On July 24, the international basketball scene was struck by a little blue and gold lightning when the Under-20 Spanish National team won the FIBA European Championships. Combo guard and UNCG phenom Francis Alonso was right in the middle of it.
“I never imagined we would win the European Championship,” Alonso said. “It was just something on my mind—I couldn’t actually reach it.”
Alonso was vital to Spain’s success. In 28.3 minutes per game he averaged 13 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.4 steals. He was a versatile weapon on both ends of the floor.
“I was just trying to lead my team, many times playing as a shooting guard, many times playing as a point guard. Our shooters were on fire, I tried to find a way to help us play as a team.”
The championship run started with a blast of adrenaline—a 60-59 win over France that ended in a buzzer beater from small forward Marc Garcia, and then a 91-90 loss in a high paced affair against Finland. The Spaniards were destined for thrills from the start.
After the loss to Finland, they won five straight games to end the tournament, finishing with the gold medal match against Lithuania.
Alonso didn’t bring his usual marksmanship from the 3 point line to the final, but he crashed the boards aggressively and distributed the ball well, recording 6 rebounds and 5 assists with just one turnover. On the other hand, Spain’s defense squeezed 16 turnovers out of Lithuania and came out on top 68-55.
“We played as a family through a lot of difficult situations, and that really helped us out. When you work hard and have fun, great things will happen.”
“When there were two minutes left in the game, I was like, please go quicker. I couldn’t believe it, I was in a cloud, like, this isn’t happening right now…I was thinking two years ago we wouldn’t have a chance to fight for the medals, and now here I am, winning the championship.”
While Alonso was enjoying the best basketball accomplishment of a career just beginning to bloom, his fan support was strong all the way across the Atlantic. His friends here in Greensboro didn’t let the distance diminish their enthusiasm.
“They were following me on Youtube…it’s something great, having these friends back here at home or in the U.S. following me. Not many people get to feel this; I have to say thank you for many reasons.”
“[My coaches at UNCG] are a really huge part of this accomplishment; they work me out really well and improve me as a player. They probably have…like a half of a gold medal.”
Now that he’s back in the United States, Alonso’s next task is the upcoming season at UNCG, who finished 10-8 in the Southern Conference last year. He was just an impressive freshman then, but he’s expected to be a more central part of the team now.
The European Championship has given him a new edge on the basketball court for the coming season.
“Last year we found a path to work hard and play as a team, and I think each one of us has a feeling that this year coming up is a big time year. Great things are about to happen. I’m gonna use this confidence and spread it around this team as a positive thing.”
With basketball season slowly creeping up on campus, Alonso has a simple but wise outlook on how the Spartans can reach their potential this year.
“We need to go to practice every day and have fun. We have good leaders this year, like Diante [Baldwin], Jordy [Kuiper], R.J. [White]. I’m going to try to help some of the younger players out.”
The experience that Alonso gained this summer may add a new dimension of competitiveness to this UNCG basketball squad—the attitude of a champion. It could be exactly what is needed in a program that hasn’t won the tournament since 2001.
But it’s also the kind of success that’s heard far beyond the coffee house on Tate Street. Alonso could find his way onto the national team one day, or into professional basketball—even possibly in the NBA.
“I cannot guess [on my future]. I’m just thinking of the present, working on myself as a player and a person. I always think that if I work hard, there’s going to be a gift. I’m just trying to follow that idea that I have.”