Long before they were walking the sidelines in suits and ties, the head coaches of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague were first fans, players and basketball lovers themselves. EuroLeague.net asked them to cast their memories back to when they discovered the sport and to tell us what about that discovery made basketball the game of their lives. Salva Maldonado of Herbalife Gran Canaria may be a EuroLeague rookie, but he has been on benches in Spain for almost 30 years and currently ranks fifth in the Spanish League in games coached with more than 600.
"My family always leaned towards football. We went to the stadium to see the FC Barcelona games. Basketball was not a big part of our lives. I started with basketball when I was in school. I was in a religious school, San Gabriel in Sant Adria, a town very close to Barcelona, populated by working-class people, and basketball was started by the friars at the school. I used to play football as a goalkeeper until I was 10 years old. That was the age when I started in basketball. Football was big in San Gabriel, but basketball entered strong and my passion for it started then.
"You could always see me going everywhere with a basketball in my hands."
"We were about a thousand boys, no girls, in our school. In Catalonia, there had been basketball for many years, but at a school level, that was then when it started. It was basically from scratch. I think that we were part of the school's first team, and after that, it went on. There was big competition with football, and since we didn't have TV or technology, our main references were nearby teams like Joventut, Circulo Católico or also Sant Josep, all from Badalona. On TV you could watch the Christmas tournament of Real Madrid and not much more. In Sant Adria, we always rooted for Circulo Católico, which was where Aito Garcia Reneses was coaching when he started. We were more or less fans.
"The method that the friars used to build the first team, you cannot argue with: they made us all stand outside of the school building and then, class by class, they started pointing to us. 'You, you, you and you!' And they chose 20 to 30 kids like that. They gave us some jerseys and told us, 'Be here on Saturday.' And that was how it started. Of course, they had chosen the tallest among us! Then, on Saturday, we went there, and if you didn't like basketball, well you kind of had to suck it up because back then, kids didn't have much say in what they did. It just didn't work that way. Little by little, natural selection made the better ones stay and the others left.
"I had the privilege to turn my passion into my job."
"Even if we were on the basketball team by force, I have to admit that I liked the game from the beginning. I was a street kid back then, and from the moment I started playing, you could always see me going everywhere with a basketball in my hands. Basketball was like a disease for me; I loved it. I progressed. I turned out to be a decent player, but then I switched to coaching and I liked it even better. I became hooked and I got my coaching degree at 17. We took stats by hand on the sidelines. It was 43 years ago and a great deal has changed since then!
"I kept playing, but from that moment on, I always combined playing with coaching. I took over a team of young kids and that's how I started. It was that way until I was 29. At that point, I decided that I could not juggle anymore my family life, kids, playing and coaching, so I decided to retire as a player and focus on coaching. And, so far, I have been doing this for a living for almost 30 years!
"Making a living in basketball was always a dream and a challenge for me. I used to work in the public sector before, but in the end, it all worked out well for me and I had the privilege to turn my passion into my job."