conde.
Conde giving Spain legend Laia Palau a farewell hug after her last national team game at the Tokyo Olympics
"I think with Spain we have all been super fortunate to have had the players we have. Some of them are still here with us and I have been learning from them since I was 20-years-old or even before that, when I was watching them on TV.
"We still have a lot of the players that were part of the other generation who know about the big tournaments and winning a lot of things.
"They still bring that experience and that spirit and I think that they are teaching us, the younger players the way. They are showing the up and coming players what to follow and the way to compete in big championships and I think that is something we are all taking in."
"WE'LL BE FOCUSED ON ADJUSTING TO THE NEEDS OF THE TEAM AND DOING WHATEVER WE CAN TO GET THE RESULTS." - Maria Conde
She continued: "Overall, I am just excited. This is going to be the first time with many new players, a new coach and I am hoping it will all come together for us to win the title. Now I just want to get going.
"It has all been such a great experience for me and I am just happy to be apart of the team and to be able to bring the best I can to help.
"I think we are all going to be focused on adjusting to the needs of the team and doing whatever we need to do in order to get the results and compete the best way we can. I am excited we are able to bring that collectively and individually," insisted Conde.
Spain will play in Group A in Tel Aviv and will go up against Greece, Latvia and Montenegro as they look forward to getting back to the modus operandi of the last 10 years and challenging for podium spots again.