Real Madrid doesn’t exactly lack pedigree when it comes to bringing through youngsters but Usman Garuba’s explosion in the playoff series against Efes has been something else to watch. Emmet Ryan on a coming out party that began out of necessity and has grown into game changer
For most visitors of this site, Usman Garuba being capable of playing grown-ass man ball at 19 isn’t exactly a shock. Nor, really, is it for Real Madrid to bet on youth when the situation calls for it. Let’s be honest, this is still quite something to behold. The big man has been big time when it mattered most for Real Madrid and, at 19, has changed the narrative of the entire season.
Garuba had been a regular in Madrid’s line-up all year long but he only really started to log heavy minutes at the tail end of the season as injury and departure issues plagued Los Blancos. Gabriel Deck moving to the NBA forced Real to shuffle some pieces. Edy Tavares being out of action meant the hole needed filling. All this after a year which didn’t exactly go to plan for Real in Euroleague, despite a stellar ACB record in Spain. Pablo Laso has never been shy in taking the if they’re good enough, they’re old enough approach but even he couldn’t hold back a little it of pleasant surprise at full-time of Game 4 on Thursday, as Real Madrid tied their playoff series with Anadolu Efes at 2-2 to force a decisive game 5 in Istanbul next week.
Garuba has been the furious never say die engine for this Real side. Through four games in the postseason he is averaging 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds on 31 minutes. That’s up from 14 minutes a night with 3 points and 3.6 rebounds in the regular season. That’s a big jump but Thursday, that was another matter entirely.
Garuba hit career highs in points, 24, rebounds, 12, and PIR, 30, in an elimination game. He’s 19, he’s still not quite where he is going to be, well more than not quite, and he was beating the heck out of the most feared outfit in Euroleague.
This is where we need to deviate slightly for our non regular readers. Real Madrid is known to y’all because (1) football and (2) Luka Doncic. Their opponents, Anadolu Efes Istanbul, may not be on your radar as much but they should be. Over the last two seasons they have been appointment viewing. This is easily the most exciting team to watch in Euroleague in years and over the last couple of months of the regular season it was a merciless ass-whupping machine. Efes didn’t just win games, on most nights they just plain ripped the heart out of that night’s opponent and showed it to them before they died.
The Istanbul club was doing just that in Game 4 on Thursday night. Despite Real racing into a 17-0 lead at the start, Efes came back like an angry god and laid waste to most of what Madrid put in their way up until the final frame. Then? The comeback started, awfully similar to how Real climbed out of hell in Game 3 two nights prior, but with even more Garuba this time. The veterans could see he was having his way inside so they just plain let him go to work, feeding him and trusting him.
It’s quite a development for the young man. He showed plenty of raw talent through two appearances at the ANGT Tournament before moving up full-time to the main Real Madrid roster last season. He has impressed, and then some, through his appearances this past season but this is another level entirely. This is the type of game that will have NBA scouts sharing the tape with their bosses to see if they want to bump him up the draft board.
That is a discussion for another day. He’s going to the association eventually but right now he has lifted Real’s Euroleague season out from the depths of hell. His energy and efficacy has been infectious with the much, much, older roster around him and they go to Istanbul next week with their heads held high. A 6’8″ kid who originally wanted to be a footballer is the main reason why.