Follow FIBA on Facebook
Tryggvi Hlinason: From corralling sheep to grabbing rebounds
ZARAGOZA (Spain) - From being raised on a farm in the north of Iceland to playing basketball in front of thousands of people in only three years, you could say I've had a short but eventful career.
Yes, I have gone from plowing fields in my country to traveling all over Europe, and also competing in one of the best leagues on the continent in Spain. I've even taken on some of the best players in the world at the EuroBasket.
I'm proof that a person's way of life can change, and quickly! If people see me walking in Spain, they might recognize me as the big, 2.16m center of Casademont Zaragoza. I rebound, dunk, block shots and more.
But again, not long ago, I was in a different world.
I was tall for my age, and athletic. After just a week of practice, my first coaches, Bjarki Armann Oddsson and Agust Gudmundsson, took me to watch my first basketball game. I was 16 by then and the truth is, I had no idea how the game even worked. At that time, all I knew was that the ball had to be dribbled and shot in the basket.
The coach of one of the teams that we watched was also the coach of the Iceland U18 national team and he told me that he would like to see me playing with the team after one year.
He could see my potential, and that's when my head started to have the wildest of dreams because at the time, I thought playing with the U18s would be truly amazing. I left that gym, went home and really started working on my game. I got all the help I needed, too, from receiving my first pair of basketball shoes to getting help with nutrition, like knowing what to eat and how much. I could name so many people that helped arrive where I am today and I am forever grateful to those people.
Once I joined the national team and played at the FIBA U18 European Championship, Division B in Austria as a 17-year-old in 2015, things started to move pretty quickly. In the summers that followed, I took even bigger steps in my life as a basketball player.
View this post on Instagram
It wasn't until my first U20 European Championship, in 2016, that people started to hear my name. In our second game, against Russia and following our narrow defeat to Belarus in which I had not made much of an impact, the coach played me 30 minutes. I had 11 points, 19 rebounds and a couple of blocks and we beat Russia. Then at the U20 European Championship in July the following year, in Greece, after our promotion to Division A, my name exploded.
I had just signed with Valencia Basket earlier in the month. At the U20 European Championship, my confidence grew. I had a really good first game, against France, when I not only finished in double figures in points and rebounds but also blocked six shots. We ended up making it to the Quarter-Finals before losing to a good Israel team. Then I had the great privilege to play with the senior team of Iceland at the EuroBasket, in Finland, just the second time my country played at the event.
"I COULD NAME SO MANY PEOPLE THAT HELPED ME GET TO WHERE I AM TODAY AND I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL TO THOSE PEOPLE."
It was an incredible experience. I found myself in the same team as Jon Arnor Stefansson, Hlynur Baeringsson, Hauker Paulsson and others that were probably the best players our country had ever known. Our coach was Craig Pedersen and it was an unforgettable experience. In all, 3,500 Iceland fans came to watch us. We had almost 2,000 fans watch us in a couple of the games and we also nearly beat Finland, the hosts. We went up against players like Goran Dragic, Luka Doncic and Lauri Markkanen.
It was such an honor to play for my country at the EuroBasket. We will not play at the tournament in 2021 but have already begun trying to qualify for the World Cup, when it's held in 2023.
After EuroBasket in 2017, I packed my bags and left for Spain. When I got to Valencia, it felt like I'd hit a wall. Going from playing in Iceland to Spain's Liga Endesa... well, the step up in competition presented a huge challenge but it was one that I welcomed. The players were so skilled and talented that the fact that I was even practicing with them was truly an incredible feeling and I tried my hardest every day to reach their level. Many times it felt surreal that I was at this point so early in my career, but I loved it!
In that year at Valencia, we played in the EuroLeague and I found myself traveling to places I had only heard about. I faced top players of Europe. After a long, wonderful season, I left for Obradoiro, which was based in Santiago de Compostela, famous for being the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. That year allowed me to keep growing as a player but also as a person.
And now in my third year in Spain, I'm 22 and really happy while playing with Casademont Zaragoza with an even bigger role. The team is having a great season, making it to Play-Offs in the Basketball Champions League and staying as high as third place in the ACB league.
The season took a worrying turn recently when it had to be postponed until at least April 24 due to the coronavirus. Spain, like some other countries, is in lockdown. I'm doing my best to train and keep fit so that when the season does start again, I'll be ready. We'll see what happens next in my career, my life.
More importantly, I do sincerely hope that the whole world gets through these hard times as safely as possible. I truly admire and cheer on the brave people that are contributing to the cause of fighting the coronavirus, working on the frontlines, battling to keep the community working as well as possible.
After his phenomenal rise to prominence, Tryggvi Hlinason has faced off against the highest level of competition with Iceland. The center has featured at FIBA EuroBasket 2017 and then in the European Qualifiers for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. His last two national team competitions were the EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers and the 2023 World Cup Pre-Qualifiers. Tryggvi has also been a hit with Casademont Zaragoza, helping the club to success in the Basketball Champions League.