Montakit Fuenlabrada is back in the 7DAYS EuroCup for the first time since 2003 and one of its exciting young talents is playmaker Ludde Hakanson, who is getting ready to make his debut in the competition. Hakanson is a distinguished member of one of the longest-running basketball families in continental basketball, as both his father and grandfather played before him on the Swedish national team. Signed by FC Barcelona at age 15, Hakanson has shined at club and national team youth competitions for years. After briefly joining Barcelona's first roster two years ago, Hakanson did really well in VEF Riga of Latvia and Baloncesto Seville of Spain last season and is now set to play a stellar role for Fuenlabrada and to learn from two-time EuroCup champion Marko Popovic. Indeed, at age 20, Hakanson is looking forward to a pivotal season in his quest to become a very important player in European basketball.
Hakanson comes from a basketball family that's second to none in Swedish basketball. "My grandfather was like a Swedish basketball legend who played many times for our national team and my dad also played basketball," Hakanson said. His grandfather, Egon Hakanson, was without doubt a legend. He was with Alvik Stockholm in a European Cup game against OKK Belgrade in which Radivoj Korac scored 99 points on January 14, 1965. Egon Hakanson also brought the first American player to the team in the 1970s, Glenn Berry, starting a new era in Swedish basketball, and also organized a middle school tournament - the Mini Basketball Cup - in which thousands of kids took part. One of them was his son Olle, Ludde's father, who also played for Alvik and the Swedish national team. Ludde and his sister Fanny, who has played for the Swedish U16 and U18 national teams, are the Hakansons' third generation of elite basketball players in Sweden.
Despite his basketball background, Hakanson tried several sports before making a final choice. "I tried many sports when I was younger. I played football, tennis and a lot of golf - I still play golf! I tried many sports but basketball is the main sport for me," Hakanson said. Like his father and his grandfather before him, Hakanson joined Alvik at a very young age and soon became an interesting prospect. Barcelona tracked him down and it was easy for Ludde to make a decision to join the club's youth teams. "I played many international tournaments when I was younger and went to a training camp in Spain when I was 13. That was when Barcelona saw me for the first time," Hakanson remembers. Barcelona signed him at age 15, but Hakanson had already pictured himself playing abroad. "Growing up, Barcelona had always been my favorite team, so it was easy for me to take their offer. When they called, I didn't hesitate even for one second," Hakanson said. "When I was 11, I had already decided that I wanted to go to Spain when I was 16, but I moved to Barcelona at age 15, so it was a dream come true."
His first big appearance in national team tournaments was at the 2011 U16 Division B European Championships. At age 15, playing mostly against players one year older, Hakanson averaged 22.2 points in nine games, scoring 38 against Estonia. In the same tournament in 2012, Hakanson did even better, averaging 22 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists as Sweden finish third.
In between, Hakanson helped Barcelona qualify to the 2012 International Junior Tournament played in Istanbul, Turkey. Being one of the youngest players in the tournament didn't stop Hakanson from averaging 16.3 points in three games. Hakanson also took Barcelona to the IJT in 2013, losing against Joventut Badalona in the final. "I was in Istanbul and London playing the International Junior Tournament. It was a great experience - I remember it was really cool to travel with the first team there," Hakanson said. Having the chance to witness what the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four is about also inspired Ludde. "It was great to face the best teams in Europe in our age group. Great memories! We had our own competition but could see the best teams in Europe fighting for the EuroLeague title."
His improvement didn't go unnoticed in his country and Hakanson was chosen to play EuroBasket 2013 with the Swedish national team, seeing significant playing time at age 17. Hakanson averaged over 16 minutes and 4 points in five games, plus had the chance to go against some of today's EuroLeague and EuroCup stars. "When I played the EuroBasket, it was the first time that I saw I could play at this level. I was in Barcelona but played with our junior team, but when I went to Slovenia and played 15 minutes per game against Vassilis Spanoulis or Alexey Shved, my confidence grew a lot. Then I came back to Barcelona and everything went a lot better. It was like a starting point for me," Hakanson said. He will get two more chances to play against Shved in this year's EuroCup regular season.
For the 2014-15 season., Hakanson was welcomed to Barcelona's first roster in order to keep learning and getting a taste of what elite club basketball is all about. He didn't see a lot of playing time - a total of 18 minutes in six EuroLeague games - but Hakanson sees it as an important year in his career. "It was a year of learning. I was the third point guard behind Marcelinho Huertas and Tomas Satoransky. I learned a lot from them and practiced with Barcelona's first team every day," Hakanson recalls. "It was great to learn from a legend like Juan Carlos Navarro. It was a learning experience, going to all the big arenas... it was a good year."
Hakanson needed more playing time in order to improve and Barcelona opted to send him on loan to VEF Riga, where he could play a leading role. Hakanson did not disappoint anyone, putting up good numbers in a strong competition like the VTB League: 10.1 points and 5.4 assists in over 22 minutes per game. "Going to Riga was the best choice I could have made," Hakanson admits. "I was a little bit scared when I moved there, from Barcelona to a place that I had never been. Carlos Frade, who is Bilbao's assistant coach now, gave me a lot of confidence. I played in the VTB League and learned a lot. I played a lot, which is what I needed."
He didn't finish the 2015-15 season with VEF, however, as Baloncesto Seville reached an agreement with Barcelona to bring him back to Spain in January. Hakanson arrived to a team in deep trouble, with a 5-12 record, fighting to avoid relegation. Hakanson helped his team win nine of the next 17 games to stay out of trouble for good, averaging 10.9 points, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals. "The timing was perfect for me to arrive in Seville. I went there when the second half of the regular season started and everything went great for me," Hakanson admits. "I played with a lot of good players like Bostjan Nachbar, Scott Bamforth and Ondrej Balvin. It was great for my confidence."
Still under contract with Barcelona, Hakanson looked for the right team to be sent on loan this season. Fuenlabrada has its own superstar combo guard and that allowed Hakanson to pick this team over many others. "Playing with Marko Popovic made the choice to come here easier. I wanted to play in the EuroCup and Fuenlabrada was the right option. Popovic is a legend and me, my family and agents agreed that I can learn a lot from him, a lot of small details," Hakanson said after dishing 11 assists in his team's first official game with Fuenlabrada on Sunday against Dominion Bilbao Basket in the Spanish League. Bilbao and Fuenlabrada will meet again in EuroCup action on November 2.
"I am looking forward to starting the EuroCup. It is going to be really fun playing a lot of games and travelling around Europe," Hakanson said. "I want to be at the top level in Europe. That is my goal right now, but I don't think about how I will be in five years’ time, but in the next game. That is the best way to think about it."