Among many highlights for the players at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals each season is the Players Educational Session, which took place during Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four weekend. The eight ANGT teams came together at the Mi Castillo de Arena outside of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain to learn more about the EuroLeague and adidas brands and their goals around the sport. The players also got a chance to hear about the experiences of two stars of European basketball's past and present, Bostjan Nachbar and Ricky Rubio.
"I wanted to explain from my experience what it takes to make it as a pro and what it means behind the curtain," said Nachbar, who spoke to the players in the role of managing director of the EuroLeague Players Association. "It's a great life on the outside but to get there, there are a lot of hills you have to get over and these young players are getting very, very close. And they need to hear this. They need to hear the reality. Not everything is roses and fun, but there is also a harsh reality behind how much it takes to make it as a pro."
Nachbar, from Slovenia, played eight seasons in the EuroLeague, averaging 8.8 points and 2.7 rebounds for five different teams while also playing six campaigns in the NBA.
Rubio has just finished his eighth season in the NBA and second with the Utah Jazz, having played with the Minnesota Timberwolves for his first six years. The Spanish star also played in the EuroLeague four years, two each for Joventut Badalona and FC Barcelona Lassa, winning the continental title with the latter in 2010, the same year he won the Rising Star Trophy in a vote by the league's head coaches.
"What the EuroLeague is doing is giving the kids an experience of what EuroLeague means," said Rubio, who made his EuroLeague debut three days after turning 16. "It's more than just basketball. It's a league that embraces all their teams, and not just the professional teams but the young teams, too. And that's a great experience as a kid. I wish I had that experience.
"I just wanted to share my path. If I can help their path a little bit with my experience, that's good. I know that most of the kids will not listen to most of the stuff, and if I was their age I would do the same thing that they do. But if they just remember one sentence or one experience that I went through, and I can help just one kid, then that's good enough."
One player who paid close attention to what Rubio said was Matteo Brazzi, U18 FC Bayern Munich's captain and point guard.
"For me, the most important thing was what Ricky Rubio said, that there's always room and space to get better. It doesn't matter how old you are. It never stops. Just trust in yourself and keep believing," Brazzi said. "Everyone has someone they would love to see and speak to, and for me, Ricky Rubio plays my position. So speaking to him really helps me learn a lot."
The session proved beneficial to many more of the players, who ranged in age from 15 to 18.
Matas Repsys of U18 Zalgiris Kaunas said the biggest lesson he learned was: "Work hard, don't be a star because you don't know when someone will come and take your place on the team. Everybody has someone who wants to be where you are at."
Jonathan Atias of U18 Maccabi Teddy Tel Aviv had another: "The most important thing I learned was how to be a good professional basketball player. What you need, what it costs: the practices, the diet, the pros and cons of making money for something you love the most."
And Marko Andric of U18 Mega Bemax Belgrade added: "It's definitely special to meet all these guys from the EuroLeague and NBA. They all talk about players needing to be smiling and be good to other people and be nice. That's the thing I remember most."
For Euroleague Basketball and adidas, the fifth annual Players Educational Session continued a tradition of reaching out to the future protagonists of the sport to help them prepare to become true professionals.
"We give the guys basketball, but we don't give them backgrounds. I don't think they have enough information, when it comes to adidas or Euroleague, on what we stand for. And that's important for these guys to know," said Jelena Soce, the global senior sports marking manager basketball at adidas.
"I think having someone like Ricky or Boki giving them something that money cannot buy is exactly what helps. Nowadays, kids are exposed to so much information in general, so having them spend 20 minutes with Ricky is something they cannot find on Instagram or any website. It's something personal, something they will take back. The same goes for Boki."
All photos by Alex Muñoz