Zagars inspired by former Joventut greats

Mar 30, 2018 by David Hein, Print
Zagars inspired by former Joventut greats

Every player dreams of making it big in the game and Arturs Zagars is no different. Whenever the young Latvian point guard faces challenges in his quest, all he needs to do is look at the many greats who have played for U18 Divina Seguros Joventut Badalona. Joventut, the 2013 Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT champion, has produced some of Spain’s biggest and brightest talents including Rudy Fernandez, Raul Lopez, Alex Mumbru, Pau Ribas, Ricky Rubio and Guillem Vives.

Zagars feels the club's history just by walking around the facilities in the Barcelona suburbs. "It’s inspirational," the 17-year-old said. "Every day we walk into the arena and their faces are on the walls, and it’s inspirational."

Zagars transitioned that inspiration into performance in putting together an outstanding showing at the ANGT L’Hospitalet. The playmaker averaged 14.0 points, 6.3 assists and 1.5 steals at the event, which Joventut won to get back to the ANGT Finals for the first time since 2014.

"The whole season we were preparing for this and it paid off," said Zagars. "This is the best feeling I have ever had in my entire life. We worked so hard, all the sweat and all the blood paid off."

The Riga native is in his first season with Joventut, following an ever-growing trend of Latvians coming to Spain to hone their basketball skills. Other Latvians who moved to the Iberian peninsula early in their career include Kristaps Porzingis, Anzejs Pasecniks, Rolands Smits and the Kurucs brothers, Rodions and Arturs. Zagars, who played with Baskonia prospect Arturs Kurucs at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016, admitted that he really didn’t know much about Joventut when he came to his tryout last year.

"Before I came here I didn’t know anything about this club. I knew that it played in the ACB, but I didn’t know they had a junior system," said Zagars, who played last season with BS DSN Riga in Latvia. "Then I came and I started to get to know the people and get to know the club and I fell in love with it."

Zagars said it was the family atmosphere at Joventut that helped him decide on the club. "It's one big family. The whole staff, all the players are like one big family. Maybe it’s not the richest club, but the coaches and players are like family. They put the maximum into the players and want us to reach our maximum potential. That’s why I came here."

Even with the family feeling, the transition to Spain was a challenge for Zagars, who will turn 18 years of age in late April. "The first couple of months were difficult, adjusting to the language. As time goes by it’s getting better and better. The coaches trust me more. I just need to work," he said.

Zagars's hard work has paid off with the senior team as well; he already made his ACB debut with Joventut. He played seven minutes against Baskonia on March 11 and scored 2 points.

Now that the field is set for the ANGT Finals and Joventut knows which teams it will face, Zagars and co. can start thinking about adding another U18 continental crown to the one from 2013. "Our goal is to compete for the championship. We will work even harder now," he said.

And maybe that hard work will end up with Zagars becoming an inspiration for future youngsters walking around the Joventut facilities.