A good summary of what Usman Garuba is now (2.03 meters, 104 kilos and 19 years old) offers it Sergio Scariolo, Spanish coach and even this season assistant coach at Toronto Raptors: “He still has to acquire the mechanisms of the game, but at the same time possesses an ability to make plays that is not available to everyone”. It is the first time that the coach directs him with Spain, however, he knew him before from another perspective, that of the teammate who provided him with the eyes of his son, Alessandro Scariolo, born in 2001. Both were part of the Spain Sub -18 who hung the gold in the summer of 2019 with Santi Aldama (Loyola Maryland). “Usman will do very well the Olympics experience because the need for adapting to another world is what awaits you when you make the jump to the NBA“Scariolo continues. A landing that could be close after the Houston Rockets have chosen him 23rd in the first round of the 2021 draft. He must negotiate with Real Madrid, and the exit clause is high and rising (three million euros this summer) , but he maintains his plans for an immediate march.
Garuba is nowhere near Antetokounmpo before he crossed the pond bound for the United States. It is not because of potential, it is clear, but not because of competitive experience, the Spanish more trained than the Greek then, nor by vital trajectory. But nevertheless, Their unwavering will to repay their parents for the sacrifice they made as migrants marks their personality on fire., for raising a family that is described as numerous in Europe and embarking on an adventure as uncertain as it is tough from Africa, which, finally, has ended up opening a window of opportunity for them, including that of professional basketball. That journey began for Usman’s and Giannis’s parents in Nigeria, in the last decade of the last century, partly forced to escape inequality and lack of opportunities and partly clinging to the hope of a better life.
Family adventure and soccer
The Garuba Alari (the father, Mustapha and the mother, Betty) arrived in Spain in the late nineties, although the first stop was Belgium, from Benin City, in southern Nigeria. In Madrid, where Usman was born on March 9, 2002, they settled in Villaverde, in the south of the capital, and from there, for work reasons, to Azuqueca de Henares, in the neighboring province of Guadalajara. Mustapha started working in the Bimbo bakery factory and Betty has done it in the City Council Employment Plan. In 2004, Betty gave birth to the middle brother, Sediq, today, aged 17, a very physical forward who in June played a decisive role in Real Madrid’s victory in the junior Euroleague final against Barça. Character and spirit that runs in the family. The third descendant is a girl, Uki Garuba, 11, who also plays basketball. A sport that won Usman to the cause by taking him away from football, just like Giannis. He wanted to be a goalkeeper and there were no places available to register. So in 2011 he opted for baskets at the Municipal School of Azuqueca, where the coordinator, David Serrano, its discoverer, has played a fundamental role.
Less than 24 months later, in autumn 2013, Madrid chose him, as Usman himself says. The white quarry does not have teams until child age, with kids who at the beginning of their first campaign have already turned 12, but he had then barely 11 and was still young, which did not prevent him from going through the doors of Madrid. An exceptional case. The start of a long-distance race that has run almost at a sprint, setting several precocious records. He still has to grow on the track, but mentally he has an advantage over most of the players who have come out in this draft: it comes from rubbing shoulders with the elite and leaving a mark. His experience in the Tokyo Games and those accumulated in the League and Cup finals in Spain, and in a European playoff on wire against the Turkish Anadolu Efes of Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic, place him in another competitive sphere. A little, and saving the distances, as it happened in his day to an unparalleled Doncic. The roadmap and the learning methodology in the Real Madrid quarry, led by former international Alberto Angulo, have been very similar. A successful model that works and that attracts potential new stars each course.
More than bully
Usman dreams of visiting Nigeria, the land of his parents, that of his family, a trip that he has not yet been able to undertake due to the saturation of his summers, always with the training teams and now, for the first time, with the absolute in the Olympic Games with just 19 years. The culmination of a career ahead of the standards, when at 14 he was already practically measuring what he is today and his wingspan exceeded 215 centimeters. He always imposed his physique, his energy and athletic quality; Although since he was a child he also learned to stand out for the coordination acquired in a cross in front of his long arms and legs, for the handling of the ball and the ability to pass, for that ease in catching the rebound and running bouncing from field to field to stamp the ball in the opposite ring and for his intelligence, which helped him understand the game faster than some teammates.
It was more than a bully and soon showed a craving for basketball that drives him to watch games with devotion, in search of continuous improvement, to copy a gesture or a movement to incorporate into their repertoire. A self-demand that has sometimes penalized him in the failure and that in the last months has started to manage better with external professional help. Not infrequently he has been seen on the Madrid bench lamenting a bad phase of the game. “Sometimes we have squeezed more out of necessity”, came to recognize his coach, Pablo Laso, when the kid was still 18 years old. And almost always responded.
Records of earliness
Process the error and continue, that is the path that has been set to continue with its permanent adaptation, shortly in the NBA, and before in his meteoric leaps of category that led him to win the Eurobasket U-16 and to be the MVP of the tournament at only 14 years old, yes, yes, 14, when his rivals had 16, something scandalous in European basketball. He rounded a triple-double in that 2016 final (15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks) only available to Dario Saric and Ricky Rubio in the previous decade. A trajectory that broke the mold, such as when he caught 32 rebounds in the final of the ACB Mini Cup or debuted in the first team of Madrid on October 28, 2018 with only 16 years and 7 months, very close to the unbeatable Doncic (16 and 2). Or when another gold was hung with Spain, this time in the U-18 with one year less than the marked limit, or it was the youngest to achieve a double-double in the ACB ahead of (yes, again) Doncic and Ricky. In that 2019 he was also the junior Euroleague champion.
Despite his obvious shyness with the media, he takes on challenges without hesitation, one after another, almost in the same way as chains efforts at a rate that most of his opponents do not even aspire to reach. That is now, and not size, its great physical advantage. Intensity, vigor and powerful legs that give displacement to the engine that catapults you and allows you to change the inertia of many matches. He does it with the fierceness of his rebounds or defending a point guard like Micic, the Euroleague MVP, all over the field. Either falling behind in a matchmaking change with any of the five opposing players or blocking shots like a Cossack or …
The shot of three and the explosion before Micic
Air of revolution and a lot of appetite still in full maturity, at a time when he is very focused on expressing himself eloquently on the court, on reading the game and the spaces and, above all, throwing best of three points, where he has shown great progress in the mechanics and in the speed of execution that give him another dimension as a power forward after just two courses fully integrated into the merengue first team.
The Euroleague is the second major club competition in the world and the ACB, the best national league outside the NBA. In both, the rising star has just been named (rising star), the most outstanding young player, and although its impact does not translate only into numbers, its 24 points, 12 rebounds and a PIR of 30 against European champions Efes, in a key duel of the continental quarterfinal playoff, they define the scenario quite a bit. That night we witnessed the howl of the wolf that delimits his territory at a time when his team felt threatened, when his teammates most required it.
In the ACB he has averaged 5.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18 minutes, and above in the playoff: 6.7 (37% of three) and 5.6. And in the Euroleague, 3.9 points (34% in triples) and 4 rejections in 16:17 on the court. Figures to which he adds that ability to tame the opponent in the defensive zone and, in attack, to withstand the impact first and then assault the enemy ring, virtues that place him, and more with his constant evolution, as a good player of pick and roll, very good in the future. He is also notable in cutting from the weak side to assist the ball handler to find the final pass, something he saw his former teammate Gabriel Deck (Oklahoma City Thunder) do very well. Stack some remarkable numbers, by presence on the track, that were on the way to multiplying in coming seasons … Old Europe may not see it. Garuba wants continue with your mission in America.