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Joventut writing new chapter with NIJT finals appearance

REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) - FIATC Joventut’s biggest days are behind them - the times of Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio and the club from the Barcelona suburb of Badalona winning the ULEB Cup in 2008. But a new chapter is being written as the Spanish club reached the finals of the Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) for the first time by winning the traditional Ciutat de L’Hospitalet tournament.

The likes of Augusti Sans and Jose Nogues will match Ricky’s feat of playing in the Euroleague Final Four - as Joventut will play in the U18 NIJT finals at the 2013 Euroleague spectacle in London.

Joventut - the only team of five Spanish sides in the L’Hospitalet tournament with solely Spanish players - proved they deserved their spot in London by knocking off local rivals Barcelona in the semi-finals and then beating Real Madrid 77-67 in the final.

A big portion of the Joventut team already had gathered a valuable experience last summer as six players lined up for Spain at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship. Sans, Nogues, Gerard Gomila, Alberto Abalde, David Iriarte and Marc Bauza were on the Spanish team that lost to the United States in the Semi-Finals in Kaunas and then dropped the Bronze Medal Game to Croatia to finish fourth.

That sextet will have bragging rights over two of their teammates from last summer as Xavier Moix played in L’Hospitalet for Barcelona and Alberto Martin for Madrid.

The tournament in L’Hospitalet also served as a make-up for Bauza and Sergi Costa, who were leaders on Spain’s U16 team last summer but could not keep the Iberians from finishing seventh at the U16 European Championship.

Joventut are the second team to reach the NIJT Finals in London after Bosnia and Herzegovina side KK Spars Sarajevo won the Torneo Citta di Roma tournament a weekend earlier.

The 2006 FIBA EuroCup champions Joventut crashed shortly after Fernandez and Rubio bolted for bigger clubs, dropping from second in the Spanish league standings in 2008 to fifth in 2009 (still with Rubio), 11th in 2010, 13th in 2011 and 11th last season. And Joventut have not played in a European club competition since reaching the Last 16 of the Eurocup in 2009-10.

Joventut are currently 11th in the Spanish Liga Endesa and are giving a strong 11-16 minutes to the young Spanish trio of Nacho Llovet (21 years of age), Albert Ventura (20) and Pere Tomas (23).

A key to a fundamental return to the elite teams in Spain will be Joventut’s ability to continue to develop young talent among the likes of Nogues, who was named to the L’Hospitalet All-Tournament Team.

With that sextet slowly making in-roads with the senior side and teaming up with fellow Juventut farmhands 18-year-old Albert Homs and 19-year-old Alejandro Suarez among others, the days of Joventut running behind the big clubs in Spain may be numbered - if some of those players can get close to the level of the likes of Fernandez and Rubio.

David Hein


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