|Astou Ndour has confirmed she can provide Spain with a dominant - and tireless - presence in the paint for years to come|
The 2011 edition of the U18 European Championship Women came like an unexpected Christmas present to women's basketball fans.
It was in the middle of August in sizzling-hot Oradea, but the wrapping could not have been more colourful and the surprises any bigger.
Russia found themselves fighting to avoid relegation, for the first time in the history of the game.
Hosts Romania only managed one victory and finished in 12th place despite huge support from the home fans.
And then, against all odds, Belgium not only reached the final, but stunned hot favourites France to win gold.
Spain could be considered a victim of this surprise-fest.
Before the tournament, they were tipped to win it all, just like their U16 and U20 counterparts in their respective European Championships, however they failed to reach the final and had to settle for bronze.
But on the other hand they had a very important reason, that came as a surprise to those outside the team, to smile.
17-year-old Astou Ndour had confirmed that she can provide Spain with a solid presence in the frontcourt for years to come. Solid, and surprisingly tireless.
Ndour first appeared on the international scene during the 2010/11 EuroCup Women season but, as she had just turned 16, her stat lines with Gran Canaria 2014 were modest, 1.8 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
She passed under the radar. Up to the summer, that is.
SUMMER ON THE BIG STAGE
Everyone took notice of Ndour in late July, when she joined the national team at the U19 World Championship for Women in Chile.
The 1.96m center averaged 12.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game against players up to two years older than her. She was named on the All-Tournament Team.
Surely it would be too much of an ask for a player this young to fly back to Europe and perform just as well in a two-week long tournament without time to even unpack, let alone recover.
But Ndour was in Romania on 4 August, and she played her heart out from the first till the last game of the tournament.
She averaged 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds and, again, earned a spot on the All Tournament Team.
If she found the experience exhausting, it doesn't show when she talks about her plans for this summer.
|Astou Ndour with her friend and teammate Leticia Romero at the Gran Canaria 3on3 Tour Master Final in April - Yes, she played there too |
"I hope to be a part of the U18 Spanish national team at the European Championship and maybe, if I have a good tournament, I can also play at the U20 European Championship," Ndour told FIBAEurope.com.
The U18 European Championship is from 26 July to 5 August, in her familiar by now Romania. The U20 Championship tips-off on 16 August in Debrecen, in nearby Hungary.
"We will start the training camp for the U18 championship on 1st July," Ndour confirmed.
"I like to play for the national team because there I meet a lot of other Spanish good players and I can learn from them.
"I learned a lot playing against players from other countries, the defences are stronger and I need to give my best there," she explains when asked what she gains from this experience.
A SECOND FAMILY ON THE ISLAND
Ndour had an outstanding season with Gran Canaria 2014 in the EuroCup Women this season, averaging 16.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per season.
Her teammates and friends Yurena Diaz and Leticia Romero will most likely join her on the U20 and the U18 Spain team, respectively.
She is grateful for the work the club is doing with their young players.
"I have to thank Domingo Diaz and Begona Santana, my coaches at Gran Canaria," Ndour says.
"They have treated me like a daughter since I arrived to the island and they have coached me to be a good player but also a better person.
If Ndour does play and excel in both tournaments in the summer, this time around it will be no surprise.
"I have worked a lot (throughout the season) on my shooting and on defense," she says.
"And also on the aerobic part of the game, now I can practice hard twice a day without any problem."
She has given fair warning.