"There might be some Christmas magic right there tonight," EuroLeague TV voice Joe Arlauckas couldn't keep his enthusiasm watching three 17-year-old Real Madrid players warming up for the game against one of the best teams in Europe.

Urban Klavzar

Urban  Klavzar
Team: Real Madrid
Position: PG, SG
Age: 17
Height: 184 cm
Birth place: Slovenia

Without seven players and the head coach, with three U17 rookies and against CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid needed an early Christmas miracle to reach the midseason with a victory.

Pick your favorite Christmas movie, and it will match the level of magic you could have witnessed at WiZink Center on Thursday.

"Been a part of some big wins in my career, but man, tonight was special. Shout out to all the young killers that came and contributed big time. What a night…" Nigel Williams-Goss tweeted later that night when Real Madrid shocked CSKA Moscow 71-65.

That was a horrible week on Madrid's campus. 

Seven players - Vincent Poirier, Anthony Randolph, Guerschon Yabusele, Thomas Heurtel, Fabien Causeur, Adam Hanga, Juan Nunez, and the head coach Pablo Laso tested positive for COVID-19.

The rest of the team had to practice with masks, jeopardizing the upcoming EuroLeague game versus CSKA Moscow. Any other EuroLeague team facing such circumstances could have looked for possibilities to postpone that game. But not Real Madrid.

Instead, they put a roster with seven main team players: Nigel Williams-Goss, Sergio Llull, and Rudy Fernandez at the backcourt, Jeffery Taylor and Tristan Vukcevic at forward, and Walter Tavares at the center.

They also registered three 17-year-old youth team members, who EuroLeague fans didn't know before: guards Urban Klavzar, Sediq Garuba, and forward Baba Miller.

18-year old EuroLeague sophomore Vukcevic, who averaged 2.1 points and 1.2 rebounds in 9 games this year, looked like a solid veteran next to these three youngsters.

Baba Miller

Baba  Miller
Baba  Miller
MIN: 1.9
PTS: 0 (NAN%)
REB: 1
As: 0
ST: 0
BL: 0
TO: 0
GM: 1

Klavzar, Garuba, and Miller already played together in the EuroLeague, but that was Adidas Next Generation Tournament, and they were competing against U18 players.

This time, they probably faced the strongest frontcourt in the EuroLeague with Nikola Milutinov and Tornike Shengelia, the 2019 EuroLeague champion and the MVP of the Final Four Will Clyburn and others, guided by one of the best coaches in Europe, Dimitris Itoudis.

"The biggest thing I'm worried about these young guys is that they can come out and injure themselves in the warmup because they're so excited to play this game. Hopefully, these guys will make it through the warmups," Arlauckas smiled before the tip-off.

They had only two practices with the rest of the team and a shootaround on a game day.

But interim head coach Chus Mateo, who replaced Laso at the helm of Real when he was tested positive for COVID-19, put Garuba in the starting lineup.

The game started with a slam of Vukcevic in the transition, which set the tone for a strong 7-0 start. Later Garuba put Shengelia on the ground in one on one situation and forced CSKA to a 24-second shot clock violation.

Garuba was fired up and clapped in front of his opponent and received some trash-talk from Shengelia on the other side of the court.

Sediq, 1.92 m., is another defensive specialist from Garuba's family. He holds the ground well, has quick hands, and the same fighting spirit his older brother had.

As a shorter version of Usman, Sediq might be another hassle for EuroLeague offensive stars in the upcoming years.

In a recent ANGT tournament last summer, Garuba averaged 7.8 points (2FG: 47.6%, 3FG: 20%), 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and three steals in 32 minutes.

With four minutes into the game, Garuba received a second foul, but Real were up 11-0 and had Shengelia annoyed.

Then it was time for Klavzar to step on the court to replace his young fellow. Soon he received a pass on the corner with a shot-clock running down. But his hands weren't shaking as Klavzar got WiZink Center fans up from their seats with a corner three.

