It is no secret that KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz has relied on many Argentinian players in the last two decades to make the club a household name among Turkish Airlines EuroLeague fans. The likes of Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, Marcelo Nicola and Juan Espil, to name just a handful, are part of the history of the club to that point that it's impossible not to think about Baskonia when one hears their names.
Two of the newest additions to that long roster of Argentines are guard Luca Vildoza and forward Patricio 'Pato' Garino. They both arrived in the summer of 2017. It was their first time in Europe and they were key to the plans of Prigioni, who was the team's new coach at that time. However, Prigioni soon stepped down and a new coach, Pedro Martinez, stepped in.
"At the beginning it was a bit hard because Pablo [Prigioni] left so early in the season, and we came here with him being the coach in our minds. It was a bit tough. After that, however, the club helped us," Vildoza, 23, says. "You had to earn your spot on the team again, and I had never dealt with a Spanish coach before. They are totally different from Argentinian coaches."
"We know how people here love those Argentines who played here in the past, and that makes us proud." - Vildoza
Garino, 25, lived the experience in a similar manner: "For both of us it was complicated and unexpected. We knew we were coming here to be with Pablo as coach. That gave us confidence, especially with this being the first European experience for the both of us."
Fortunately, everything figured itself out. "The sudden change hit us hard: it was the start of the season and our adaptation was in full swing. It was tough for us to adapt to Pedro's philosophy, but with time, I think we fit in quite well."
When both take a look at the legacy that former Argentinian players left on the club and the city, they have no doubt of its importance.
"The list of Argentines in Baskonia is almost endless. Past generations, from the golden generation, except one or two, all of them played in Baskonia. And that's a sign. It shows how their careers developed," Garino says. "Baskonia, or Tau Ceramica in those years, was always a name that bore a lot of meaning and importance because of its sports achievements."
Playing for a club with such tradition, one which manages to compete among the best in the EuroLeague every year, brings a sense of pride and responsibility to the pair.
"For us, being here brings confidence," Garino says. "We knew that we were coming to a serious club with solid sports aspirations, an unbelievable past, but which also wants to create new memories and not dwell in that past. For us, that means a lot."
Vildoza agrees: "Obviously, we want to come here and leave our mark also. We represent Baskonia, and seeing how the people support you is something unbelievable. We know how people here love those Argentines who played here in the past, and that makes us proud."
Both knew what the deal was before joining Baskonia. As Vildoza puts it, "When I first saw Baskonia winning in Europe, I was 10 years old. It never even crossed my mind that one day I would end up here."
However, European basketball still managed to surprise them despite all the information they had beforehand.
"The Spanish League was way harder than I anticipated, that's true. I knew what the deal was in the EuroLeague, but I thought less of the Spanish League and it caught me off-guard," Garino says.
"It's almost a family club...What those players told us about the club we can feel it today, too." - Garino
Vildoza also saw an opportunity in that. "The hard part was that all games were so competitive, because in both the EuroLeague and the Spanish League you have tough games week-in and week-out. That is good for us, though, because it makes us better players."
Vitoria-Gasteiz is not a big European capital, so going there to live is something of an unknown for some players. Luckily for this pair, they had several sources to check before making their decision.
"I was in contact with several players: Scola, Nocioni, Eslava... even Prigioni himself," Garino says. "They tell you stories about the club, the people... It's almost a family club. There are people working here who were here 15 years ago and they keep the same philosophy and identity. And because of that, what those players told us about the club we can feel it today, too."
In fact, Vildoza embraces the quietness of the city in between trips to much larger ones to play games all over Europe.
"I like the town a lot," he said. "One can feel the tranquility here. We come from a city where noise is all around, with lots of traffic. Coming here you feel like you are somewhere else. The place is calm, people on the street are quiet... I have not been stopped that much because of being a Baskonia player. I guess I just go unnoticed!"