Cate moving forward with Murcia after taking step back
To help encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.
MURCIA (Spain) - Sometimes the only way to move forward in life is taking a step back. That is exactly what UCAM Murcia big man Emanuel Cate did. And it has turned the 21-year-old into a major piece in the Spanish side’s Basketball Champions League hopes.
Cate’s journey to the BCL started way back in 2013 when he and his family were faced with a life-changing decision. After playing tennis for what he called "constantly" between 6 and 12 years of age, Cate moved to a different location in the Romanian capital of Bucharest and had to give up the racket. He joined a neighborhood basketball club for what he described as a replacement for tennis as a free time activity.
"I had no clue what was about to come next," Cate recalls from the time he was 12 years old.
Cate had never really touched a basketball before but the game came easy to him. People in Romania began to notice what was going on at the Dan Daciam Bucharest club as a 14-year-old Cate was showing big promise.
Cate was an only child though and his parents stressed the importance of an education.
"My parents were under big pressure when I was 14 because many teams were asking for me, and they were saying I'm too young to leave home, even though I wanted to be in a special basketball program," Cate said.
The parents remained steadfast and kept their son at home until around his 16th birthday. But then came a call that blew away even Cate’s parents.
"When Real Madrid was on the list, they had to take into consideration the unique opportunity, and they gave it a chance. The decisive thing that convinced them was that I was able to continue studying at the same time as playing."
And Emanuel Cate was on his way to the Spanish capital Madrid to join one of the biggest clubs in European basketball. Looking back on the summer of 2013, Cate says he didn’t know of the magnitude of the move he was about to take.
"I didn't realize back then what a big change it would be. I was just very excited to go and play basketball at a high level and in such a big club."
Big FIFA battles with Luka Doncic
Upon arriving at Real Madrid, Cate could not help but notice another young player running around who was actually younger than him - a 14-year-old Luka Doncic.
"It seems crazy, but it was already his second year when I arrived there and I remember seeing him from the first day when I came," Cate said. "He was a pure talent and a joy to watch. Some great passes were delivered out of nowhere to the post players."
In his first season with the club - 2013-14 - Cate only played a couple of games together with Doncic because Doncic was with the Madrid cadets team and Cate already with the junior squad. It was the following season that the duo took European basketball by storm.
Doncic and Cate guided Real Madrid to the title of the U18 Adidas Next Generation Tournament, knocking off reigning champions Crvena Zvezda Belgrade 73-70 in a thrilling Final. While Doncic collected 14 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists in winning the MVP trophy, Cate played a huge role with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 8 blocks - while playing in front of the home Madrid fans at the Barclaycard Center - then the Palacio de los Deportes.
"That was for sure the best feeling," Cate recalls. "The amount of desire and hard work from everybody was incredible during the whole season. I remember playing in almost a full Palacio de los Deportes in Madrid with the trophy on the table. (Real Madrid club) president Florentino Perez was in the front row together with all the Real Madrid staff that contributed to our success as a young team. I couldn’t imagine a better atmosphere for the game itself. It was not before the last shot of the game that we won, and the happiness was unmatchable."
Cate and Doncic also played together for Real Madrid in the Spanish fourth division EBA, and the Romanian big man fondly looks back on his time with the now 19-year-old NBA rookie star.
"The best memories were from when we were playing the senior teams from the EBA and (Doncic) made it look effortless, despite some of our opponents being 20 years older than us. Nobody on our team was 20," said Cate, who was 17 years old and Doncic 15 during the season. "Off the court we used to compete one-on-one at FIFA on the PlayStation. Big battles."
With two Spanish junior titles already in the bag, things were going great for Cate. But it was time to go elsewhere because it was clear that Real Madrid would not be able to give him playing time in the ACB with such high aspirations and the big man still needed to refine his game to the higher level. Cate was sent on loan to Spanish top flight side CB Sevilla. He was with the club for two seasons, playing 11 games and averaging 1.5 points in 2015-16 and then collecting 1.8 points and 1.8 rebounds for the club in 15 games in 2016-17.
