Credit: BasketNews.lt/D. Lukšta
Credit BasketNews.lt/D. Lukšta

This season marks a new era for Real Madrid, as the Spanish giant confronts its first campaign in nearly 20 years without the presence of legendary center Felipe Reyes, who retired last summer.

Sergio Llull

Sergio  Llull
Sergio  Llull
MIN: 16.01
PTS: 5.5 (33.77%)
REB: 1.1
As: 2.2
ST: 0.3
BL: 0
TO: 0.5
GM: 10

Between 2004 and 2021, Reyes won 20 trophies with the club, including EuroLeague titles in 2015 and 2018 and a EuroCup crown in 2007. A greatly respected figure within the club, Reyes was captain for many of those triumphs so his absence left a hole that can never be totally filled, hence his recent naming to the role of club ambassador.

Nonetheless, Los Blancos enjoy a great deal of continuity in the captain's role because his replacement, guard Sergio Llull, spent 14 years playing alongside Reyes. Llull admits that life is not quite the same without his old comrade next to him in the locker room:

"He was really important, one of the best players who ever played for Real Madrid. We already miss him, he just left and we already miss him. He's an amazing guy, an amazing person off the court."

Reyes was already there when Llull joined Real towards the end of the 2006-07 season. Within weeks, they were already celebrating together as Real lifted the Spanish League title by beating arch-rival Barcelona, a moment that Llull pinpoints as a highlight of his time with Reyes.

"I've got so many memories of him, we had such great times together and we got on very well on and off the court," he says. "But maybe more than anything else, I always remember the first trophy we were able to enjoy together, the Spanish League title we won in Barcelona. He asked me to lift the trophy with him, which was a very generous gesture that I didn't expect."

That first trophy was followed by plenty more. For Llull, accepting the relentless demands of constantly competing for silverware, year after year, is the key to being a successful player at a club like Real Madrid – and also an attribute that Reyes perfectly embodied.

"He taught us what Real Madrid is," explains Llull. "I think I learned from the best, and now that I'm the captain I will try to follow in his steps, try to do my best to help my teammates somehow, and try to be a good captain for Real Madrid.

Credit AP-Scanpix

"When you play for Real Madrid you have to be aware that the objective is to compete for every possible title. It's a huge club, one of the greatest in the world, and when you come here you have to accept this responsibility and this pressure. You have to win and play well in every game. You have to reach the finals and then compete to win them.

"Ever since I arrived here, I have tried to give 100 percent, always played to the maximum, practiced hard every day, and made myself a better player. I've made a lot of effort to maintain the high level that's necessary to play for Real Madrid. I arrived with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and I've kept that all the time I've been here.

"It's not easy but I've learned a lot about basketball, and now I can play with more calm and more patience, which was something I struggled with in the past. I think I've improved in a lot of different aspects, both tactically and technically.

Experience helps make you a better player – you can understand different situations more easily and learn how to use defeats to avoid making the same mistakes again in the future."

With his appointment as club captain, Llull is aware that a big part of his responsibility is not just to maintain his own standards but also to help his teammates live with the weight of those expectations. "The captain has to be a leader on and off the court," he says. "On the court, of course, there can be other leaders, not just the captain.

Credit BasketNews/Begum Unal

"But as captain, I try to help the younger players especially because I've been in their situation and I know it's not easy. Sometimes you are nervous or you don't have the confidence to play well. Young players just have to work hard, practice hard, maintain their chances of playing, and then, when opportunities come along, be ready to take them by playing with calmness and confidence, and showing what you can do."

Although he is missing his old friend Reyes, Llull admits that this is a very special season on a personal level after being given the additional status of club captain: "It makes me very excited because I've been with Real Madrid since I was very young, and being a team captain is an honor, a privilege.

"Above all, I will try to be a good example, both on and off the court. That's what a captain of Real Madrid has to do because it is a position which comes with a lot of responsibility."

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Free throws this season

79%
13,9
Points made: 13,9
Accuracy: 78,9%
Place in standings: 1
Record max: 21
Record min: 5
Most made FTs: Walter Tavares