Estudiantes Madrid since its inception in 1948 was far more than just another basketball club. Their values which are deeply immersed in education must be traced to the Ramiro Maeztu Institute, one of the most prestigious models of education in Spain which created the bedrock of the club. The stability of the club is guaranteed by the presence of Miguel Ángel Bufala, the president of the club who has been in this position for an unbelievable period of 55 years.
Apart from competing in ACB, Estudiantes runs an incredibly successful junior programme with over 2000 young basketball players and their Estudiantes Foundation works with over 250 disabled young people.
One of the most successful recent products of the Estudiantes conveyer belt of young players is Adams Sola who became a starter in ACB at the age of 17 years and 9 months. Future Stars talks to Adams about his fast journey from junior basketball to the very cutting edge of European game.
You are a very unique case in modern European basketball. You have spent your entire career in just one club and you became a starter in ACB at the incredibly young age of 17 years and 9 months. Tell us about the beginning of your adventure with basketball and the role of Estudiantes in your life
I have started playing basketball in my hometown Leganes. After playing there for a year Estudiantes contacted my parents and started conversations about moving to Madrid. I was invited by Estudiantes to try out, I have stayed there for two weeks and after that they have offered me the place at their junior programme. I was 12 at that time. Of course, Estudiantes means to me a lot, this is the only club which I have played for the last 8 years. They have organised my life in Madrid which includes education, place to live and they ultimately offered me a professional contract. I can only say good things about Estudiantes. I’m very comfortable here and want to stay here for a very long time.
Unfortunately we are living in the era when young players very rarely play dominant roles in the top professional leagues .You have definitely bucked this trend and became a starter in ACB at the age of 17 years and 9 months. How nervous were you when you found out that you will start in that ACB game against MoraBanc Andorra?
Actually, I didn’t feel any extra pressure. In moments like that I simply feel that I need to step on the court and play. When I came back home I realised that something very important and significant has happened in my life. But this reflection came later, after the game. During the game I was focused on my job. I felt like I’m doing something normal, something which I have been doing all my life. Just go and play. It’s not difficult
How did the rest of the team react to this situation? There were plenty of much older players who had to sit on the bench and watch you playing.
That was probably one of the most important aspects of the entire situation. There was absolutely no jealousy and everyone was very supportive. Actually, this was the case not even when I became a starter but much earlier when I started to practice with the first team. Everyone wanted to give me advice and somehow support me. When I started to play a lot of minutes there were no complaints, no one was angry or mad at me, they simply tried to support me and make me a better player.
Alexandar Dzikic has given you your starter role in the ACB but quite recently he was replaced by someone who has worked with you extensively on junior level, Javier Zamorra. Providing that Coach Zamorra will stay with the team for the next season do you expect that your role will increase even further in his system?
As a matter of fact yes, I do. I have been playing for Coach Zamorra for five years and he knows me very well. He understands very well what I can give to the team, so from my personal point of view it is a very good change.
Your team had a difficult time in the ACB, you finished last and the exceptional circumstances caused by Coronavirus saved you from relegation. In your view what needs to change in the next season?
We have started league quite well. We won three of the first six games and everything seemed to be fine. Then we started to lose a couple of games by a very small margin and that made the team lose confidence. Then we started losing consecutive games and we could not find a way to respond. We have reached bottom and we couldn’t find a solution to improve our game. If somehow we managed to play like we did at the beginning of the league we would be in the top part of the table, perhaps fighting for the playoffs. We ended up at the bottom because this losing streak was very hard to deal with.
Do you think that the fact that you were a relatively young team contributed to your problems? So perhaps the situation with Coronavirus could be blessing in disguise for your team and people like yourself, Dovydas Giedraitis even Nacho Arroyo could come back next year more experienced and therefore more effective in the ACB?
We need to approach it in a very positive way and learn from it. It’s not like everything was bad last season. We need to extract the good parts of our game and work on it. We definitely didn’t want the season to finish like that but it happened for the reason completely not controlled by us. Since we have been given this chance we need to regroup and start working even harder to come back next season much stronger. How you have mentioned, some of us are very young players and being at the bottom of the league was a very difficult situation. But we have learned from it and hopefully become much better players. This season should make us far better prepared for the ACB next season.
Playing in the ACB puts you in a unique situation when on every weekend you are competing against absolute elite players. Spanish basketball has been blessed with fantastic players playing at your position in the last 15 years. Who were your role models?
I don’t have one particular player which I want to mould my game on. I spend a lot of time watching great players and like to take some parts of their game and add to my skills. Generally, I like to watch defensive players who would sacrifice everything for the success of the team. I like players who make people around them look and perform better. If I had to point at the players which I particularly appreciate I like watching Barcelona’s duo of Victor Claver and Pau Ribas. They are maybe not producing hugely impressive stats but they always sacrifice everything for the team
People who work with you very often describe you as a natural born leader. I presume your leadership skills were especially important in your days with Spanish junior national team. In 2016 you have won the U16 European Championship beating Lithuania in the final in a very dramatic fashion. How important for you was that tournament?
I will always maintain that was my best experience as a basketball player. At the beginning we knew that we had a very good team but we had no idea whether we could challenge for the medals, to say nothing about winning the entire thing. I think we had a very talented group of players but the most important factor was the fact that everyone understood and accepted their roles in the team. People were ready to work for each other. Winning the championship made me feel ecstatic and gave me incredible motivation. It was a very important moment for me because I have realised then that basketball is something which I want to do as my profession. So far I played for fun and enjoyment but after the European championship I have said to myself ”This is serious, this is your future job and you have sacrifice everything for it.”
In the final which we have just mentioned the top scorer for the Lithuanian team was Dovydas Giedraitis who is currently your teammate. After having such an unusual introduction have you developed some special bond with him?
He is my great friend. We spend a lot of time together. Actually one of the best things at Estudiantes is the fact that all young players are very close. After training we spent a lot of time together. We go out to eat together, we go to cinemas together and I think this special bond is very important for our team
We live in a strange time when almost every young player who has done something vaguely outside of being ordinary wants to go to the NBA. You are in a completely different category. At the age of 17 you were the starter in an ACB team, so we would like to know what are your plans for the foreseeable future?
I would like to develop much further in the league where I’m right now. I want to be a far more mature and experienced player before I make any further moves. I have so much to learn and improve, I need to play far more minutes and develop in such a tough league like the ACB. It will take me at least a couple of years so it is safe to say that I’m not going anywhere soon.