Talented basketball players from across Europe took part in a Jr. NBA World Championship Training Camp at L’Alqueria del Basket in Valencia, Spain earlier this month ahead of the upcoming global tournament in Disney World, Florida.
On day one, the 20 players that have come through the grassroots programme from across Europe got to meet former centre and NBA European Ambassador Francisco Elson – the first Dutchman to become an NBA champion (with the San Antonio Spurs in 2007). Elson also played for the Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers (twice), the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics and Utah Jazz over the course of his 15-year career.
Further inspiration for these young players came in the form of the Jr. NBA World Championship trophy, which was on display at the Spanish facility as the 13 & 14-year-old boys and girls happily posed for individual and group photographs.
The second day involved a sightseeing tour around the city in the morning before practice, with the afternoon’s activities rounded off by some strength and conditioning work – and beach volleyball – on Malvarosa Beach, plus a swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
The camp wrapped on the third and final day with a friendly game against the host club Valencia Basket.
Newham Youngbloods duo Tinu Fakunle and Marc Mendoza had already done enough to secure their seats on the plane to America and Fakunle, in particular, is confident Europe can excel.
“Our team is really good,” she said. “We have different players with different backgrounds and everyone offers something different. For example, I’m really good at rebounding on defence, whereas we also have people that can drive and shoot.
“It will be tough, but it’s all a learning experience. Everyone has said that they want to make it to the finals and win, so that’s the aim. When we get there, we’ve got a job to do and hopefully we’ll do it.”
Fakunle added: “Valencia was really good and we all learnt a lot. We met up with an NBA champion (Elson) and he taught us a few post moves.”
Mendoza is equally as bullish about the boys’ chances in Orlando.
“Being in Valencia and just practising on that court was a very good experience overall,” he explained.
“It’s the best feeling in the world and I’m on Cloud Nine right now.
“We have a very strong team. Our bigs (centres) are very built; we have good shooters and very athletic players.
“There will be tough competition in Orlando, but it will be a fun time. We can meet new people, both in-game and off-court.”
Fakunle and the European girls’ squad will be coached by Spain’s Uros Dragicevic and Lina Brazdeikyte, of Lithuania, at this first-of-its-kind competition, whereas Alessandro Nocera, of Italy, and Finland’s Eero Leva will be calling the plays for Mendoza and the European boys’ team.
The boys’ and girls’ divisions will be made up of 16 regional teams (Eight from the USA and eight international teams), with an initial round-robin format duly followed by the knockout rounds. The eventual winners of the international and US brackets will contest the World Championship game this Sunday (August 12th).