Joventut Badalona has a reputation of producing homegrown talent due to its second-to-none youth teams structure. Not only does Joventut bring out some of the best talents in European basketball, but it also takes pride of giving them playing time in the club's senior squad. That is not just true of well-rounded veterans like Pau Ribas, Guillem Vives, Ferran Bassas and Albert Ventura, but also applies to young, upcoming talents aiming to reach the next level. Joel Parra, a 2.02-meter 21-year-old forward, is one such young player who is slowly but steadily becoming one of the team's main pillars. He proved it against Partizan NIS Belgrade in Round 3 of the 7DAYS EuroCup Regular Season, leading his team with 15 points in over 30 minutes.
Parra grew up in nearby Vallromanes and the fact that his mother played at Joventut allowed helped assure that he would eventually joined the club's prestigious youth team structure.
"When my parents decided to sign me up for basketball, I started to play in a local club. Then they wanted me to play for a more serious club, with serious practices," he recalls. "Both of my parents played basketball, but my mom played at a higher level and was with Joventut for one or two years. She had the contact of the youth team's coordinator, so I came to do a test. I was chosen to join Joventut in the middle of a season. Joventut is well-known for taking care of its young players and a lot of kids go to tryouts at the end of the season. But I made it, and I am still here."
"Joventut is well-known for taking care of its young players."
Parra, who is left-handed, started shooting with his right hand at a young age. Joventut's coaches detected the problem and decided to make him go left-handed, taking his game several steps forward. Parra explains the unusual story.
"I am left-handed but when I started playing basketball, I started to shoot with my right hand. It wasn't exactly that, but I started the shooting movement with my right hand. When I was 14 or 15, my coaches saw that my shot was not effective enough and since I was left-handed, they thought it was strange that I shot with my right hand," he said. "David Jimeno and Jordi Marti, who worked with young players at that time, proposed the change and I bought into the idea right away. I was sure they wouldn't say it lightly and saw an opporunity to improve as a player. It was a long process with Pau Del Tio, shooting in the annex courts for two years, trying to see how it went, and it is paying off right now."
The annex courts are part of Joventut's success. These courts are inside Palau Olimpic de Badalona, where kids have the chance to see their local heroes every day, dreaming on being promoted and finally to get to play in the main court.
"Young players practice in annex courts surrounding the main court, in the same building. It is true that when you grew up, when you reach the cadet and junior ages, you start practicing in the main court. When you arrive to the arena, you always see a lot of kids practicing at all times, mainly in the annex courts," Parra said. "It is not just players: Joventut brings out talented players, but also talented coaches. Carles Duran is with the team now but there are many others out there. Most of the coaches in the first team starting their careers here in Badalona, too. It is something special."
Parra was one of the kids that saw their basketball idols pass by every day, but his main reference growing up played in a different team, and was one of the best left-handed small forwards in European basketball history.
"When I was a kid and practiced in the annex courts, I tried to see Pau Ribas, who is one of my teammates now, Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez," he told us. "But growing up, when I started to improve, people told me to keep an eye on Pete Mickeal, because of his playing style. He could play at the 'three' and 'four' spots, moved really well without the ball, could also put the ball on the floor, rebounded well and could play in the low post, too."
Slowly but steadily, Parra is getting experience and earning a big role in the team. Being surrounded by players who have been there, in the same situation, in the same exact club, definitely helps.
"It is very important to have veterans that know what Joventut is all about. We keep a core of eight or nine players who grew up here, and that gives us a plus," Parra said. "Having veterans like Pau (Ribas), Ferran (Bassas), Ante (Tomic) or Guillem (Vives), who just came from Valencia but knows the club well. Also Albert Ventura, who has been here his whole life. He knows what Joventut means, how the club works and what people want, especially the fans. For me, it is a learning process in games and practices. We, the young players, must absorb all the knowledge and experience they have to be like them one day."
Parra made his first team debut in the 2017-18 campaign, and played his first EuroCup game when Joventut returned to the competition in 2019. Regarding his first EuroCup season, he remembers a Top 16 game against Tofas Bursa, exceptionally played at Palau Blaugrana. Joventut rallied to beat Tofas 88-84 behind a career-high 37 points from Klemen Prepelic, but Parra played a key role with 11 points -- his first double-digit scoring performance -- in 13 minutes.
"Yes, it was important for me," he recalls. "Everything went well. I was playing regularly but it was my chance to say, 'Here I am, and I can play at this level'. I remember I hit 3 of 3 three-pointers that night, and helped the team win an important game."
"Young players must absorb all the knowledge and experience."
Asked about how the EuroCup help young players get better, Parra did not hesitate about it;
"The EuroCup definitely helps young players to improve. Playing in two competitions is important: if you only focus on one competition, especially if it is a tough one like the Spanish League, there are less chances for young players to be on the court and prove their value. So playing in two competitions is important. I am trying to make the most out of the playing time I get in order to keep learning. The EuroCup is very physical, very demanding, and that is always useful for young players."
Parra is fully established as a full-time starter on a EuroCup contender and is growing on and off the court. The next step should be passing his driving license exam so that he doesn't have to be driven to practices it.
"I am working on it. I took the test twice and failed by a small margin!" he laughs. "I am doing the paperwork to try again as soon as I can. In the end, it is complicated because the exams are in the morning and it is not easy to find the right time due to our practices and trips. But I will keep trying, and I hope to get lucky next time."