By David Lugg
Portimonense SC have been an integral part of sporting life in the Algarve for 107 years. Aside from a Primeira Liga football team, they also host handball, futsal and recently added e-sports to their impressive repertoire. However, last season, it was the basketball side that won the greatest acclaim for the Portimão-based club. In a pandemic-affected season, Portimonense achieved promotion to the ProLiga (Tier 2 of the national pyramid) for the first time in their history. Considering the challenges they faced, it was an extraordinary achievement and one that deserves recognition.
Carlos Almeida is the head coach of the senior men’s basketball team. Last season, he led his side to a historic promotion to the ProLiga for the first time in the club’s history. He explains why it was far from an ordinary season and talks about the challenges that lie ahead.
The 2020/21 season must rank as one of the most memorable in the history of Portimonense SC?
For basketball, it was the most important year in the club’s history. I think it was a season in which what had never been achieved before was achieved. That makes all of us at Portimonense very proud.
But it was memorable for a number of different reasons. For example, the team had to stop playing in the middle of the season due to the pandemic. What effect did that have on you and the players?
It was a very bad period because basketball is a group sport and it is very difficult to motivate the athletes for so long to train at home. However, the players were trying to keep themselves in the best shape as much as possible and, because of that, I don’t think the team suffered that much physically.
When the season restarted in May, you had to play 10 games in about four weeks. That must have been tiring?
It was pretty tough. We had to play weekends with two and three games, which is a very big effort from the athletes, both in what concerns the game and in their personal lives; however, all the players faced the same challenge. With a lot of will, optimism and professionalism we ended up being successful.
Ultimately, 13 wins in 15 games took you all the way to the southern playoff final where you defeated Angrabasket 71-67 to secure promotion to the ProLiga. How were emotions on the day?
It was a very long day with a lot of anxiety. Once the game arrived, we were very confident we could achieve victory. At the beginning of the game, those emotions disappeared and we just thought about what was happening on court. In the end, when we seized victory, our emotions took over again, but in this case, they were feelings of joy and satisfaction.
From there you progressed to the Division One national final, where you beat Galitos 72-61. Becoming Division One champions must have been very special?
Winning a national title in a division was a very special feeling. There was great pride and satisfaction for all the sacrifices that we all made every day for this passion of ours that is basketball.
Looking ahead at the ProLiga competition, I’m sure you will be expecting a much tougher season. What are your realistic goals?
Our aim is to stabilise the club in this division, in other words, strive for permanence.
You have two exciting games against local rivals GC Olhanense. Is it a friendly rivalry between the two teams?
There is no doubt that in that game we will only be opponents on the court. But it will be great to meet up again with GC Olhanense, a club we have a lot of esteem for, and in my case, friendship with many of its elements.
Portimonense has an excellent reputation for promoting youth basketball for both boys and girls. Tell us a bit more about that.
It is one of our big goals, if not the biggest goal, to promote basketball for our young people. We work for them on a daily basis so that they have the opportunity to practice the sport they love in the best possible conditions. The promotion and development of basketball in the city is the club’s main objective and, before the pandemic affected us, we had 250 athletes registered.
This is your sixth season at Portimonense. How do you stay passionate about the club?
I am a person who is passionate about basketball and when I came to live in the Algarve, Portimonense gave me the opportunity to do what I love so much, as well as being part of a great club. This club includes other very enthusiastic people who are passionate about this sport and make someone like me feel very good with this symbol on my chest.
Raheem Watts is the new kid in town. In October, he will make his debut for Portimonense Basquetebol, adding some extra firepower to a team which has just been promoted to the ProLiga. Since leaving the Mississippi Golden Eagles, the twenty-seven year-old ‘forward’ has seen his career take him to far-flung parts of the globe, but the 6’7” (2.01m) American now finds himself in Portugal and is very much looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
This is your first season playing for Portimonense. How are you enjoying Portugal so far?
Portugal is a beautiful country. I have enjoyed myself here so far and it will only get better as I learn more about the city (of Portimão) and get around more.
Your journey from the US to Portugal has not exactly been straightforward. Where else has professional basketball taken you around the world?
Previously, I’ve played basketball in Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Vietnam.
That’s quite an impressive list. I see that most of your career has been spent in warmer climates. By contrast, how was your experience up in the Baltic States of Latvia and Lithuania?
It was extremely cold in Lithuania and in Latvia. I have never experienced a place colder than those two, but it was still a nice experience for me.
Portugal aside, where is your favourite place that the basketball has taken you?
As of right now, I would say Vietnam. The food was amazing. They treated me very well and the basketball atmosphere there is growing. They have a big fan base. I loved the experience in that country a lot.
You started your professional career at the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. How does professional basketball in the US compare with other countries where you have played? Is there more pressure?
I wouldn’t necessarily say more pressure, but there’s definitely a larger pool of top talent in the US that you’re competing against so you have to work that much harder to separate yourself from the rest. It is a very competitive sport that is huge in the US so you definitely have to work hard to play there.
Obviously, we wish you a long, successful career at Portimonense, but is there anywhere else in the world that you would like to play?
I haven’t thought much about a certain place. I would just like to be in the best possible position for myself and my family wherever that will be. My goal is to be the best player I can be and do what I came here to do – and that’s to win.
Will you ever return to the US to play professional basketball?
I will leave that talk for the future, but I definitely have thought about it.
As a player, what do you hope to bring to Portimonense?
I hope to bring wins. I can’t promise anyone anything but I will work to put myself and my teammates in a position to win games because we have goals and we want to fulfil them.
And what about as a person? How are you off the court?
I’m very relaxed and laid-back off the court. I like to be near the water, read books, write poetry and just really enjoy life. I’m very fun to be around. I like to have a good time with friends.