Eli Ndiaye is heading back to the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals with U18 Real Madrid, looking for a record fourth continental junior title for the club and a second in a row for himself.
Ndiaye dreams of ANGT-EuroLeague double for Real in Belgrade
But this time the 17-year-old center hopes that Real Madrid can make it a double of the ANGT title and the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague crown in Belgrade next month.
Eli Ndiaye took home the Most Valuable Player award for helping Real take first place at the ANGT Ljubljana qualifying event last week and book its ticket to the finals, which will be held during the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in the Serbian capital. He collected 14 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals for a performance index rating of 22 in Real's thrilling 60-61 victory over Zalgiris in Sunday's first-place game in Ljubljana.
"It was amazing. We played a very difficult game against a great opponent, and in the end we got the win in a really tough game. We suffered together, we worked together, and we got the win as a team, together," said Ndiaye, who averaged 14.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals for a PIR of 19.5 in the tournament.
Those numbers earned him what was his second MVP award at an ANGT qualifier, after the one he received at the ANGT Istanbul last season.
"It's always special to receive an MVP trophy, but it makes it more special to get this award with the teammates and coaching staff that I have. I won it because of their job. I want to thank them all," said Ndiaye, who ranked fourth in index rating, sixth in scoring and ninth in rebounds in Ljubljana.
This is just the latest highlight of the season for the Senegalese big man, who will turn 18 in late June. The first one came on September 12, 2021, when Real's first team faced FC Barcelona in the preseason Spanish Supercup. Ndiaye made his senior debut in the game, in which Real came back from 19 points down in the third quarter to win 88-83.
"I remember how we were losing the Supercup final against Barcelona and we got back in the game to get the victory. It was very special to me to make my debut in such a big game: against Barcelona, getting the win, the title, and sharing those incredible moments with the great players of Real Madrid," said Ndiaye, who played 1:27 minutes and picked up 1 rebound in that game.
Ndiaye has spent most of this season with Real's second team in the Spanish fourth division. But he also has practiced with the first team. He says everyone on the team has been giving him tips.
"They all help me all the time and make me feel comfortable when I practice or play with them. I must thank them all because they teach me, they help me, they give me advice and they try to make me better all the time," Ndiaye said.
Real Madrid head coach Pablo Laso has chosen Ndiaye to play in four EuroLeague games this season. In the first, at home against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in Round 5, he picked up 2 points, 1 rebound and 1 steal in 7 minutes.
"The best moment for me – the one I remember the most – is the first basket that I scored. But everything is special: being with the first team, playing with the best players of Europe," Ndiaye said.
Ndiaye said he is enjoying the tough road that is the transition from junior to senior player.
"It's always difficult to face a challenge like this, but it's a great experience. I enjoy every moment and I always try to give the best of myself and learn in every situation," he said.
Ndiaye has already locked up a ticket to next month's EuroLeague Final Four in Belgrade, where he will be shooting for his second ANGT title. But he also hopes that Real Madrid's senior team can be in the Serbian capital and try to repeat the trophy it won there in 2018.
"I'd love it, of course," he said.
If both could celebrate titles on Saturday, May 21, at Stark Arena, it would be a repeat of 2015, when Real doubled up and won the ANGT and EuroLeague titles at home in the Spanish capital.
"It would be incredible and very special," Ndiaye said. "We'll give our 100 percent over there, knowing that's a really difficult challenge."