Antonio Margariños Sports Center smells like basketball, and a good one at that. Through the corridors you can see images of great players like Felipe Reyes or Sergio ‘Chacho’ Rodríguez next to the showcase that houses the trophies of one of the founding teams of the ACB league, winners of three Royal Cups. But for a year the atmosphere has been tense as they have to pay off the debt they incurred last year when the team’s first relegation was confirmed. This weekend they have the opportunity to redeem themselves at the Final Four for promotion to the ACB. The semifinals will be played on Saturday between the school team and Tinder Palencia (5.30pm, Movistar Deportes) and on the other side of the draw, Força Lleida vs Bàsquet Girona (8pm, Movistar Deportes). The final will be played on Sunday at 6:45 p.m.
Appearing on the court is Adams Sola, a 21-year-old escort who had to outlive the Bravas last season. “It was very difficult. Estudiantes is a historic club and it hurt a lot to be part of the first relegation, especially for me who grew up at this club,” recalls the player, who joined Magariños at the age of 11 came and barely picked up a few meters from the ground. and now stands at 1.93m tall. “After the descent, we all knew that the only goal is the ascent. We would have liked to have done it directly, but that’s no longer possible”, confirms the player, who also points to pressure as the biggest opponent this season.
One who knows exactly how to handle the demand is the great personality of the team, Javier Beiran. The 35-year-old forward, who started his career at Estudiantes, returned after relegation last year to save one of the teams of his life. “Something in me asked me to help them, even if it wasn’t the best sportingly or financially. I’ve had offers to stay at the ACB and I’ve felt very comfortable. But that’s why I wanted to return, not to retire, but because I believed that my experience and energy could help me try to return to the ACB,” explains the Spain international, 2019 world champion. In his opinion, the team has sinned badly and now it’s time to escape from favoritism. “Maybe we focus too much on climbing yes or yes without knowing the competition. We ourselves have created an expectation and a bubble that has not done us any good. Now we realize that the name won’t get us anywhere, we have to do it ourselves,” he says.
Everyone in the club agrees on that. Former player Hernán ‘Pancho’ Jansen, a club legend who also returned ‘on the first plane’ to act as sporting manager this year, admits fear has sometimes played a trick on them. “There were other teams in the ACB that were always under pressure, but here we were called the promotion favorites from day one,” says the Argentine.
Due to this demand to return to the ACB, the club decided to change course and renounce coach Jota Cuspinera after 28 days in which the team achieved 21 victories, but remained without direct promotion opportunities as they could not reach Covirán Grenade. The chosen one was Diego Epifanio ‘Epi’, an expert on promotions beyond the Final Four. The Burgos coach moved to San Pablo Burgos in 2017 and Río Breogán in 2020. “The most important thing is that the cabin is unified. I think that sometimes we had more pressure than illusion. The key is to get the first game against Palencia as good as possible. It’s one of the most complete teams in the category, winning both of our regular league games,” he warns. The trainer also points out that at this point the mental work is more important than the physical work. “We try to release our fears and our pressure not to let fear hold us back,” he admits.
The fear in the club of not being promoted is palpable. Estudiantes Operations Manager Miguel Ortega explains the economic impact of the move: “Returning to ACB would mean increasing our budget by 30%, which is around 5 million euros.” 6 million, 2 of which is interest. The director points to the difficulties the team would face if they fail to return to ACB, but stresses that the club’s greatest strength is its social mass. “The fans saved us. This year we had to lower the ticket price, but we sold even more than in previous seasons. They contacted the team,” he thanks.
This Friday, the team landed in Girona, leaving behind the magariños and the banners that have been hanging from its stands for a year. His motto reflects the spirit of the club: “I’m from Estudiantes Soya. We’ll be coming back”.