Jean Montero may be a new name for many observers in Europe, but the Dominican Republic talent made a loud debut on the continent at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Valencia.
The 16-year-old Montero poured in 30 points to go with 6 rebounds and 7 assists in guiding U18 Herbalife Gran Canaria to an 88-72 victory over U18 Unicaja Malaga in the ANGT Valencia first-place game to secure the club a spot at the ANGT Finals at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four.
"We are so proud to win, and now we are going to the Final Four and hopefully we can win the Finals," said Montero, who averaged 21.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 steals.
Those stats earned him the MVP award for the tournament. All the more impressive is that fact that Montero only practiced three times with the Gran Canaria team before the event started since he plays with the club's LEB Silver side and not the U18 team, which was competing in Valencia.
"It's different because the coaches have different styles, but I understood the differences. It's good for me to see different systems. That's everything I want to do: learn different things to get better," said Montero, who has averaged 20.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 4.5 assists in two games in the Spanish third division.
Europeans are just now getting to know Montero but the Santo Domingo native has already built up a strong resume on the international level. His Dominican Republic debut came at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship 2017, when he averaged 9.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals despite being just shy of his 14th birthday. The Dominicans' fifth-place finish qualified them for the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018, where Montero averaged 15.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a tournament-high 4.1 steals -- again, when he was two years younger than the rest of the competition.
The 2019 calendar year was packed with high highs and a rare disappointment for Montero.
The highlights started in early June when Montero starred for the Dominican Republic and helped them finish third at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship and again qualify for the U17 World Cup, which will take place next summer. He led the tournament in scoring with 30.3 points a game, including 49 points in the third-place game against Argentina. He also averaged 9.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.3 steals.
Later in June he shined at the individual level being named MVP of the Basketball Without Borders Americas camp despite being a year younger than most of the campers.
Then came the FIBA U17 Centrobasket Championship in late July where he once again led the tournament in scoring at 28.0 points along with 6.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 4.2 steals. But Montero could not stop Dominican Republic from losing in the third-place game 85-83 to Bahamas on a put-back dunk with 4.3 seconds left. Montero missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
"I learned that life can be different. At the FIBA (U16) Americas I scored 49 points in the last game, and when I got to the U17 team I was thinking I am the best player on the team and I will do everything I can to help. And when we lost that game I said, 'Wow it's different, and I was crying in the locker room,'" Montero said. The Dominicans failed to qualify for the FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2020, meaning that they will also miss a chance for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2021.
That disappointment turned to motivation and he quickly would learn some of the best lessons of his life as Montero in mid-August joined the Dominican Republic senior national team, which was preparing for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. Montero ended up playing three exhibition games for a team which included seven players 30 years or older.
"It was good. They pushed me. They told me you have to be strong because it's a different league, that it's tough for me. They said I am just 16 and I have to be smart, quick and strong. But they helped me so much," said Montero, who mentioned Juan Miguel Suero and Rigoberto Mendoza as the main guys he looked up to from the team.
Montero actually accompanied the team to China for the preparations but left just before the tournament started to look back on what he learned from the veterans.
It was Montero's performance at the U16 Americas Championship this summer that resulted in him coming to Europe as Gran Canaria saw him play in Brazil and asked him to join the team. Montero had other offers from Spanish clubs and numerous U.S. high schools but he decided on Gran Canaria.
"I needed to learn the game. Europe is a good place to learn the game because they have good systems and a lot of guys are so good. My family said it was a good opportunity for me for my future," said Montero, who joined the team about two months ago.
The Dominican Republic prospect may not have been that well known in Europe before coming to Gran Canaria, but Montero certainly made up for lost time at the ANGT Valencia.