UDINE/CIVIDALE DEL FRIULI (FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2017) - Iris Junio was living the dream back in 2014 when she almost helped shoot down the USA in the FIBA U17 Women's World Championship Final, but a nightmare quickly arrived.
But this exciting new world was turned upside down when she sustained serious injuries. In fact these injuries were so bad that this current campaign at the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2017 in Udine is the first time she's played at a major tournament for her country since 2014.
"A couple of times, I thought about stopping my career, but thanks to my mom I’m still playing," revealed Junio. "My mom was a basketball player and so when I play, it brings her joy. She's always very happy watching me. To see her daughter play with the national team is a joy for her and so she was my motivation to continue."
That early record-breaking experience in Liga Feminina is proving priceless as she tries to harness everything she knows to catch up and get her career back on track.
"It was a great opportunity they gave me to play against older players - it was a gift, or at least that's what they told me," laughed Junio. "It was very difficult as I hadn't been playing basketball for a long time and had to face really fierce opposition. But I learned a lot from the players I played against, but mostly from the ones I played with."
The teenager is like a sponge when it comes soaking up best practice. Perhaps her thirst to evolve is now even more extreme because as she’s looking to make up for lost time.
Junio has also been quick to deflect any notion that Spain winning FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017 and claiming a U20 title has put more onus on the team to be successful in Udine.
"We really want to win a medal - whatever the color of the metal and if its gold, then even better," she smiled. "But we don't have pressure - I don't feel it and I don’t think the team feels it either. We are here to fight, learn and enjoy the moment."
A couple of times I thought about stopping my career, but thanks to my mom I’m still playing. She was a basketball player and so when I play, it brings her joy. To see her daughter play with the national team is a joy for her and so she was my motivation to continue.
Beating Japan in the Quarter-Finals would put Junio within one victory of matching the feat of 2014 and making the title game - the mere suggestion of this is enough to evoke some bitter-sweet memories.
"I recall the last play when we were denied a basket because of a moving screen that might have given us the win. It was a really close game and we were right up there," she stated with a note of frustration.
"This World Cup is different. It's a different generation, different teams. There are players that already have experience at this stage, but there are new players discovering this level of play and even first timers with the national team. So, we can only go game by game this time," concluded Junio.