Members of the U18 Real Madrid team very well may have looked themselves in the mirror after Anadolu Efes Istanbul claimed its much-anticipated 2021 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague crown and said: "Now it’s our turn."
Just like Efes, which saw the COVID-19 pandemic cancel the remainder of a 2019-20 EuroLeague campaign it expected to win, Real’s future talents were left a void after not getting an opportunity to defend their Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament title last season despite being a favorite.
The 2021 ANGT Finals in Valencia gave Real the chance to finally get some closure and finish the unfinished business from last season. And the Spanish powerhouse ended up doing just that, outlasting archrival U18 FC Barcelona 81-78 in overtime of the 2021 ANGT Championship Game to claim the club’s third U18 continental crown.
"Before the game, we talked about how for the whole year we had been fighting and working together and we wanted to win so bad," said Real guard Urban Klavzar, who contributed 16 points and 4 rebounds in the win over Barcelona.
After surviving the battle with Barcelona, Klavzar raced around the court and then knelt on the court and banged his hands on the court, before getting up to celebrate with his teammates. It was similar to the relief that Efes expressed in Cologne after downing FC Barcelona to win the EuroLeague crown.
Klavzar had a huge release of relief after finally getting the crown: "Our goal was to win this. It feels incredible," he added.
Klavzar was one of seven players on the 2021 ANGT Finals team who took first place at the ANGT Munich in 2019-20 with a comfortable 16-point win in the last game to qualify for the ANGT Finals for a seventh straight year. The others were Sediq Garuba, Konstantin Kostadinov, Eli Ndiaye, Juan Nunez, Matteo Spagnolo and Tristan Vukcevic. Nunez and Vukcevic were not on hand for the end of the ANGT Finals as both were with Real’s senior team. Vukcevic did not play at the ANGT Istanbul for the same reason. Owen Aquino was on hand at both of the last two qualifiers, but missed the ANGT Finals
"We worked all year just for this," added Spagnolo, who was the only member of the Real team that won the 2019 ANGT title in Vitoria-Gasteiz and played in Valencia.
Spagnolo was hampered in this season’s finals and only played in the championship game, where he tallied 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. It was Spagnolo's third appearance in the title bout; he also played for U18 Stellazzurra Rome in the 2018 ANGT Championship Game, a loss to U18 Rytas Vilnius.
The playmaker also became just the 10th player to win two ANGT trophies. Anatoly Kashirov, Vasily Zavourev, Artur Urazmanov and Iliya Astafiev all won the crowns for U18 CSKA Moscow in 2004 and 2005 and Iliya Gusev was part of CSKA’s winning teams in 2005 and 2006. Besides the CSKA three-peat, the only other club to win back-to-back ANGT trophies was U18 FMP Belgrade in 2008 and 2009. The quartet of Dejan Musli, Branislav Djekic, Aleksandar Ponjavic and Nikola Vukasovic was part of both winning sides.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Real is considered a favorite to win the title again in 2022 considering that Klavzar is one of nine players born in 2004 or later, including the MVP Ndiaye, Nunez and Garuba, while Jan Vide was born in 2005 and Amadou Traore was in 2007.
With its unfinished business now finished, Real can start thinking about matching CSKA with a historic three-peat.