It was too good to be real. A homegrown talent who has won virtually everything in basketball returns home to play in the 7DAYS EuroCup again. Thousands of socially distanced fans came to Palau Olimpic de Badalona to see Pau Ribas play a EuroCup game with Joventut Badalona again. His last EuroCup game with Joventut was in the 2008 championship game against Akasvayu Girona.
Ribas said it clearly in a EuroCupBasketball.com interview this week. "It was also important for me to return to the team, but stay a good playing level," he said. "I want not just to retire here, but to compete. In that sense, returning to the EuroCup gives us a chance to reach high in this competition."
Things were very different on the court. Despite a good start, Partizan NIS Belgrade led 46-61 late in the third quarter and didn't look like Ribas would have a happy return to the competition. Joventut brought in all the energy it needed early in the fourth quarter when Neno Dimitrijevic, Conor Morgan and Albert Ventura stepped up to bring their team back to life. Still, Partizan led 77-80 with over 3 minutes left. That's when Ribas decided that his EuroCup comeback, his first game in front of Joventut fans in over a decade, belonged to him.
First, he buried a catch-and-shoot jumper to make it a 1-point game. When Partizan scored at the other end, Ribas asked Ante Tomic to play two-on-two with him. Ribas quickly found Tomic all alone around the basket to keep Joventut close, 81-82. Joventut needed two defensive stops to get the ball back and Ribas drew a foul with 42.3 seconds to go. He calmly made free throws to put his team ahead for good, 83-82. When Partizan had a final chance to win the game, Ribas came out of nowhere to deflect a pass, making sure his team won the game.
Ribas made all the key plays down the stretch, showing that he returned to Joventut to lead the team. He finished the game with 18 points on 4-of-4 two-point shooting, 6 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal and 3 fouls drawn for a performance index rating of 20.
"We are a young team and had bad moments in the game. It is normal, it is our first game in Europe for some of these kids, but we kept the energy and needed our fans after a long time without them. And together with our fans, we got a great win because we were more than 10 points down against a team like Partizan," Ribas said after the game.
It is a new beginning for Ribas. It took him more than a decade to return to his beloved Joventut. In the meantime, he won the Spanish League, Spanish Copa del Rey, European and World Championships, and even a second EuroCup title with Valencia Basket. Ribas will now try to take Joventut as far as he can and perhaps even join Rafa Martinez as the second player to win three EuroCup titles.