Alar Varrak:
Kalev Has to Risk in Order for Us to Win

Kalev is a great springboard for young players

Kalev’s most recent VTB United League season has been the most successful in club’s history as the squad came just one win short of making it to the post season. With the return of the last-year top-scorer Rolands Freimanis, Kalev hopes to keep the pace.

Kalev’s head coach Alar Varrak told VTB-league.com about the experience from at EuroBasket 2015, risks on transactions, new game philosophy and the main goal for the upcoming season.

Recently the national team of Estonia, where you were an assistant coach, returned from EuroBasket 2015. What is your opinion about the tournament and what do you think Estonia missed in order to proceed past the group stage?
I think Estonia got a “B” for their EuroBasket 2015 venture as the team had several outstanding and some unsuccessful games. Honestly, we were not among the group’s favourites and if we had made it past the group stage, it would be similar to Kalev advancing to the play-offs in VTB United League. Our expectations were a bit higher, although we failed to be the surprise.

How did Kalev’s players do on the national team?
Gregor Arbet and Rain Veideman together with Janar Talts became the top-scorers of the team. Arbet had a fantastic game against Ukraine as he scored 26 points and helped our team win that game. Veideman and Kalev’s newcomer Sten Sokk played consistently and effectively the whole tournament. Erik Keedus’ role was not as major, however I am also satisfied with his effort.

What is the difference between your job in Kalev and on the national team?
The main difference is that I am the head coach in Kalev and an assistant on the national team. The national team plays only in the summer, while hard work in Kalev lasts for nine months.

Tell us, please, how was the offseason for Kalev? Has the team finished its signings?
Last week we penned our last deal with the playmaker of the Estonian national team Sten Sokk. The offseason was challenging as we were not sure about our financial abilities. Ideally we thought of signing few more good players, however we have what we have.

Kalev’s biggest transfer market success is the return of Rolands Freimanis. Would you agree with that?
Of course, if you followed the national team of Latvia at EuroBasket 2015, you’d understand how important for the team a player like Freimanis is. I am glad that he returned to Tallinn feel fortunate.

Another newcomer Brandis Raley-Ross is considered to be the real star of the Estonian League. Is he really that good?
We shall live and see. It will not be easy for him to show the same stats in the VTB United League as in the Estonian League as well as it will be a serious competition within the team. There is no doubt, however, that  Raley-Ross is a good player.

Josh Boone’s signing is a risky move, isn’t it? Former New Jersey Nets centre never played in Europe and spent his most recent season in Bahrain.
Our team always risks and this is because of a limited budget. Some teams win by that, others do not. Last year, for example, Scott Machado and Mindaugas Kupsas helped us a lot and we have to risk in order to win.

Have you tried to ink Kalev’s 2014/15 season leader Scott Machado to a new deal?
Yes, we negotiated with the player, however our financial abilities would not allow us to keep him on the team.

Keith Benson joined Kalev in the second half of the season and recently signed an unguaranteed contract with the Miami Heat. Did this transfer surprise you at all?
It feels great when a player you know gets a contract in the NBA. Moreover, many players from last-year’s roster moved to excellent teams. Frank Elegar signed with EA7 Emporio Armani Milano, Freimanis with UNICS, Machado agreed with the EuroCup participant Oldenburg. Kalev is a good springboard for talented players.

For the first time in a long time, Kalev could not win the Estonian League. What was the main reason for that?
There are several factors that contributed as the VTB season was longer than usual and our Final’s rival Tartu Rock was too good. Meanwhile, we were not as good as in the middle of the the season.

The VTB United League season was the most successful in team’s history. As a coach, what did you learn last year?
Every season teaches us something new. In order to win on a regular basis you need to have a good team. Team chemistry on and off the court is vital for the squads with a limited funding. We can not let game setbacks affect the chemistry within the team and need to always continue to be as one.

Kalev was not a high-scoring team last season (77.4 points per game). Was it taken into consideration for the team’s signings or was it just about the team’s offence and the problem could be tackled from within?
We don’t have the luxury of having 12 equally talented players. We tried to leave more energy on the defensive end as this is what wins you the games and it doesn’t matter whether the score is 60:58 or 80:78. We have now changed half of our roster and are now planning to play high-pace basketball.

What are you goals for the upcoming season?
It is simple - we would like to demonstrate good quality basketball that our fans would enjoy and will always leave it all on the court, although I think that the task of making it to the playoffs will be even more complicated.