People on EuroLeague.net want me to talk about ballhandling, so here I go. I spent a lot of time with a basketball in my hands and in that sense, ballhandling is something that came to me in a natural way. Since I was a child, I was always surrounded by balls. If I got good grades or did something so well that I deserved a gift, it was always a football, a basketball, a tennis ball, a volleyball. I loved all of them, but mainly, I had the habit of having a basketball in my hands every day. It also helped that we had a basketball hoop in my backyard. I was always playing basketball at home. At the same time, I was never a kid who loved video games, so that made me spend more time playing a lot of sports on the street.
As a kid, I went to a public school in Tenerife that didn't have a basketball team. Basketball in Tenerife was mainly for kids in private schools. I tried to join a team at age six or seven, but they wouldn't let me because I was not in one of those schools. I started to play football, tennis, karate, table tennis...a little bit of everything. Then, at eight years old, our La Salle school was linked to Unelco, a basketball club, so I started to practice. By that time, I had already played a lot of games in 3-on-3 tournaments and stuff like that. When I started practicing with the team, I realized I was good at it and that it was easy for me to retain everything I learned.
As for ballhandling, like I said, I had the good fortune to have a basketball hoop at home, and in that way, I didn't bother anyone. I didn't live in a flat or in a house in which bouncing the ball would be noisy for our neighbors. It was a good way to spend energy and be active at the same time. It was kind of natural. Then when you grow up, you keep an eye on what people do and how they bounce the ball. You try to imitate the players you like, what you see on TV. Back in those days, we had a team in Tenerife, but not at the highest level in Spain. I tried to have as much fun as possible and work to get better with what I saw on TV and what I liked.
I got compared a lot to Carmelo Cabrera, who was a point guard from the Canary Islands who won two EuroLeague titles with Real Madrid in the 1970s. I saw him play on tape, but when I was a teenager, Carmelo was already retired. Back then, Jason Williams was in his prime, but I also liked Raul Lopez, Sasha Djordjevic, Allen Iverson... I also was influenced by AND1 mixtapes and all that. I liked to see that and try to do the same, but I knew for a fact that I didn't want to use it in basketball because it didn't give me an advantage. This is why I focused on players who did their moves in important games. When I used what Raul, Djordjevic or Jason Williams did in games or practices, I got an advantage.
Siglo XXI, or Century 21, was a basketball project in Spain in which young talents were recruited to improve their basketball skills and take care of their education at the same time. My time there made me a better player in so many ways. We had our own arena with leather basketballs. Back in Tenerife, we'd have just two or three good basketball, but at Siglo XXI, there were basketballs for everyone. Being able to play anytime, all 24 hours, was a great way to get better. We played a lot of one-on-one games and exercises. One of our coaches, Jose Manuel Naveira, brought us a lot of NBA games and we watched them together. Like I said, I loved to watch Jason Williams and Allen Iverson. You watched them and tried to do the same on the court, like Williams's elbow pass. That was surprising and special! In the end, we were a group of young kids who loved basketball and had a good court at our disposal any time of the day. I remember going there and turning on the lights to practice on my own. It was great!
We also studied in a regular high school that didn't adjust for us. For instance, there is a similar program in Barcelona, CAR, in which they adjust to your schedule. At Siglo XXI, we followed the high school's schedule and that helped us have a regular life. I remember noticing how much I got better from one year to the next, physically and basketball-wise. I remember playing one-on-one against Fran Vazquez when I was 14 and he was 17, playing against the Urtasun twins, Javier Alvarado, Carlos Romero... a lot of good players at the time. We were competing all the time. I remember being recorded when making skills exercises. We did a lot of skills exercises, including ballhandling. Even when I was good at that, it helped me to get even better.
Even these days, you still have to try to get better and adjust to your team needs, to the opponent you have against you, to what makes you feel comfortable... You keep improving your game. One of the most important things in a player's career is being able to adjust at any time. This is my 14th season as a professional and you get to use new things every year. Sometimes you stop using things that worked for you in the past because they are not as useful these days. In general, I practice static shooting a lot, with a lot of repetitions. Shooting off the dribble is something that comes more natural to me; it is probably easier for me to generate space and create my own shot.
Finally, for young basketball players out there, the most important thing for them is to have fun and enjoy doing what they do. Basketball is very demanding when you are a professional player. It is my job. Sometimes, in youth categories, we approach it the wrong way. It is a game and, at its essence, deep down, you have to play the game and have fun with it. Enjoy but also know that in order to get better, you have to practice and work hard at everything you do. Hard work gives you the confidence to do things right. For instance, I take a lot of shots after practice and I know that, in games, I will not hit so many shots as in practice, but it gives me the confidence to hit a shot in the positions I usually shoot from. Mentally speaking, that confidence is important, and you only get it by working hard.