European basketball fans watch Luka Doncic and recall his exploits in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and the Slovenian national team.
Usman Garuba watches him and recalls the lessons he learned from practicing against Doncic with Real Madrid, lessons that helped Garuba win the MVP award at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Munich.
Garuba led U18 Real Madrid to repeat as the ANGT Munich winner with averages of 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 26.5 performance index rating over four games last weekend.
Now, the 16-year-old would love to help Madrid win a second U18 continental trophy to match the one that Doncic raised in 2015.
"[Doncic] is the guy who everyone in Real Madrid's youth teams follows."
"We all want this championship. We have a great team, we have a very great opportunity to win at home in Spain, and we are ready," Garuba said after Madrid's victory in Munich meant qualification to the ANGT Finals in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, in May, during the EuroLeague Final Four in the same city.
Garuba, who will turn 17 on March 9, recalls not only watching Doncic win the ANGT title back in 2015, but has distinct memories of playing against him in practice with the eventual EuroLeague champions last season.
"He's special. He's a very good player. I've never seen another player like that. I practiced with him last year and it was amazing," said Garuba, who helped Madrid practice through many injuries last season, but did not appear in a EuroLeague game yet.
"He didn't teach me anything specific, but he showed that if you work hard and stay humble that anything can happen. He's the guy who everyone in Real Madrid's youth teams follows. We follow him. We learn from him."
Another thing Garuba observed from Doncic is how to deal with the pressure of expectations as Madrid came to Munich as the favorite. Not only did he and his teammates rise to the challenge, but Madrid has now qualified for the ANGT Finals for a sixth consecutive time.
"It's very difficult sometimes playing for Madrid because everyone is focused on us. But we tried and played hard," said Garuba, who last season was named to the all-tournament team at ANGT Munich.
Garuba learned another valuable lesson away from Madrid last summer, when he played for Spain at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2018, looking to win his second U16 European crown following that of 2016, when he won the MVP honor as a 14-year-old. This time, Spain suffered its only loss of the tournament in the final, by 71-70 to Croatia, with Roko Prkacin hitting the game-winner with 3 seconds left.
"I learned that a final is a final," said Garuba, who collected 16 points, 18 rebounds and 4 assists in the final as an all-tournament team selection. "Anyone can win. We were the favorites, but anything can happen."
"You have to first think about defense, and everything else will come around."
Armed with the hurt of losing the U16 final and the motivation of implementing the lessons learned from Doncic, Garuba experienced another highlight on October 28, 2018, when he made his pro debut in the Spanish League.
"I was with the second team playing in Castilla-La Mancha. We finished the game and went to the bus and then they said to me that I would be playing with the first team the next day against San Pablo Burgos and I couldn't believe it," said Garuba, who collected 2 points and 2 rebounds in 3 minutes of the home game. "I didn't know the plays or anything, but they helped me a lot. And I am very happy for that."
Garuba, whose parents are from Nigeria but have lived in Spain for many years, has played in one more Spanish League game, scoring 7 points without a miss to go with 6 rebounds and 3 steals in mid-November, still sometimes practices with the Real Madrid pro team.
"I have to stay very humble and work hard. You have to first think about defense, and everything else will come around," Garuba said.
Wise words he learned by watching Luka Doncic do his thing.