“I still get goosebumps in the shirt”

Amaya Valdemoro becomes Spain’s most prolific national basketball player

Amaya Valdemoro at the FEB basketball federation HQ earlier this year.
Amaya Valdemoro at the FEB basketball federation HQ earlier this year.SANTI BURGOS

Few would deny that Amaya Valdemoro Madariaga is the best female player in the history of Spanish basketball. In Lille on Saturday night she also became the player to have worn the national team jersey the highest number of times as she made her 254th international appearance for Spain, more than Marina Ferragut (253) and Betty Cebrián (252), as well as the leading male player on the list, Juan Antonio San Epifanio, “Epi,” with 239 games. “I still get goosebumps every time I put on the Spain shirt,” she says.

Spain won its Eurobasket match against Montenegro 66-50, thus sealing its place in the quarterfinals and Valdemoro’s place in the history books. “She is an asset for Spanish basketball,” says federation president José Luis Sáez. “She represents the essence of the national team. She has been able to get through anything: terrible injuries, breaking both wrists, barely being able to walk... but she has always been there.”

Valdemoro made her national team debut on May 9, 1995, having won silvers in the European youth championships in Slovakia and the European juniors in Bulgaria. Eighteen years and five medals later — three European bronzes and a silver and one world bronze in 2010 — Valdemoro is playing her final tournament with the national team with the aim of saying goodbye from the podium. “She is a born winner. She has a special character and an enormous heart,” says Sáez.

After 20 years in the elite of women’s basketball and having played in the WNBA, Brazil and Russia, as well as on all leading Spanish league teams, she embarked on her umpteenth new adventure when she moved to Turkey last summer. The experience did not turn out well and the eccentricities of the club owner led to her returning to Spain.

She has learned how to adapt her body to the passing of the years"

“I thought about giving it all up,” she admitted after her return. “It was a very big emotional slump. But the one thing I was clear about was that I was going to be on the national team.”

This year’s Eurobasket was the objective at the end of the tunnel, with the record for international appearances providing her main motivation. Valdemoro’s ambition led to her offering her services to second-division club Canoe to allow her to arrive at the tournament with some experience, putting aside the pains of a body punished in a thousand battles — a double wrist fracture, problems with a calf muscle and surgery on both knees.

“She is a force of nature and she has a rare intelligence,” says Dr Antonio Escribano, who has worked with Valdemoro in the Spanish national team since 2006.

“She has learned how to adapt her body to the passing of the years. With the passage of time she lost muscular power and strength, but if you lose weight you can keep the performances going. In this stretch of her career it is more important to rest than to train because the technical or tactical gain is minimal compared with the benefits of a personalized training program,” he explains.

After months of Pilates, physiotherapy and recovery treatments, she has arrived in France ready for Eurobasket, where, as it demonstrated on Saturday against Montenegro, Spain is showing its competence on its march towards the medals.

Valdemoro contained her emotions as she listened to the national anthem and greeted Spain’s first points with a smile from the bench before heading on to court with two and a half minutes to go in the first quarter to replace Alba Torrens. “I have four games left and I am experiencing all this in a very special way. I will be able to say, for some time and with a lot of pride, that I am the woman who has worn this shirt the most. I will frame it soon, but this record will not be eternal because records are there to be broken.”

Two points, one rebound and four assists were Valdemoro’s numbers against Montenegro, but the important figure was 254 — the number that appeared on the cake in the shape of a basketball court with which she was presented at the end of the match.

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