“101 Greats of European Basketball,” a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades’ worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball’s roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
Jordi Villacampa – The 8 who was a perfect 10
December 22, 1997, was a day to celebrate a basketball great. Thousands of loyal fans packed Pavello Olimpic in Badalona, Spain, to pay homage to Jordi Villacampa, one of Joventut Badalona’s biggest legends. With the club’s ecstatic fans, and in the presence of his many friends and most influential coaches – including Lolo Sainz, Zeljko Obradovic and Alfred Julbe – the great Penya captain scored his last baskets as an active player. With a three-way tourney between Joventut 1997, Joventut 1994 and FC Barcelona, Villacampa’s No. 8 jersey was retired and a brilliant career came to an end.
Today it’s almost impossible for an elite player to spend his whole career with the same club. Those types of relationships simply do not exist anymore. But Jordi Villacampa would not have had it any other way. He was a Joventut player for life, from the junior teams to his debut in the first team at age 16 until he retired at 35. He left behind 17 seasons, 506 games in the Spanish League and 8,991 points scored. That still stands as the second-best points total all-time in Spain, behind Alberto Herreros and his 9,759 points, although Villacampa’s scoring average of 17.77 points per game was better and ranks seventh in Spanish League history.
A Korac Cup champion at 17
As a teenager, Villacampa worked his way into the Joventut rotation and into club history. On March 19, 1981, at the Palau Blaugrana – the home of FC Barcelona – Joventut played for a continental trophy in the Korac Cup final. The opponent, Reyer Venezia of Italy, was led by the fearsome duo of Drazen Dalipagic and Spencer Haywood. After a very close duel that saw a 92-92 tie lead to overtime, Joventut won by the slimmest of margins, 105-104. That was the first trophy for a very young Villacampa, who was not yet 18, having been born on October 11, 1963, in Reus, Spain. Villacampa didn’t score in the four minutes he played in the final, but his head coach, Manel Comas, knew that he had a star in the making. Earlier that season, Villacampa had cracked the rotation and was getting minutes every game. He scored his first 4 points in the Korac Cup on January 21, 1981, in a Joventut win at Villeurbanne. Later he scored 8 against Sunair Oostende and 2 points against Crvena Zvezda.
Seven years later, on March 16, 1988, in Grenoble, France, Villacampa lost a European final. Joventut came up short 96-89 after overtime in the Saporta Cup final against Limoges. Villacampa led his team with 19 points, Reggie Johnson added 18 and veteran Josep Maria Margall had 14 points. The Limoges trio formed by Don Collins (28 points), Stephane Ostrowski (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Clarence Kea (22 points, 8 rebounds) destroyed Joventut’s European dream.
One year later Joventut reached the Korac Cup finals against a Scavolini Pesaro side coached by a young Sergio Scariolo and led by Walter Magnifico, Ario Costa and the excellent American duo formed by Darwin Cook and Darren Daye. Joventut managed to score two wins: 99-98 in Pesaro and 96-86 in Badalona. In the first duel, Villacampa scored 29 points and in the second 22. He was backed by Jose Antonio Montero (21 and 28) and Lemone Lampley (21 and 17). Through these three finals, Jordi Villacampa turned into a great player, the leader of a new generation for Joventut and an important piece on the Spanish national team.
Villacampa made his debut in a national team jersey on April 27, 1984, in a tournament in Linares, Spain, where he scored his first 10 points against Poland. Spain had an impressive team, with Nacho Solozabal, Andres Jimenez, Juanma Lopez Iturriaga, Juan Antonio Corbalan, Fernando Romay and Jose Luis Llorente, among others. It was the same team that would go on to win the 1984 Olympic silver medal in Los Angeles. National team coach Antonio Diaz Miguel decided to leave Villacampa off his final team for the Olympics, but after that, Villacampa became a mainstay for Spain and featured in both the Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Olympic squads. He also played the EuroBaskets of 1985, 1987, 1991 (bronze medal) and 1993 and the World Cups of 1986, 1990 and 1994. In the 1990 edition, he scored 48 points against Venezuela, which is still the Spanish national team record. But his brilliant career could have been even greater with an Olympic medal.
An ideal shooting guard
Standing 1.96 meters tall, Villacampa had the perfect build for the wing positions. He was fast and could run the break very well, but his main weapon was his shot. He had a great touch and was one of the first players to really take advantage of the three-point rule introduced in 1984. In the golden years of Joventut, 1990-91 (Spanish League champions after beating FC Barcelona 3-1) and 1991-92 (champions again, 3-2 against Real Madrid) Villacampa was the undisputed leader of the team. Yes, he had excellent teammates in Rafa and Tomas Jofresa, Ferran Martinez, Corny Thompson, Harold Pressley, Mike Smith and Juanan Morales, but on every team there is a boss, and it was clear that Villacampa was the leader for Penya.
Joventut reached the 1992 EuroLeague final but lost against Partizan Belgrade, 71-70, on the famous three-pointer by Sasha Djordjevic with a few seconds left on the clock. Villacampa played all 40 minutes in that game and scored 13 points, dished 1 assist and picked up 4 steals, but it was not enough. Somehow, however, sporting justice was made for this excellent generation of Joventut players. Two years later, at the Tel Aviv Final Four, Joventut was in the final again, this time against Olympiacos Piraeus. Penya took the win this time also by a narrow 59-57 margin behind 16 points by Villacampa in 35 minutes. The dream was fulfilled: Jordi Villacampa and his lifelong club were European champions.
Villacampa played three more seasons after that and managed to win another important trophy: the Spanish Kings’ Cup. In the tournament played in Leon, Joventut bested Caja San Fernando, Leon and finally Caceres in the title game, 79-71. However, Villacampa’s role in that team had dwindled and he did not have much presence in the final.
After he retired, as if 17 years with the club were not enough, Jordi Villacampa took a position on the club’s board of directors as vice president and was finally elected president on November 29, 1999, a position he held for 17 years. Under his mandate, Joventut experienced a second golden era, the highlight of which was, without a doubt, the double crown of the 2007-08 season with the Spanish King’s Cup and the Eurocup Cup titles, the latter against a nearby opponent, Akasvayu Girona, by a commanding 79-54 in the final. That win granted the team a berth in the 2008-09 EuroLeague.
However, there was yet another success, even bigger, with the everlasting creation of talents at the Joventut Badalona basketball school. The latest examples were Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio, two players who have had important roles both at the highest European club level and with the Spanish national team. They had to leave the club for their own sporting ambitions, but there is no doubt that the Badalona system will produce new wonders in no time.
Jordi Villacampa; He wore number 8, but on and off the floor, he’s a perfect 10!