Every young basketball player needs a role model, someone to admire and emulate during their formative years. For Alberto Abalde, that special person was close at hand: his older sister, Tamara.
The Abalde siblings grew up in the city of Vigo in northwestern Spain and Tamara was already a keen player by the time Alberto started to walk.
"I always saw her playing so I wanted to join her."
"Tamara is seven years older than me and she started playing young," the Valencia forward recalled. "She's one of the reasons I started with basketball; I always saw her playing so I wanted to join her. She was playing for Celta Vigo, which was a big team for girls back in the day. Now they're in the second division but they had some great players then and I remember going every weekend to watch Tamara play with Celta."
Indeed, Tamara was one of those great players to come through the Celta youth ranks – great enough, in fact, to become a star player for the Spanish national youth teams. Abalde's happiest memories of his childhood days watching Tamara playing basketball came with a couple of trips to international tournaments.
"I remember a really important tournament for my sister in Turin," he said. "She won the gold medal with Spain; I think it was with the Under 16 national team. The thing I remember the most about that tournament is that our grandfather came with us for the last time before he passed away. It was my last memory with him, and something I will remember all my life. They were really important moments for me.
"I also remember traveling to another European Championships in Tenerife that they won. My family flew there to watch the finals and Tamara played really well. She was named in the starting five for the all-tournament team. I was nine or 10 years old so that was really inspiring for me."
Before long, Alberto and Tamara went their separate ways: the elder sibling pursued her career at college in the United States before returning to Europe with various clubs in Spain and a spell at Pays d'Aix Basket in the south of France. Alberto, meanwhile, was spotted by scouts from Joventut Badalona at a youth tournament and he left the family home to join the Catalan club at the age of 14.
Although they were far apart in distance, Alberto and Tamara maintained their close relationship and the sister was able to give her brother valuable help as he made his way in the sport.
"When I started to plays on junior national teams, she was a very good example because she had already done it so she could give me good advice," Abalde said. "We talked a lot about how to deal with the tough things that can happen in basketball, like losing form or having injuries. My sister gave me a lot of advice on the mental side of the game, how to stay calm and manage situations both on and off the court. She had been through the same things, like going away from home at a young age, so she was a really important person for me."
As Abalde's career progressed, he was able to return the favor of those memorable boyhood trips to watch Tamara as she accompanied him for some of his proudest achievements.
"Tamara came to watch a lot of my tournaments," he said smiling. "In 2013 we won the [Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament] in London and I was Finals MVP. It was an amazing moment and special for me to have my family there."
After spending many years apart, by a happy turn of fate the Abalde siblings were reunited last summer when Tamara was signed by a new team…Valencia Basket! So now Alberto and his sister are living in the same city, employed by the same club and sharing the same practice facilities. And he is delighted they are now so close.
"It's amazing to be together," he exclaimed. "It's very strange and unusual…brother and sister together in the same club both playing professional basketball! We see each other nearly every day, either at practice or sometimes we'll go to breakfast or have a coffee together.
"Sometimes we talk about basketball because it's our job so that's normal, to talk about whatever happened today. But when I'm with my family I don't like to talk too much about basketball... Of course, we watch each other's games whenever we can. If one of us is playing in Valencia and the other one is here, we go to support."
The rest of the Abalde family, of course, is pretty happy with that turn of events.
"It makes life way easier for them!" he laughed. "Now they can come and see us both at the same time! We have another older sister, Mirela, she works in Vigo for a travel agency and has two beautiful kids. My father was a basketball player back in the day, he played for eight years in the Spanish league. They come here to visit us about once a month and I think my dad is very happy to see me and Tamara both playing for Valencia. He loves basketball, it's his passion, so having two of his kids playing professionally at a high level is an honor for him."
"We watch each other's games whenever we can."
Although Alberto and Tamara are very happy to be playing and living side-by-side in Valencia, one more thing remains; Tamara has not yet traveled to watch her brother play a road game in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
"It's difficult because she plays, too, so she has games and practice," he said. "But I would love to take her and Mirela to an away game because EuroLeague is amazing!"
Schedule makers…are you reading?