Then came the summer 2017, which provided two major peaks on what was a roller-coaster of a year.
First off, there was July 23 in the northwestern city of Oradea where Cate guided hosts Romania to an 80-67 victory over Croatia in the Final of the FIBA U20 European Championship 2017, Division B - in front of 2,000 fans at the Antonio Alexe arena. Cate collected 20 points and 14 rebounds and was named MVP of the tournament as he averaged 15.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals and helped Romania secure a place in Division A for the first time.
Fresh off the high of making history for his native Romania, Cate faced the difficult decision about his next step at the club level. He only averaged 9.5 minutes a game for Sevilla in 2016-17, and he figured he needed more playing time, having turned 20 on July 30. So on August 10 it was announced that Cate had decided to sign with Spanish LEB Oro second division side CB Prat.
"As a young guy I needed more playing time. It was a very difficult year, but totally worth it. I learned a lot in general and it helped me be more mature," Cate looked back on his 2017-18 season in which he averaged 10.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 26 minutes a game.
One thing he knew was that he had the support of his parents back in Romania.
"They have visited me one weekend a month since the beginning. They are very proud of me and they try to support me with everything they have. And I can only thank them for that," Cate said.
After the decision was made, Cate had the next high in late August as Romania were then co-hosting FIBA EuroBasket 2017 - the first time the country was in the top flight at the senior level since 1987. Cate made Marcel Tenter’s team, along with his U20 teammates Nandor Kuti and Bogdan Nicolescu, and even though Romania lost all five of their games, Cate received a boost of confidence as he collected 1.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.6 assists and 0.6 blocks in 10 minutes a game, including 1 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks against Czech Republic.
"It is an honor for me to represent the country's flag and I am going to do whatever I can to obtain the best results with the national team," Cate said.
The season at Prat coincided with the first windows of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers. And Cate already became one of the Romania team leaders, averaging 14.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in the first window in November 2017, including a win over Netherlands. Cate then collected 13 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks as Romania shocked Croatia 58-56 in Zadar in the second window in February 2018.
"That victory proved that we can believe in our chance and play at a high level," said Cate, though the Romanians lost their last three games and failed to reach the Second Round of the European Qualifiers.
Step back rewarded
Just before the final two Qualifiers losses - at Netherlands and at home against Croatia in July - Cate was rewarded for the step back at Prat when he signed a two-year deal with Spanish ACB club UCAM Murcia.
"Murcia was the first team to show interest in me and when hearing that, I knew their style and philosophy of the game would match mine. I was looking for an ambitious club with big intentions," Cate said of the club which had just missed the Spanish league playoffs last season but finished third in the Basketball Champions League.
The club not only had kept together much of the team from last season but added other big names. Cate also came into the team confident of his chances of playing with the hiring of Javier Juarez as new head coach. The 48-year-old Juarez had spent the past two seasons working as a youth coach with Cate’s former club Real Madrid.
"Having the same roots as him I knew we were going towards the same objectives," said Cate. "He has been developing young players the last few years. It depends very much on the willingness of the player. Hard work and perseverance are mandatory in order to contribute."
Cate has been a solid contributor to Murcia’s strong 3-0 start to the BCL, averaging 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 17 minutes of action while shooting 71 percent the field.
"I am intense, physical and eave everything on the court," said Cate, who had 11 points and 8 rebounds against Baskonia in 30 minutes of action in the ACB.
Cate has yet to attempt a three-pointer this season and took only six all of last year with Prat. But he knows he must work on his outside game.
But the main goal is getting victories.
"Definitely one of my goals is winning the Basketball Champions League," Cate said. "We need to be selfless and help each other during the whole season; work hard and get better every day."
And eventually you move forward - even if sometimes you need to take a step back first. as Emanuel Cate knows very well.
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