Last summer, the FIMBA European Championship, a competition for basketball teams in veteran categories, was held in Malaga. Unicaja presented several teams to this competition. Pedro Ramírez was entrusted with the task of managing and directing the team that Unicaja would present in the +35 category, captained by Carlos Cabezas and with a group of players all trained in the Unicaja quarry. Pedro remembered me and called me in case I wanted to accompany him on this adventure. Who could refuse to accompany again after many years the best coach I have ever known and to coach again many players with whom I shared a locker room when we were all younger?
Antonio López Nieto, president of Unicaja and the main architect of these veteran teams being formed and competing, had the idea of promising us that if any team was capable of winning the European Championship, they would go to Mar del Plata (Argentina) the following summer to represent Unicaja in the FIMBA World Cup in its category. I don’t know if he said it knowing well what he was saying because sending an expedition of so many people to Mar del Plata is not easy and much less cheap. But the reality is that our team took the president at his word and won that European Championship. And López Nieto proved to be a man who keeps his promise, even with pleasure I would say, despite knowing what trouble he was getting into and sent us two weeks ago to Argentina to compete in that +35 category World Cup.
And nineteen of us went there, after a thirty-hour trip. The players went with the same enthusiasm that they felt when they were juniors or cadets and we were going to play in a Spanish championship. And all with the ambition of winning that competition.
It was not easy. What’s more, I would say that it was much more complicated than the European Championship the previous summer. All a year older, many out of shape and on top of that competing against players who were actually +35. On our team only two players are +35. The rest are all +40. But that detail has been made up for thanks to the quality of our boys, who know the game perfectly and have known how to play as a team, each assuming their role, much better even than when they were elite players in training categories or at the level. professional. And I think that has been one of the keys to winning this World Cup: being a team with 12 players every day, each one contributing their basketball to the team. The other key has been the enormous respect the boys have for the coaches. That respect was reciprocal on our part. I would also add that I have admiration and affection for them, because I have shared many hours on the court with many of them many years ago.
Of all of them I would like to highlight Leandro Ramírez, José Rojas and Ignacio Almarcha, who are a very important part of what has been achieved and who for various reasons could not travel with the group. We have missed them a lot and they are as champions as the rest. And also to José Carlos Gaspar and Javier Jiménez, who did travel, could not play any games due to the rules of the championship but who, despite that, have joined the group with absolute generosity and have been very present.
Of course I can’t finish without writing about Fabián Plaza, an Argentine physiotherapist who has accompanied us there for ten days. Imagine the importance of his work with a team of players of a certain age when five games are played in seven days. He, in addition to having everyone recovered when the pain appeared, proving his worth in his profession, integrated so much into the group, suffered so much in the bad moments or enjoyed so much in the good ones, that he came to Malaga in everyone’s hearts. Antonio Morón, who has brought to perfection a group of guys that is not easy at all because they are all of an age. It was brutal to see how they listened to good Antonio. I assure you that his work was not at all simple and he has carried it out with skill.
And, of course, to Pedro Ramírez, who has led the team with ambition and demand, but also with mastery and respect.
Without a doubt, the leader of the team is Carlos Cabezas. Juan Méndez nicknamed this team the Band of 10 because of the number our leader plays with. And it has been impressive to see him play again with that competitive level and that winning gene that cannot be trained, whether you have it or not, and that he has shown that it is not lost even if the years go by. Someone on Twitter said something like Carlos’ profession is to be world champion since he was junior world champion, absolute world champion and now +35 world champion. Something awesome! Now that no one is listening to me, I can throw my hat out and tell you that Carlos Cabezas, the three-time world champion, only has one world championship ahead of me. And that I am privileged to have shared two of those championships with him.
It has been a lethal experience. And this team has shown that it is a guarantee of success. So we do not live in the past and we are already thinking about the next European Championship in Pesaro. Let’s see if López Nieto picks up the gauntlet, we are willing.