Iñaki Alvarez is a goal-oriented, courteous, and ardent graduate student-athlete, who plays as a guard with the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team. He graduated last year with an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and is now studying for his master’s at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
After tearing his meniscus — the cartilage separating the femur and tibia — Alvarez is currently going through a long and arduous rehab journey. Nevertheless, he sat down with The Varsity to discuss his basketball career at U of T and his plans for the future.
“I didn’t discover [basketball]; I was truly born loving basketball,” Alvarez said. He knew he loved this game and belonged on the court since day one. He grew up cherishing every second he played basketball, watching a lot of games, and being invested in all the news regarding the famous players and the sport itself. In addition to his coaches, teammates, and family, Alvarez models his game after the Argentinian basketball star Facundo Campazzo.
He went from playing around in a mini hoop in his childhood home to becoming a key player with the Varsity Blues, which is truly impressive. Although he was the only basketball player in his family, it never stopped him from growing and developing his game to become the indefatigable player we know and watch today.
The Blues family
As a young adult, entering a competitive team like the Blues tremendously helped Alvarez develop the skills we see him portray today.
“When I came in, I was 17, and the guys I was with… were in their mid-20s,” Alvarez said. “So, being that super young guy and making that transition into now being the older guy… [is] definitely an experience I’m grateful for.”
Alvarez has a busy schedule, as his day mainly consists of basketball and studying, so when he has some free time he hangs out with some classmates. Still, most of his social time is absorbed by the time he spends off the court with his teammates.
“[They’re] like my family. Those [players] are really my brothers,” Alvarez explained. “So it just makes it easier to come in [to university] every day.”
The family dynamic and aura among the players have helped boost Alvarez’s self-esteem. He felt safe, sensing belonging and community, which in return has helped develop chemistry and communication with his teammates.
On the court
Even though Alvarez will not be playing this season due to his injury and operation from the summer, he still practices with his team, shows up daily to lifting and scrimmages, and on top of that, he is focused on physiotherapy and getting ready for surgery soon.
Regardless of his current injury, Alvarez is one of the star players on the team; he has a great work ethic, and all his time is dedicated to improving his game and enhancing his skills on the court — evident in his past season with the Blues.
Last season, Alvarez had a tremendous career-high game on the road against the Queen’s Golden Gaels, a nationally-ranked team. His hard work paid off and he managed to help his team by scoring a remarkable 40 points.
However, Alvarez didn’t just help his team statistically. He also elevated his teammates’ mentalities and mindsets on the court. In that game, the team kept pushing till the last second and managed to keep a tied game most of the time. Unfortunately, the team lost after the Gaels hit a three-point buzzer-beater.
Despite the loss, he whole-heartedly enjoyed playing the game, as he felt that sense of urgency to keep pushing “all the way to the wire [against a] good team.” Additionally, seeing him thrive led to his teammates placing more trust in him and having faith that they had a chance to win the game. In a way, Alvarez’s excellence helped lift all of his teammates’ spirits.
“Keep your foot on the gas”
One of Alvarez’s greatest strengths is his work ethic and that is the number one reason why he is the player he is. “I welcome [failures] the same way I welcome success,” he explained. “I review what I did [badly] or could have done better. I just put my head down, working the same routine, implementing any changes, tweaks to fix that failure [or] weakness, whatever it is.”
“I have that attitude where nothing’s done until it’s done,” Alvarez explained. Furthermore, his head coach told him something that has stuck with him for years: “Don’t get bored of being great. Don’t kick your feet up. [If you’re] on a good streak, keep your foot on the gas and keep doing what you’re doing.”
This phrase taught him an important moral lesson: to “try to always give more than you take.”
This past summer, Alvarez coached an under-14 basketball team. He’s hoping to continue doing that, as he greatly benefitted from it. “I’ll take [a] player on my team and I kind of coach him as if it was me,” Alvarez explained. He hopes to ingrain in the players the important lessons he was taught when he was their age.
Furthermore, Alvarez aspires to represent and play basketball for his country, Spain. “It’s been a dream of mine since I [started to] watch basketball,” he said. We hope to see him play for Spain soon and excel, continuing as the remarkable player we perceive him as today.
For now, Alvarez will continue his rehab journey, so he can come back stronger than ever, while also supporting and hoping his team can accomplish great things and hustle together for a victory. “I think one of the main goals we’ve established, especially before starting the year, was definitely [a] championship, the playoffs, and [really] try to go as far as possible,” Alvarez said.
We cannot wait to watch Alvarez back on court.