U18 Real Madrid entered the 18th Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament season as the reigning champion with a target on its back. Then, the Spanish powerhouse came to the ANGT Munich with an entirely new – and much younger – group of players. It did not change a thing, however, because Juan Nunez showed that he and the rest of Real's young guns are ready to fight for a repeat.
Nunez took home the ANGT Munich MVP award after his playmaking proved to be an integral part in Real winning the qualifying tournament in southern Gemany for the third straight year and booking its seventh straight ticket to the ANGT Finals.
"We came here with only one thing on our mind, to win: nothing else," Nunez said. "We did a very good job in these four games and we got what we wanted."
Nunez is one of four Real players who were born in 2004 – two years younger than the rest of the competition. The club, which also took home the ANGT title in 2015, also had five 2003-born players on the team in Munich. But being young has no special meaning for Nunez, who was the fifth-youngest player at the ANGT Munich, having been born on June 4, 2004.
"We want to win the title. We came here just to win. We don't have any other thoughts," he said.
Nunez collected 6 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in Real's 104-88 victory over U18 Stellazzurra Rome in the ANGT Munich first-place game. For the tournament, the 1.91-meter point guard averaged 9.5 points on 80.0% two-point shooting, 2.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals for a performance index ranking of 15.0. Nunez ranked first in the competition in two-point accuracy, was tied for third in assists, and ranked fourth in steals.
"Juan is a very talented player and even I as a coach enjoy watching him play. He has to keep working and practicing, but the most important thing is he must continue to enjoy playing. That's the best thing for him," Real head coach Mariano De Pablos said.
Having fun is definitely high up on Nunez's priority list when he plays the game. And it shows in his play that he models his game after the likes of Milos Teodosic, Vassilis Spanoulis and Sergio Rodriguez.
When asked about taking more of a leadership role in the team, Nunez answered: "I really just try to play my game and have fun."
Have fun and win – as it turned out.
Nunez helped Real win the Spanish U16 national championship last season. Then in the summer, he guided Spain to the title at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2019.
"The summer was really important because I learned a lot about playing with taller and bigger players. After seeing that, I have been working a lot since then," said Nunez, who collected 10.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 assists per game, including 21 points, 6 rebounds, 6 steals and 3 assists in the final, to earn him a spot in the all-tournament team.
Real now have four months to continue to work on the team chemistry and get better before the ANGT Finals at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in May in Cologne, Germany. When it returns to Germany, Real will be hoping to become the second team with three ANGT crowns – after U18 CSKA Moscow from 2004, 2005 and 2006 – and also to become the first team to repeat the title since U18 FMP in 2008 and 2009. But Nunez knows he and his teammates will face the usual pressure that comes along with the club logo on their jerseys.
"It's true that we have a lot of pressure because we are Real Madrid. But it's how you focus on it. If you think about working and training harder, it will be easier," Nunez said.
One thing is clear, for Nunez and much of this Real Madrid team, age definitely isn't a factor at all.