Most 18-year-old pro prospects with basketball-playing fathers would love to get on the court and show that they can beat their progenitors. Aleksander Balcerowski of U18 Herbalife Gran Canaria has a different situation. His father is still playing and was recently named to the European Championships all-tournament team in wheelchair basketball.
Indeed, Marcin Balcerowski is the young Gran Canaria center's biggest role model because his father is someone who lives out the motto of never looking back and living for today.
Marcin was a mid-level basketball player in Poland until 2000, the year Aleksander was born, when he got in a car accident and was thereafter bound to a wheelchair.
"It was quite hard. He didn't want to stop the game. He found out there was basketball for wheelchair players and he decided to try a new career, a new life," Balcerowski said.
Aleksander's father was discovered by a scout for a German club and his wheelchair basketball career not only took off, but continues. He helped Poland finish in sixth place at the 2017 European Wheelchair Basketball Championship and gain qualification for the 2018 World Championship. Marcin Balcerowski was selected as one of the top five players in the event, and he currently plays for BG Baskets Hamburg in the top league in Germany.
When asked how his father motivates him, Balcerowski says: "Never give up, that's my father. He's one of the biggest examples for me to always keep your mind straight ahead and never look back."
And what about Aleksander trying wheelchair basketball?
"It's very hard," he said. "The hardest thing for the new guys after an accident is just starting. My father gained 20 kilos after the accident. He wasn't moving. You have to start moving with only your arms. Their arms are so strong. You have to move for 40 minutes, just with your arms, shooting and everything. And that is the hardest thing, getting used to that."
Aleksander has never played his father one-on-one in wheelchairs. They have played one-on-one with him on his feet and Aleksander won that encounter. "But he beats me when we shoot," Aleksander adds.
The last time Aleksander played at the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT, he was just recovering from a broken leg before playing his first games at the ANGT L'Hospitalet following four months of rehab. This year, the 2.15-meter big man is fully fit and showing some off a skillset which has some believing he can play at the highest levels as a pro.
"I wanted to show here everything that I didn't show last time. Everything that I am doing now," he said.
"I see my game as playing everywhere. I want to be a complete player, doing everything. I am trying to do more things, and I know I will get better by making mistakes. I see my game like Kristaps Porzingis, something like a big guy who can do everything."
The calendar year that just passed was quite a special one for Balcerowski. First, there was his return to the court for the ANGT L'Hospitalet. Then he began practicing this season with Gran Canaria's senior team. And that led to Balcerowski being among the 17 players nominated for Poland's senior national team for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers in November.
The youngster, who only turned 18 years old on November 19, did not make the Polish team for the qualifiers, but it was an invaluable experience.
"It was such a great time with those great players. They are such good guys. It was the first time I was there and they treated me like i was always there, like one of them," said Balcerowski, who has yet to play for Poland internationally after breaking his leg before the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016, which was hosted by his native Poland. "I hope I come back there very fast."
Then just a couple of weeks later, on December 6, Balcerowski got in Gran Canaria's 7DAYS EuroCup game against Tofas Bursa. He played 1:22 minutes and even scored 2 points on his only shot.
"I'm still young, I need to get stronger. Those guys are a lot stronger than me. They have more confidence. They have been playing almost 10 years some of them," he said.
The main thing for Balcerowski is just playing.
"I love this game. I don't know what I would do without this game," he says. "So I am always trying to think that I can always be better. I don't need to stop. I can do everything I do wrong better. I just need to keep working hard each day, and that's it. I'm not thinking about all this talk of the future. Just think about the day you are living now."
Balcerowski's father couldn't have said it any better.