By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
Whipping through the air, the ball seemed to be on a vacation it was so happy. Rotating around and around, happily cruising from the comforting hands of one Badalona player’s to another’s. Once it was safely secured by Agusti Sans or Xavier Assalit, or another Catalans hands it was only on a layover, a pit stop before the ball sailed off to it’s next destination.
Joventut Badalona crushed, dismantled, terminated not only Barcelona in a 82-59 NIJT Championship game win, but the whole field of junior teams in London. They smelled of the same sweet scent that last year’s Champion Lietuvos Rytas did; a ball movement heavy team that loved playing with one another. After a Badalona fast break layup, which there were many of, the bench would jump in joyous yells and encouraging screams. Every three pointer swished felt like an uplifting push for not just that player, but the whole team. This type of enthusiasm lifted this team to play better than the already very talented collections of part are separately. They say shooting is contagious, but so is the want to help out your fellow teammate.
The star for Badalona this weekend was wing scoring extraordinaire Alberto Abalde. Abalde comes off the bench for Badalona, but leading the team in scoring at 17.8 points a game and never going below 16 in a single contest. Abalde has a hunger to score, a need to put the ball through the basket. He’s a scoring assassin. First he settles in on the perimeter, picking you apart move by move. His one dribble pull-up jumper is his go-to move, complete with an incredibly silky stroke. He’s so smooth and keeps the ball up so high off the dribble or catch to release that you continually expect the ball to drop through the net. Once you’ve been wooed by his jump shot game he starts to work you a little harder. Quick crossovers that with a step of his lanky frame gets him to the basket in an instant. Backing down his defender when he feels someone is trying to play him too tough. Snaring offensive rebounds for put-backs. It’s a complete scorers game with built in toughness and always a silky smooth shot release. And all that is within the flow of Badalona’s offense, he was the kick starter for their scoring attack.
Abalde is just part of the Badalona equation though, not the final answer. His elite scoring was on display this weekend but he is an example of how Badalona thrives. Everything is free-flowing and easy. If a guy is busting his butt on the fast break, someone heaves a pass up court to him. If there is a guy open in the corner for a shot, he gets the ball. If you have an open driving lane, seize it. When a Badalona player got the ball his first read was to find his teammates and see what the defense was giving him. Read the situation and react, no predetermined options existed.
The most striking thing was just a sense of free-ness. A total willingness to get rid of the ball if it gets your teammate in a better scoring situation. They worked the ball around like veterans, skipped passed out of double teams like they had been doing it for years, and soon there was nothing “extra” about their extra passes.
All the parts fit together like a 12 person puzzle. Gerard Gomila was the stocky point guard with a wide crossover that had guys off balance and transitioned that driving ability into great kick-out passes once he arrived in the lane. He also wasn’t afraid to go up for rebounds at any cost, averaging four a game. Abalde was the elite scorer, feathery in all aspects of his game and guarding Mario Hezonja all the way out to half court. Xavier Assalit was the defensive havoc maker. With a really long frame for a point guard he absolutely hounded whoever brought the ball up court and was the center piece of the Badalona full court press. Offensively he was an attack machine, constantly keeping the defense on their toes, as at any moment they could be staring at at the back of his head. Augusti Sans was the table setter for everything. He was the most complete player on Badalona and filled up the box score consistently. His presence was always calming, running either guard position, and roughly beating bodies back who tried to get in his way on dribble drives. Four Badalona guards, all with different skill sets but all playing together. There was always one of them who brought the ball up the court but ball handling was equally shared, team always came first.
Jose Nogues was the herky-jerky power forward with great touch around the hoop. His slashing style, ability to catch and get a shot up quickly, and constant hustle led to buckets full of points. A real versatile player, if Abalde was the star of the weekend, Nogues wasn’t far behind. A big man who can attack the rim from out to the three point line is rare and Nogues did it routinely with ease. David Irairte was the do-it all big man. Go guard Red Star super big Dusan Ristic, check. Pound the offensive glass, check. Bring up the ball on the fast break, check. Space out and hit a three, check. Any task called upon, check.
But the beauty of Badalona wasn’t just the excellent play of their top players explained above but the roles everyone on the team embraced. Sergi Costa was another tone setter, a point guard willing to hustle and defend whoever. Frederic Guallar in limited minutes mixed it up in the paint and boarded up. Marti Fonolla was willing to uncork a trey ball whenever he had space. Marc Bauza was the defending big, needed if a bigger body started pouring in points. Edgar Martinez came in to muck things up, push people around, make the game more physical.
In Badalona’s bone crushing defeat of Barcelona in the Championship, all of their strengths were on display. They ran the fast break totally unhinged, flinging the ball up court as soon as they could. On defense they trapped and switched until Barcelona grew intensely frustrated and started throwing the ball away. On offense it was the same clinic we saw through four days, opening up so much space with passes and drives that everyone seemed to always have a good shot available. And every shot made was a chest beating moment in the most positive sense, a reason for the bench to get up and cheer as they pushed each other to play better and better.
In basketball the most wonderful thing is to see five guys playing together who feed off each other and know each other’s games so well that each play better. There wasn’t anything complex about the way Badalona picked apart the NIJT field, they just played their brand of free flowing basketball.