U18 Virtus Bologna fell just short of winning the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Qualifier Valencia title. One big reason – literally and figuratively – that the Italian side reached the title game was the play of center Gora Camara, who shined bright in his second go-around in the competition.
Camara led the ANGT Valencia in rebounding with 15.5 boards per game and was second at the event in performance index rating at 24.0 to go with 12.3 points and 1.3 steals per game. Those numbers helped Virtus to the title game, where it lost to host U18 Valencia Basket, and they resulted in Camara in winning the MVP award.
"My team helped me to win the MVP title," Camara said after the 82-71 loss in the championship game, where he struggled with foul problems and was held to just 8 points and 8 rebounds in 18:12 minutes before fouling out. "I wanted to win the EuroLeague title, but we can't change the past. Valencia was probably more ready than us and the next time we have to be more ready to win."
Despite heading home with the bitter taste of defeat against Valencia, it was a special honor for the 2.14-meter big man from Senegal.
"It was important for me to win the MVP award. It could have been better if we also won the tournament. At least we have something to bring home. I won the MVP award because I did all I could for my team to win. I didn’t come here to win the MVP, but to win the tournament," he said.
Part of Camara's showing in Valencia was collecting 15 points and 26 rebounds against U18 Movistar Estudiantes Madrid. That rebound total broke the all-time ANGT single-game mark of 24 previously held by Jonas Valanciunas and Marko Pecarski.
"I got a lot of rebounds because I knew that it was important for the team to win. I didn't believe that I got 26 rebounds," said the big man.
Camara, who will turn 18 years old in April, was playing his second ANGT after lining up for the Italian club at ANGT L'Hospitalet last season when he averaged 6.5 points and 9.5 rebounds for a Virtus team that finished sixth. Those final numbers could be considered disappointing after Camara's first game saw him collect 16 points, 23 rebounds and 2 blocks against U18 Torrons Vicens L’Hospitalet. He totaled just 10 points and 15 rebounds combined in the final three games.
"Last year in L'Hospitalet I didn’t show my potential. This year I had the opportunity to show my real potential and I gave to my team all I could give," said Camara, who had only been with Virtus a couple of months by the time of last season's L'Hospitalet tourney.
Camara arrived in Bologna shortly before the 2017-18 season and did so without speaking any Italian.
"At the beginning, it was very difficult, because I didn't know the language, but now my Italian is better, and that helps me play better," Camara said.
The Dakar native has only been playing basketball since 2015 and learned the game in Senegal at the Dieda Basketball Academy. Camara came into the ANGT Valencia happy to be healthy after missing about two months this season with a pinched nerve in his leg after being kicked during a game earlier this season. He has already played in three games in the Basketball Champions League for Virtus' top team and has tallied 1 point, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in 20 minutes of total action in late October and early November.
"The Basketball Champions League games helped me play better in the tournament. I can see that the players here have less experience than me because I played with the first team in the Champions League," he said.
Camara has been working hard on his game as well as his education, the commitment to the latter which kept him from playing for his native Senegal this past summer when the country reached the final of the FIBA U18 African Championship 2018 and thereby qualified for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019.
"Last summer I went back to Senegal, but had to come back to study. There is a chance to play the U19 World Cup. Senegal would like to bring me there, but it depends on the season," Camara said.
That would be a big chance for the big man, who has already shown that he can excel in Europe's top youth club competition – even more so his second time around.