The Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Belgrade first-place game was a mixed bag of emotions for Daniel Batcho of U18 CFBB Paris.
Sure, he was disappointed about losing the qualifying tournament title to U18 Partizan NIS Belgrade. At the same time, he was satisfied to have played so well as to be chosen tournament Most Valuable Player – especially considering where Batcho was just a year ago.
On Sunday in Belgrade, Batcho collected 24 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks for a performance index rating of 38 against Partizan, but CFBB ended up losing 79-67.
"The toughest thing I have gone through in my life."
"I just tried to stay aggressive in the game," Batcho said afterward. "I knew I had to grab a lot of rebounds to help out my teammates."
Batcho finished the four-game weekend averaging 14.8 points on 69.7% two-point shooting to go with 11.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and a performance index rating of 24.3. He was the tournament's best in both rebounds and PIR.
Seeing the 2.02-meter forward put up those numbers was even more welcome sight once you think back to August 15, 2018.
Batcho came into the quarterfinals of that summer's FIBA U16 European Championship averaging 10.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals. But just about 30 seconds into the game against Serbia, Batcho landed awkwardly on his left knee after making a layup. The diagnosis was a broken kneecap and Batcho had to sit out the entire 2018-19 season.
"It was the toughest thing I have gone through in my life," he says now. "It was a tough rehab, but we have a lot of great physical therapy people at INSEP and they were with me every day."
Batcho said not being able to play did actually help him, though, in his understanding of the game of basketball.
"It helped me see the game differently and watch more of it, the details. Something I didn't do before: watch more the screens and how to get the ball," Batcho says.
Most importantly, sitting out an entire season gave Batcho perspective on life.
"Nothing is given, everything is earned I have to eat well, sleep well and do everything well to show everything that I can do," he says.
The days, weeks and months of wondering if he could ever get back onto the court finally came to an end on September 28, 2019, when CFBB took on La Charite in a third-division game in France. Batcho played 13 minutes and collected 6 points and 5 rebounds.
"I was so happy, it was a big relief," he recalled.
Batcho has shown flashes of his ability this season as he tallied 7 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks versus Andrezieux; collected 21 points and 11 rebounds against Chartes; and picked up 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists versus GET Vosges. For the season, Batcho averaged 8.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24 minutes coming into the ANGT Belgrade.
"Nothing is given, everything is earned."
It was fitting that Batcho made his loud international re-entry in Belgrade. That fateful injury in August 2018 came in a quarterfinal game against Serbia, whose team then featured eight players who also played at ANGT Belgrade this weekend: Lazar Stefanovic and Luka Tarlac from Partizan; Luka Paunovic, Mihailo Musikic, Marko Andric and Ivan Pavicevic from U18 Mega Bemax Belgrade; and Nikola Manojlovic and Lazar Joksimovic from U18 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade.
His fateful game in 2018 had taken place in Novi Sad, Serbia, so Batcho knew how much a passion for basketball goes hand-in-hand with the talent of the country's players. That made him and his team were well aware of all they accomplished to reach the ANGT Belgrade first-place game, but also of the tough task they faced in taking on Partizan.
"We knew that it would be intense because they were playing at home," he said.
Having come all the way back to stand tall again in the country where injury first sidetracked him, Batcho has very clear what he will remember most from his comeback at ANGT Belgrade:
"The intensity – and also how you always have to be focused on the game."