Sandra Ygueravide: Why giving up is never an option

Fresh off a storming 2021 season Spain’s leading 3x3 women’s basketball star is competing at the FIBA3x3 World Cup in Antwerp, Belgium, while at her very best, her journey to the peak of her discipline was far from easy.  

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by @sygueravide13 (Instagram)

Complicated.

There was a time when top women's 3x3 basketball player Sandra Ygueravide would have likely used the word to describe her relationship with her sport.

Now riding high at the top of her game as the 2021 World Series Most Valuable Player (MVP), and competing in the FIBA 3x3 World Cup from 21-26 June 2022 (live on Olympics.com), it’s hard to imagine the 37-year-old European champion ever struggled on the half court.

The Spaniard has been awarded prizes for the way she tears up the competition with her crafty plays, and her and punishing shot-making abilities; revelling in the free-flowing style of 3x3.

Still, just over a year ago, after a string of devastatingly close near-misses everyone wondered if she, and Spain, would ever clinch a major win.

"3x3 is passion, it is strength, it is struggle, it is courage, it is intensity," Ygueravide writes about her sport for FIBA 3x3. "It means not giving up, fighting and competing until the last second every game."

And that's exactly what she did.

Sandra Ygueravide: finding freedom in 3x3

It was through fate intervening that Ygueravide discovered 3x3.

Like most current practitioners of the new Olympic discipline, the Valencian began her hoops career in 5x5.

She made her debut aged 17 for her local side Ros Casares and stayed there until the 2004-5 season before opting to cross Spain to play for Perfumerias Avendias.

The move away from home marked the beginning of the Spaniard’s lengthy basketball pilgrimage that would see her ply her trade across the breadth of Europe and as far as Ecuador.

Along the way she collected a smattering of national and international titles, but all the while a feeling that something was missing began to develop. Ygueravide began to question her place in the sport.

Then a call came.

It was an invitation from a selector to represent Spain in a 3x3 tournament. Still a discipline its early years, without thinking, she said yes, finding a way to fit the new challenge into her calendar.

What the Spaniard didn’t know at the time she accepted the request was quite how 3x3 would transform her life both on and off the court.

On it, she would find her love for basketball entirely renewed:

"3x3 has given me life," she tells Baloncesto Espana. "It gave me a new life to enjoy basketball, at a time when I was stuck with 5x5.

"Every year, every summer that we are together has many good things. You enjoy and then it gives you freshness for the next season."

Off it, she found a passion that had for so long been dimmed but matching her newfound love with success would be much harder than she could ever have realised.

3x3 basketball: Olympics heartache to European joy

Touching down in Graz, Austria this time last year for the postponed Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Spain’s 3x3 women’s team knew the task before them was great.

20 teams had gathered to try and punch their tickets for the Tokyo 2020 Games where 3x3 was to finally make its Olympic debut.

Ygueravide’s Spain got off to a bright start. After coming out on top of the pool stage and scoring a quarter-final victory over Austria everything looked like it was going to plan.

When they then slipped to a United States team in the semi-finals featuring four WNBA players including the formidable Kelsey Plum, the Spaniards didn’t stutter. They knew they still had a chance to secure their passage by winning the third-place play-off.

But their opponents Japan thought otherwise.

The thrilling contest went into overtime after Shinozaki Mio made a game-tying layup with just over five seconds left of regulation time remaining.

Then, with a 18-19 lead, Stephanie Mawuli of the Olympic-host team seized the initiative and drove to the basket to push Japan 20-18 ahead banking the all-important two-point lead needed to win.

The Japanese roared in delight as Spain’s hopes of making it to Tokyo shattered into a million pieces.

While on its own the pain of missing out on an Olympic Games was tough enough, the reality was much worse for Ygueravide and the Spanish.

The Olympic upset in Graz was the third defeat they had suffered at major competitions.

Back in 2019 in the World Cup quarter-finals, a simple missed layup ultimately led to them losing to European rivals Hungary: 17-18.

Later that year at the 3x3 Europe Cup Final against France, an unmanned Migna Touré looped around the front of the 'D' to score the buzzer-beater in overtime denying Spain a European crown.

“It was devastating,” Ygueravide told FIBA 3x3 reflecting on that day in Graz.

“In the week after, we couldn’t even talk to each other. We didn’t know what happened.”

Sandra Ygueravide: embracing the adversity

Where others might have bowed out after so many knocks Yugeravide doubled down.

Still passionate about 3x3 and eager to prove what she and her country were capable of, the team reunited with the ambition of delivering.

Just three months after the tears had poured in Hungary, Spain got to work in the Women’s Series. Wins at the Mies and Montréal stops became the proof they needed that they were able to go the distance.

Back at the 2021 Europe Cup - this time in Paris - Team Spain were unrelenting.

They avenged their overtime loss to France in the semi-finals before then conquering Germany to claim their long-awaited major tournament title under the Eiffel Tower.

“We will never quit,” Ygueravide said to FIBA 3x3 afterwards on the determination that had driven her, and Spain, to victory. “This is the game that we love and we’re going to keep playing because it’s what we enjoy the most.”

For her formidable speed and ruthlessness Ygueravide scooped up the tournament’s MVP award for leading all players in scoring and for flashing her clutch credentials with a game-high six points in the final.

It was, for the Spaniards, redemption at its finest. But for their star-player the best was still on its way.

In a remarkable personal turnaround Ygueravide not only ended the year as the women’s No.1 ranked player in the world but also elected the Women’s Series 2021 MVP - an award voted for by a panel of players and fans.

“This 2021 has been absolutely unforgettable, with the ups and downs," wrote the Spaniard on her social media, digesting her victories and her prizes in October last year.

"I've enjoyed every minute, and every second of this game. But this past month... has been really overwhelming,”

Though now the sensational Spaniard might no longer occupy the number one spot in the rankings, she’s by no means off the pace.

Hungrier than ever to show her love of the game she and her team are on the chase for their first 3x3 World Cup title in Antwerp (available to stream live on Olympics.com).

With everything Ygueravide has been through to get to this point would you bet against her?

WATCH LIVE: 3x3 Basketball World Cup Antwerp

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