Every player has a different career path, and it is not uncommon for a player to eventually return to the team where he signed his first professional contract. Shooting guard Txemi Urtasun of Unicaja Malaga fits into that category, but with one major tweak to his story. Urtasun, now at the age 29, signed a four-year contract with his current club when he was 18 years old, but he never dressed in Unicaja green until the last season, an entire decade later.
Urtasun is now in his second season with Unicaja in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. He missed most of this campaign with a leg injury, but finally healthy, he is ready to re-enforce Unicaja’s backcourt and contribute in the way he is capable of. He started 10 of 22 games in his Euroleague debut last season, averaging 7.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists with his solid play. Having one Euroleague season under his belt, Urtasun is eager to even improve on those numbers, which would significantly help the team in its push through the Top 16.
At the start of his career, after coming out of the basketball academy Siglo XXI Pais Vasco, and being a member of U18 Spanish National Team, Urtasun signed with Unicaja in 2002. The club was Spanish League runner-up at that time, won King’s Cup in 2005, and became Spanish champ in 2006. Unfortunately for Urtasun, he watched it all from far away, being loaned to other teams all four of those seasons.
"I signed, but I did not play for the first team," Urtasun recalls. Those were tough times for young Txemi, bouncing from one club to another after every season, coming to the point he wondered if he would ever actually play in Malaga. "It was four years with the same question."
During those early years Urtasun was under contract with Unicaja, he would come for about one month during the summer to the club, and practice with young players on the second team. But every year he would end up hearing the same story.
"I'd come here, practice, but they would tell me I am not able to play with the first team," he says. "So I chose another team to get more minutes and more experience."
For the first three years of his contract, he played on loan with what were then lower-division teams like Bilbao Basket, UB La Palma and CAI Zaragoza. He got opportunities, averaged close to double-digits in scoring and tried make the best out of it, becoming a better player. However, it was far from an easy situation.
"It was a tough period in my career. At 18 years old, you want to play the best competition possible," he said. Unicaja played those competitions, Euroleague and the ACB, Spain's first division, but not Urtasun. "It was difficult having to go to the second division or to other teams, to get experience."
In his final season on loan from Unicaja, Urtasun made his first-division debut with Leche Rio Breogan. Later, he moved to other ACB teams Bruesa GBC, Estudiantes Madrid and CB Leon, then Alicante and eventually Cajasol Seville, which he helped to reach the Eurocup title game in 2011.
But, after four years being Unicaja player without playing a single game for the team, and six more seasons around other Spanish clubs, Urtasun earned his way back to Malaga with the same traits he displayed in the Euroleague – reliable shooting, scoring and defense.
All along, he kept believing that a return to Malaga was part of his destiny.
"I started to believe in destiny," he says now. "I signed at 18 years old because I wanted to play for Unicaja. Finally, 10 years later I was ready to play here and showed everybody that I deserve to be here."