A lot has happened fast for Gabriel Deck, the young forward who joined Real Madrid last summer. At 24 years old, he will already play his first EuroLeague Playoffs with Los Blancos. He has appeared in 26 games this season, has started in 11, and has averaged 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds. He was a solid bet by the defending champions, who signed him to a three-year deal coming directly from his native Argentina.
Deck's history as a player has evolved through sheer necessity. He comes from Colonia Dora, a small town in the northern part of of Argentina, where grew up in the working-class 7 de Abril neighborhood. Colonia Dora was so small the he wasn't even born there, but rather in Añatuya, the closest town with a hospital, 20 minutes away.
"When I was a kid in Colonia Dora, in Argentina, I spent my days playing football," Deck recalls. "However, my brother, who also plays basketball, taught me the game and started me into this new thing called basketball. I went to play games with him and his friends, and as I got to know the game more and more, my interest also grew."
When the Deck brothers started playing basketball, they did so in the backyard of their humble home on a hoop that their father manufactured by adapting a tractor steering wheel and a few wood boards. From there, basketball started catching the interest of little Gabriel more and more, until the time came when both brothers started practicing at Ceres, a club nearby.
"If we left, it meant that there were fewer mouths to feed, so we kind of were compelled to take the basketball path."
Things were kicked up a notch when the Quimsa club in the provincial capital called Gabriel, who at the time was a tall kid who seemed to have a talent for the game. The Deck family, like most in Colonia Dora, were going through hard times financially, and the capital, Santiago del Estero, sits 166 kilometers away from Colonia Dora, so Gabriel would have to live there to play basketball. Knowing that, his mother insisted that Deck's brother Joaquin would have to be part of the deal, and the club accepted the two brothers.
"Things at home were not good, money-wise, so basketball was the reason my brother and I left the household so we could start our careers," Deck says. "Basketball offered us the opportunity to make things a bit lighter on our family. If we left, it meant that there were fewer mouths to feed, so we kind of were compelled to take the basketball path in a way."
For a kid coming from such a small town, the transition to the bigger city was a big change for Deck, and a process that would be repeated as he got better and better, moving to bigger clubs.
"At the beginning, when I left home, it was really hard. I was leaving everything behind: my family, my friends...," he said. "However, I was treated really well where I went. After that, I went through some similar process when I went to Buenos Aires, an even bigger city, even farther from home. And now I have traveled far to be in Madrid. But, from day one, I have been treated very well and have been considered one more person in the group, so it has made it easier for me to adapt."
When the young Deck started working on his game, he got better fast. That's what drew the attention of scouts from Real Madrid who are always on the lookout for new talent to keep the roster competitive.
"I am very thankful to Real Madrid for trusting me," Deck says. "I signed a contract for three years and I want to pay it back in the best possible way, which is working hard, becoming a better player, and giving back to the team so that it can keep winning titles.
"I am a bit surprised at how far I have come, being this young. It's something beautiful and exciting for me, but at the same time I looked for it and worked very hard to be here. Things are happening the best possible way, and I hope I can make the most of my stay in Real Madrid so that I can help the club and also help myself to become a better player."
Real Madrid was already the winningest team in European basketball even before Deck was born in Argentina. However, the young player had to get into the game to know more about the legendary club.
"When I started playing basketball, I only associated the name of Real Madrid with football, of course. I didn't even know they had a basketball team. But as I kept growing and learning, I watched some Real Madrid games on TV and that's when I knew they existed. Later, when I dedicated myself to basketball entirely, of course I knew that Real Madrid was one of the biggest names out there, also in basketball. The history and tradition of this club makes an impact on you. The successes it has achieved over several decades only mirrors the good work Real Madrid is always doing."
"Chapu gave me some advice...stay calm and just get here to work and learn and everything would pay off."
The fact that many players from Argentina – like Andres Nocioni, Pablo Prigioni and his current teammate, Facundo Campazzo – have recently made an impact in Madrid motivated young Deck even more.
"When you see other Argentinian players crossing the pond, you start daydreaming that the next one could be you. You try to get to the same place as they did, and it seems to be happening that way. The players that were here before me are great guys to look up to. When it was made public that I would join Real Madrid, Chapu [Nocioni] gave me some advice while we were together on the national team. He told me about the city and the club, and especially that I had to stay calm and just get here to work and learn and everything would pay off. Also, having Facu here helps me a lot because we spend a lot of time together."
This new chapter in the life of Gabriel Deck is just about to close its first year, but first the young power forward has his first EuroLeague Playoffs to experience, and if that goes well, his first Final Four. He seems to be moving faster than his nickname, 'Tortuga' (turtle) would suggest.
"Many people call me 'Tortuga' but it's not because I am slow or anything, but more because of how I move and walk off the court. My life outside of the basketball court is calm and relaxed. But I think that's because of my 'esencia santiagueña' (Santiago essence), as we say in Argentina."