1.85 m Slovenian is well known for his shooting skills. He also has a strong body that helped him succeed against older opponents in youth tournaments. 

Last season he led Real Madrid to the ANGT finals averaging 14.3 points and 3.3 assists per game. He attempted 17 threes in the overtime thriller against Barcelona and averaged 11.3 threes per game in the tournament. That tells a lot about his confidence.

Soon Klavzar left Hackett, one of the best EuroLeague defenders, behind him after his nasty crossover and dropped a floater over the wall of Nikola Milutinov. Later he went for a fastbreak and drew an unsportsmanlike foul, scoring his 6th point in the first quarter of his first-ever EuroLeague game.

In 2015, Luka Doncic made his debut with Real's first team in the ACB league. In that game, coach Laso was ejected, and coach Mateo was the one who put Luka on the floor for his first appearance.

Now the same happened with Klavzar. Although he's not seen as a superstar prospect, you could see some similarities in his confidence and passion for the game.

18-year-old Vukcevic, who's projected as the 47th pick in ESPN's Mock Draft, drew a shooting foul against Milutinov and soon nailed a three-pointer to keep a solid 24-10 margin.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Mateo threw another prospect on the floor. That was Baba Miller, 2.06 m forward.

His body, size, athleticism, IQ, versatility, and skill make him an intriguing prospect. But he was sent under the bus. With his aggressive approach on the offensive end, Will Clyburn quickly put Miller on the bench.

But in general, these young guns gave some very needed minutes to catch a breath for the leading players. They also showed the veterans that they had their backs. That gave Real a huge spark that pushed them forward all 40 minutes.

Itoudis is very well known for attacking the mismatches, so he made sure to complicate Real's youngsters' debut night hard as possible. Mateo didn't back down from keeping at least two youngsters on the court simultaneously. Soon CSKA managed to come back and took the lead before halftime, 40-37.

Real Madrid got a bit lucky again with some tough three-pointers at late-clock situations when the game was a tie. These mentally draining threes helped Real build an early lead at the beginning.

While in the fourth quarter, Sergio Llull awoke his inner Stephen Curry that punished CSKA with off-balance 8-meter bombs in the fourth quarter. All these airballs that Real threw in the second quarter converted into deciding shots at the end. Klavzar also made one three with 8 minutes to play, which sent CSKA to the time-out, 62-55.

Meanwhile, CSKA couldn't find a basket, even though they created some good looks. CSKA scored only 3 points in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter. In the end, they were only 3 of 17 from the field and lost 65-71.

The crowd went wild. Not many expected Real to manage to contain CSKA with seven players out.

But in 10 years, Pablo Laso did such a great job with his team that it never got distracted even if one, two, or in this case, seven players suddenly were out. The others always stepped up to cover the holes and keep Real on a winning path.

There's no other coach in the EuroLeague that manages to combine title contention and developing young players so well. Garuba, Klavzar, and Miller were 18th, 19th, and 20th youth team players, that made their debut on the main team since 2011.

Llull made a speech in the huddle, Tavares grabbed Klavzar's head like a big brother, and vets made young killers smile.

"Enjoying. I'm proud to be part of this team. Great veteran players and rookies who left their souls. Heart of champions. I congratulate coaches and staff. Thank you, fans! The impossible is a bit more difficult," Mateo later tweeted.

Klavzar finished with 10 points (1/2 2PT, 2/3 3PT, 2/4 FT) and one rebound in 23 minutes. He was the fourth-best scorer on Real's roster.

Garuba spent 16 minutes on the floor, scored 2 points (2FG: 1/3), had one rebound and one steal.

Miller went scoreless in 2 minutes and grabbed one rebound.

"They have understood very well what we needed from them," Mateo praised the EuroLeague rookies. "I want to praise Alberto Angulo's work in the youth categories. These guys are ready to play in the first team. And it says everything about how the club is working."

The future is bright for Madrid.

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2022-01-10
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