BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Jaime Fernandez is making a mark playing for Asefa Estudiantes|
By Dimitris Kontos
19-year-old Spanish international Jaime Fernandez has gradually carved out a spot on the Asefa Estudiantes roster.
The historical Madrid club are currently in fifth place in the Liga Endesa with a 5-3 record, with the young point guard averaging 12 minutes, contributing 5.2 points and one assist per game.
Fernandez is partially handed this opportunity because, traditionally, Estudiantes place enormous emphasis on their youth system.
The entire club has been operating for the best part of seven decades under the assumption that today's junior team players are tomorrow's senior team linchpins.
Another big part however is the hard work he's put in with the national team.
During four consecutive years, he went off with Spain at the beginning of the summer and returned a better player in September.
"It's helped my development enormously," Fernandez told FIBAEurope.com.
"I think the youth national teams are very formative because you get to play with the best players at your age not only in Europe, but the entire world.
"The truth is it helps me a lot in the summer, I also work very hard for it and it's paid dividends."
The Madrid-born guard debuted with 'la roja' at the U16 European Championship in 2009 and Spain claimed gold.
The following summer he was on double duty, playing at both the U17 World Championship and the U18 European Championship.
Spain only finished in 11th place in Lithuania but that group of 17-year-olds returned to take gold one year later, in Poland.
Last summer saw Fernandez and co. stepping on the podium for the third time, as Spain clinched bronze at the U20 European Championship in Slovenia.
"I remember everything [from these competitions], but most of all the human group we have formed during these years, not only the medals," he says.
"Of course the medals are very important and I value them very much but with my team-mates we've built a great relationship that we maintain all year-round.
"We all keep in touch, we speak to each other when we meet as rivals during the season, because above all we're friends."
Perhaps surprisingly, one topic that does not seem to be high on the agenda when this very promising group of 1992 and 1993-born Spanish players get together is how to cope with the weight of expectation.
|Fernandez has tasted success more than once at age-grade level for Spain|
Fernandez, Alejandro Abrines, Daniel Diez and the rest of this generation will soon be called upon to replace living legends like Pau Gasol or Juan Carlos Navarro on the senior national team.
How does a generation take over from one that has won everything at the highest level?
"I don't feel any obligation at all, it's quite complicated to say at this point in time what we could end up becoming," replies Fernandez.
"The results are there and more or less we're following, up to a degree, in their footsteps.
"But it's too early to say right now if we could pick up the baton from that generation."
Until then, Fernandez will get one last chance to expand his already considerable silverware collection at youth level, at the U20 European Championship in Estonia in July.
"I feel sorry that this will be my last summer, but (we have to) make the most of it," he says about his generation's swan song in youth competitions.
"I just hope we'll do what we've always done, bring together this group of guys, like we did before, and enjoy the competition."
Is that all though? He doesn't want to go out with a bang, achieve something beyond that?
"Conquer gold, of course," he says with a smile.
"We'll try to go for gold, as always."