By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, PA International
Sergio Rodriguez's life has turned upside down since guiding Spain to the gold medal at the European Under-18 Championships for men in Zaragoza.
The point guard was voted most valuable player of the tournament with a performance in the final against Turkey that brought much acclaim from the basketball world.
"Sunday was the perfect day," Rodriguez said to PA International.
"This tournament has been an incredible experience, not only because we won, but also because of the privilege of being part of this competition. Not many players are granted this."
Rodriguez is living a dream. This year he made his debut in the Spanish top flight with Estudiantes, took part in the prestigious Hoop Summit in San Antonio, Texas, and stole the limelight in a prestigious continental competition.
"Sergio is a complete player," said his coach at the event, Txus Vidorreta.
"He is a good shooter, great passer and has great ball control, I have not seen a player of his age control the ball on court as he does."
He averaged 19.1 points and 8.5 assists per game in Zaragoza. And he did so with style. With his spectacular tricks on the hardwood, it's no wonder that his team-mates and coach consider him the leader of the brat pack.
"In the final, it was like having a second coach on court," Vidorreta said.
His natural talent may come as a surprise to many, but not for Sergio, who carries basketball deep in his veins.
"I live basketball. I enjoy every minute of the game, that is the secret, simply to have fun," said Sergio, who stands 1.90m tall.
"Both my parents played basketball at junior level, a sport that is also supported by my family.
"Their passion was passed on to me and I began bouncing a ball at the age of two.
"I had a basketball net and I would play the whole time with the ball, and my parents would teach me.
"However, I had to wait until the age of eight to play for a team as I was not tall enough.
"I played football and other sports but basketball was my destiny."
Once the height issue was solved, the boy became solely focused on the game. And several years later he was on the path to stardom.
At the age of 14, Sergio left his home island of Tenerife for the Basque country to join an elite group of players as part of a training programme.
||There were times when I'd stay up until four o'clock in the morning just playing
"That move was very important for me because I learned a lot in my three years in Bilbao," said Rodriguez.
"I've always dreamed of having a basketball court next to my room and playing whenever I wanted to and there I had the opportunity to do so."
"Sometimes I'd get the urge to play and I will wake up really early to practice my shooting and then there were times when I'd stay up until four o'clock in the morning just playing."
Sergio left Bilbao to move to Spanish giants Estudiantes last summer and has since not looked back.
"I had several offers but I am delighted with my decision," said Sergio.
Estudiantes is a fantastic club and has a very interesting sporting project.
"I train four hours a day, six days a week. I combine my school studies with my sporting career."
Sergio, who is likely to be included in Estudiantes' first team in the coming season, is looking forward to being in the same squad as Nacho Azofra, the Madrid club's point guard.
"He is a fantastic leader not only on the court but outside it, he is a reference point for me," he said.
The mental game is important in every sport, and Rodriguez is intrigued by the psychology of the court.
How do players react in the critical moments of the game? What is the relationship between the coach and the player, and relationship between players?
"I would like to study psychology at university, it's a subject that fascinates me, the study of human nature," he said.
Earlier this year, Rodriguez was chosen for the 2004 World Junior Select team to play against the best players in High School in the Hoop Summit in the United States.
It's an experience he admits he would like to repeat.
"It was amazing, an unforgettable experience," said Sergio.
"To play with players that have gone on to play in the NBA was a thrill and the United States is great.
"I hope that one day I can follow the footsteps and play in the NBA."
|Spain's hard work was rewarded with a European title|
In spite of all the hype surrounding Sergio he knows that his career is just starting.
"I still have a long way to go before I can be considered a good player," said Rodriguez.
"I need to improve in every aspect of the game, particularly on defence and not making any turnovers.
"I know I have to work hard because you cannot predict the future."
Sergio's main priority is to have more playing time in the ACB and make his next move to Spain's Under-20 national team.
"Of course one day I would like to play for the senior team and to be an important player in the ACB, but I have to take one step at a time and see what happens."
Sergio will have to return to Madrid on August 12 for pre-season training as he currently taking a deserved holiday back at home in Tenerife.
He won't sit still for long, though, this player who wants to reach the highest level of the sport as his idols did.
"My hero is Michael Jordan, no one plays like Michael," said Sergio. "Maybe one day I can make it to the top. This, and my love for the game, are what keep me motivated."