Usman Garuba made a very loud splash on the international basketball scene in the summer of 2016. But the U18 Real Madrid talent missed both of the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT events last year due to injuries, which made his starring role at February’s ANGT Munich all the more fulfilling. Garuba now has his sights set high heading into the ANGT Finals in Belgrade.
Garuba made his Spanish national team debut at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016 where he was named MVP as Spain went undefeated in winning the title - the country’s first U16 crown since 2013 and fourth in total. Garuba averaged 16.3 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.9 blocks, including a triple-double in the final against Lithuania of 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. The Madrid native did all that despite being only 14 years of age at the time of the tournament. Garuba, born March 9, 2002, became the only player in the history of the U16 continental competition to have won the MVP award as a lower level player… and he was two years younger than the rest of the competition.
His performances left Garuba and observers alike anxiously awaiting last season’s ANGT with Madrid playing in Coin. But Garuba was unable to play in the tournament due to a quadriceps injury. He then missed the ANGT Finals in Istanbul with a knee injury, which eventually required surgery and caused him to miss Spanish youth national team duty last summer as well.
"It was very difficult last year watching because I really wanted to play. But this time I was able to play, and it was great," Garuba said after he made his ANGT debut at ANGT Munich.
Garuba’s introduction to the ANGT was pretty loud; the 2.02-meter center averaged 15.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks for 2015 U18 continental champion Madrid. He shined in the championship game with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks to lead Madrid over U18 FC Bayern Munich. That victory earned Madrid a spot at the ANGT Finals in Belgrade where it will face reigning champion U18 CFBB Paris, 2012 winner U18 Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and last season’s runner-up U18 Mega Bemax Belgrade.
"It's a great feeling to finally be here. I worked very hard every day for this and I am very thankful for my teammates and my family," said Garuba, who was in the conversation to be MVP of the tournament, an honor that went to teammate Mario Nakic. Garuba, however, did grab a spot on the All-Tournament Team. And did so despite being two years older than the rest of the competition; Garuba was born in 2002 and this year’s ANGT is for the 2000-born generation.
Garuba was born in Madrid to Nigerian parents who have been in Spain for many years. Though his future is basketball, it was not his first love. "I wanted to play football, but I couldn’t because I was too tall," Garuba said.
That led him to grabbing a basketball and hitting the hardwood when he was 11 years old. Even now – five years later – Garuba, of course, is a work in progress. He’s a great rebounder and shot blocker, but knows he has work to do.
"I need to be more concentrated when I don't do the right things and learn to shoot better - both from the outside and the free throw line," said Garuba, who missed his four three-point attempts in the tournament and hit 20 of 29 free throws (69.0%).
Garuba is playing for Real Madrid’s second team in the EBA and averaging 11.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. He also has a younger brother, Ab Sediq Garuba, who is already accomplishing big things in the younger ranks for Madrid.
He is happy to be in the Spanish capital. When asked what makes the U18 Real Madrid team so good, he said: "We work very hard and train a lot. We just want to win."
Madrid has done plenty of winning at the ANGT qualifying tournaments - the victory over Bayern extending the club’s winning streak in qualifiers to 23 games dating back to the 2013 ANGT L’Hospitalet championship game. But Madrid has gone 2-1 in the past two ANGT Finals, twice just missing out on returning to the ANGT Championship Game, which the club won for the first time in 2015.
When asked what Madrid must do to get back to the championship game in Belgrade and take home the title, Garuba said businessman-like: "We have to keep growing as a team and work hard."
Another big factor for Madrid would also be to have a healthy Usman Garuba.