A subject that I am following for quite some time now is how the Spanish Basketball will develop on a long term basis as youth teams are importing more and more foreign players. The recent Spanish U18 championship was the perfect place to make an analysis of the situation as a last-second rule modification will probably have dramatic consequences.
The Spanish Youth teams are considered in general to be among the strongest in Europe. They have won a multitude of Medals at the different Youth Championships and also their club teams are often among the best in the different Euroleague Junior Tournaments. But over the last years, the trend of bringing in foreign talent at a very young age has intensified and it is especially African players that are more and more frequent on the rosters of the Spanish Youth teams. At the recent Spanish U18 Championships, only 2 of the 12 participating teams had no foreign players while Unicaja Malaga had not less than 6 players of foreign origin in their roster. Here are the official rosters of the competition where the Spanish federation did not mention the nationality of the players though.
I went over the different teams to check which nationalities are present.
- Regal FC Barcelona: Michel Acosta (DOM), Norbert Timko (HUN)
- Cajasol Sevilla: Gabriel Darin (BRA), Pape Amadou Sow (SEN)
- Estudiantes Madrid: Luca Riva (BRA)
- Breogan Lugo: Placide Nakidjim (CHAD), Rafael Caetano (BRA)
- Joventut Badalona: Marko Todorovic (MNG)
- Gran Canaria: Bakary Konate (MLI)
- Unelco Tenerife: Malick Cissé (SEN), Lamine Dieye (SEN), Modou Mbaye (SEN), Mansour Sow (SEN)
- Unicaja Malaga: Rafael Freire (BRA-ESP), Samuel Faifr (CZE), Deme Mambaye (SEN), Tautvydas Sabonis (LIT), Malick Fall (SEN-ESP), Jan Svandrlik (CZE)
- Valencia: Gediminas Paulikas (LIT)
- Valladolid: none
- Easo Lurgoien: none
- Majadahonda: Aigars Skele (LAT), Mansour Kasse (SEN), Karl Niamamoukoko (CON)
As it is easily recognizable, nearly all the major teams have stocked up their roster with talent from around the world and mainly from Africa. The typical long- athletic wing or inside player is something that Spain is missing in youth categories for years so the teams import as many as possible in order to fill their rosters. Agents travel regularly to the different African basketball academies or tournaments and send the most talented kids to Spain. Sources close to the situation say that some organizations bring in young players from Senegal or other African countries by large numbers every year, take the 2-3 best out of the pool and send the others back home.
Additionally, there is also a lot of talk about the validity of the passports of these young kids. Officially, they are born in 1992, 1993 or 1994 or even 1996 but it is quite common sense that several kids are older than announced. This tactic was quite common a few years ago with players from ex-Soviet Union and is still used according to different reports in China or as discovered by europeanprospects.com in Kazakhstan. (Just to mention that there is still no official judgment by FIBA on this case and that some players that are under suspicion played recently in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup)
But next to all potential passport fraud, there was another problem that has emerged last weekend just before the beginning of the Spanish U18 championship. Until then, the national federation FEB allowed only 2 non-Europeans in national Youth Championships. But Unelco Tenerife, who played through out the season in the regional Canary Islands Youth championship with 4 players of African descent, went to the “Consejo Superior de Deportes” which is something like the national sports court, claiming that they should be allowed to play with the same team in the National Championship that they played all year long. The court approved their claim 1 day before the beginning of the National Youth Championship which means that from now on, the rule of the limit to 2 foreign players has been abolished. Only a new gentleman-agreement signed by all participants can now prevent another immigration wave of African basketball talent to the Spanish Youth teams in the next years as all doors are open. But it does not look like this is going to happen.
Some teams are starting to get frustrated by being dominated. Real Madrid got eliminated in the qualification for the regional Final 4 after getting destroyed by Torrejon. The winners did not even make it to the National finals as they got eliminated in the Regional Final4. Torrejon used two players from Senegal and it won’t be a big surprise to see Real Madrid bring in Africans as well to go back to the Finals. Reading the statements of the Torrjeon sports director on Eurohopes shows what it is all about: winning.
We wanted to arrive to the (regional) Final Four and there we are.
The Spanish Youth Championship has become a competition where it is all about winning at any price. Teams that do not have enough talent or do not work hard enough with their existing players bring in players from abroad with the only goal of winning. Is this the goal of Youth Basketball? This is how works professional sports of course but is this already necessary in competitions for 16 years-old?And what will happen to all this African kids once they can not play anymore for the different Youth sections and are not good enough to play on ACB level?
Similar discussion have raised in Germany recently where the German National Team head coach Dirk Bauermann underlined that the competition and winning should not be the main goal of the JBBL Youth League but the development of the players. He mentioned teams playing press-defenses or zones just in order to win and that this should be abolished to help the kids develop their one-on-one skills. In general, federations promote their opinion which is to develop young players and protect national prospects for the future of the national team. But the fact that teams want to win competitions is legit as well.
The Spanish federation seems to have a different approach. The massive import of foreign talent in the Youth teams does not bother her as it is also the result of the lack of quality big men of Spanish origin. Even if now, the Spanish Senior National Team has probably the strongest front-court in Europe with the Gasol brothers, how will the Spanish National team look in the future? The FEB has found the solution by giving a Spanish passports to anyone that they seem to need. Mamadou Samb played already with the Spanish U20 National Team in 2009, Nikola Mirotic is announced to be a member of the Spanish U20 National Team this summer and Malick Fall will play for Spain in the U18 European Championships this summer. A lot of talented big guys are ahead for Spain through this process and the wave of new potential NT members is continuing to roll. The arrival of Tibou Tall from Guinea Conakry to Tarragona is yet another step in this direction.