Few people think of Ireland as a basketball country. But a two-year stay there actually played a major role in turning U18 FC Barcelona Lassa wing Aleix Font into the success story that he has become at the EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT. Font is one of Barcelona’s leaders at this season’s ANGT competition; he was named to the All-Tournament Team at the ANGT Qualifying Tournament L’Hospitalet as Barcelona reached the final. At the ANGT Finals in Berlin, Font has helped guide his team into Sunday’s Championship Game against Group B champ U18 Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade at Mercedes-Benz Arena with a team best 17.3 points and 2.7 steals per game. He has also contributed 4.7 rebounds and 2 assists as Barcelona won all three games in Group A. And Font credits his time in Ireland as a factor.
The Barcelona native spent two years with his family in Dublin from 2008 to 2010 and it helped Font develop his game in different ways than he could have if he had stayed in Spain at the JAC Sants club in Barcelona. “I went to Dublin because my dad got a job there. He decided it was a good decision to go there and the family went. We all learned English and had a good time with new friends and new people and a new way of life that made you learn about how you are and how you interact with people,” Font said.
The stay turned into much more than just a cultural and life experience one. Font also got a chance to further his game - despite Ireland’s status as a lower-level hoops nation. During his time in Dublin, Font played with Dublin club Templeogue and was going up against players two and three years older than him.
“When I was at JAC Sants, I was playing as a center because I was really tall. I went to Dublin and I was the smallest of my team because I was playing with older players. And you know Irish people and they play rugby and are really strong. So they were all hitting me and I had to learn to play point guard,” recalled Font. “When I came back to Spain, I was playing more shooting guard-small forward, so that kind of gave me an advantage because I was tall for my position.”
Font also was able to take advantage of a different schooling culture in Ireland. “Today you don’t have a lot of time to do things in Spain. You finish school at 5 p.m. and you don’t have much time for other things. But in Ireland, I finished school at 1:30 p.m.. So I had three hours to do nothing and I just played basketball.”
That work and development paid off when Font returned to continental Europe. After one season back with JAC Sants, Font got the call to join his dream club Barcelona in 2011. “It was a dream for me,” said Font, who grew up watching Juan Carlos Navarro and other Barcelona greats. “Through all the years I was going to the stadium and watching Barcelona play. I lived two minutes away from the whole Barcelona complex when I was a kid. So, obviously it was a dream.”
Font even got his chance to make his LEB Gold debut this season with Barcelona, on March 18 against Palencia. “It was the first time I even dressed with the second team for a game. I didn’t think I was going to play because Palencia was in first place in the league. I played and I even scored a three-pointer, so I was really, really happy. It was like a dream-come-true, starting to play as a professional,” Font said, flashing a smile.
Font also got his chance this season to help Barcelona achieve a major goal. On May 7, Font and Barcelona beat Real Madrid 65-58 in the Spanish U18 national championship tournament. The Catalans had finally broken through against Madrid after having lost to its rival in the last two ANGT L’Hospitalet finals as well as during this season’s U18 group stage.
“We were thinking we’re never going to beat them, they’re unbeatable, and we can’t do it. But we had a lot of confidence and that got our hopes up and we played really well,” Font said.
Besides playing in Europe’s elite youth club competition, the ANGT Finals also provided Font with an invaluable learning experience, meeting Euroleague Basketball Legend Theo Papaloukas as part of the EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Players Educational Session.
“If someone with his background tells you about the game, then you listen,” Font said. “He said some things that are really true. To succeed at basketball, you have to be a freak. You have to spend a lot of hours doing it. You have to really, really love it. The main characteristic a basketball player has to have is that he loves basketball and prefers playing basketball over anything.”
And that is regardless if you’re in Barcelona or Dublin or anywhere in between as Font has learned.