When it was announced last week the departure of coach Aleksandar Petrovic from the command of the Brazilian men’s basketball team, speculation soon began as to who would be the next name to occupy the position. And one name in particular stood out in the conversations: Gustavo de Conti, coach of the Flamengo basketball team and current three-time Brazilian champion.
This fact was mainly due to two reasons: first, because he was considered by most people the best possible name for the position, given his background, qualifications and undeniable quality. For a team that had been navigating mediocrity for years, the prospect of a name of Gustavo’s caliber was attractive. But, second, because it made him an old dream of the Brazilian fans of the sport; in recent years, every time there was a change of coach or even the prospect of one, Gustavo’s name was asked loudly by the crowd even though most of the time there was no real traction. Rumors circulated of relationship problems between Gustavo and the CBB top management since the complicated break with the administration of Ruben Magnano in charge of the national team, to whom Gustavo was technical assistant. So although Gustavo was the favorite to take the job after Petrovic left, his signing was not yet a certainty.
But on Monday (20/09) the hiring of Gustavo for the position was made official, and the news was received with a party. The old dream had finally come true, and Brazil had the coach it wanted in charge of the national team.
When I wrote about Petrovic’s departure, I made it clear that I shared the general opinion that Gustavo was the best possible name for the national team. If what we need is a high-capacity coach, Gustavo’s resume speaks for itself: in eleven years as head coach, de Conti has three national titles (2018, 2019 and 2021), four state titles, one continental Champions title League America, two Super 8 Cup titles, and was named the NBB’s best coach of the season four times. In 2021, Gustavo led Flamengo to win the unprecedented quadruple crown: the team was champion of the Rio championship, NBB, Super 8 and Champions League America, with leftovers. By any definition possible, Gustavo is one of the best coaches in national basketball.
But what makes Gustavo de Conti the ideal name for the team at this moment is not just which he did, but like he did. Despite his young career, Gustavo showed enormous capacity to adapt and shine in different situations and contexts. He started his career at Paulistano, first as an assistant, then head coach. There, one of his main attributions was the development of players in the base categories; without a budget capable of facing up to the great powers of national basketball, Paulistano’s success depended heavily on his ability to develop talent at home and on his bets on young players.
And Gustavo was not only brilliant in that role, but throughout his 9 years at the helm of Paulistano he showed an exceptional ability to make the most of limited squads with salaries far below the main contenders for the title. Betting on a tactical advantage and on the pioneering use of advanced statistics and analysis, Paulistano has established itself as one of the most consistent and competitive teams in the country despite dealing with major changes in the squad almost every year. In 2014, Gustavo took Paulistano to the NBB final for the first time (where he lost to Flamengo) and won his first coach of the year award. Paulistano would repeat the dose in 2017 (losing to Bauru in the finals after a brilliant run in the playoffs) before finally conquering his first title in 2018, beating Mogi in the finals and enshrining Gustavo’s spectacular work as Brazil’s best coach.
After the title, Gustavo was hired by the greatest power in national basketball, Flamengo, and all he has done since then was win. In a completely different reality from the one he led at Paulistano – now at a big-budget club, with a cast filled with older and more established stars – de Conti knew how to make the best of a more established cast, focusing on greater game volume and quality of its athletes, while continuing with an avant-garde mentality in national sport in terms of player analysis and development. Although their work at Flamengo – largely due to the higher quality of the athletes – perhaps does not expose as well and in the foreground their tactical capacity as they did at Paulistano, Flamengo’s excellence in this aspect is still undeniable and this is an important part of its dominance under the command of Gustavo, winning the two national titles disputed with leftovers (remembering that, because of the pandemic, the 2020 season was canceled and had no champion).
I bring Gustavinho’s trajectory because it is essential to illustrate the qualities he has as a coach, and that make him the perfect name to command the national team. Brazil is currently experiencing a time of generational transition, with the retirement of names like Alex, Hettsheimer and Marquinhos (in addition to others who have retired in recent years like Leandrinho, Splitter and Nenê) and the emergence of a new and talented generation led by figures such as Georginho, Yago and Bruno Caboclo. It will be necessary to create a new identity and trajectory for the national team almost from scratch, and for this it is very important that the new coach of the national team is able to work and develop younger athletes, something Gustavo has continuously demonstrated throughout his career, both in Flamengo and mainly in Paulistano. Although Petrovic did a solid job during this generational moment, his relative discomfort (particularly in the defeat to Germany in the Split Pre-Olympic) in making more extensive use of younger players, betting on athletes for long periods of time was notable. more experienced. With Gustavo in charge, the team has someone more capable, prepared and experienced in making this transition to a new and talented generation.
Its tactical efficiency, fundamental to the success of its teams, is also an important point at a time when, increasingly, Brazil realizes that it can no longer rely solely on the raw talent of its athletes to succeed at the international level: depending on the level FIBA becomes increasingly sophisticated and competitive, Brazil needs to take every little advantage it can find on and off the court, including in areas such as statistical and analytical preparation, where Gustavo has been one of the most engaged and modern coaches for years.
Gustavo de Conti’s success in different situations throughout his career is also a positive point. Today, Brazil is in a middle and underdog position in FIBA basketball, and to challenge more complete powers in search of bigger results, it will need to make up for the disadvantages in whatever way possible – and we saw Gustavo do exactly that in Paulistano, making the most of lower rosters with enormous adaptability, variability and intelligent understanding of their athletes’ strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, Brazil is still a Top2 power in Latin America and will continue to have big international names in its squad, and that is why Gustavo’s successful experience in the national power that is Flamengo, with great stars and greats egos, will also be of enormous value in command of the selection. And it is worth mentioning that, at a time when the CBB is experiencing great internal and external pressure and Petrovic was dealing with a public crisis with its players, it will be difficult to find a more respected and capable coach than Gustavo to manage the group and the collective to clean up the air and create a new national identity.
All these factors, combined with his undeniable ability, make Gustavo – in my opinion – the best coach that national basketball has formed in decades and the right name for the Brazilian team. But while I am extremely happy with the announcement and believe it to be the best thing that has happened to national sport in years, it is important to be careful not to create unreasonable and unrealistic expectations. I’ve been insisting that Brazil has been left behind on the international stage not because of the lack of capacity of its players and coaches, but because of a very poor job at the federation levels and in the youth categories, stopping in time as the rest of the world has surpassed us. The arrival of an excellent coach like Gustavo represents an excellent first step and offers reason for optimism and hope, but it is wrong and unfair to put on your back the expectation of suddenly solving all the world’s problems and leading Brazil to compete for medals, passing through magically on top of years of bad management and planning at the macro level. Likewise, Gustavo’s arrival cannot be done thinking only of the three-year cycle until Paris 2024. Brazilian men’s basketball has not had an identity or continuity for a long time, and to get the best out of Gustavo’s work it will take time and patience, that a shortened cycle in the midst of such extreme circumstances will not be enough. Brazil is already starting far behind many competitors around the world, and it will need years and years with a competent technician to start to make up for this delay – the first step has been taken, but we cannot fall into the complacency of thinking it was the last.