It's been 10 years since Iris Junio Mbulito rose to fame. It was on October 10, 2013 when she became the youngest rookie in the Women's Basketball League. He was then 14 years, six months and 17 days, played grassroots in the Club Islas Canarias and studied third of ESO. That girl who impressed the world of the basket surpassed the record of Ricky Rubio, who debuted in the ACB in October 2005 with 14 years, 11 months and 24 days. "I still don't believe I've made history," said the young woman shortly after on the back cover of EL PAÍS.
10 years have passed, Iris Junio Mbulito is 24 and that child prodigy is today a woman whose parade through the elite has not been a bed of roses. He continues to play, in the Spar Gran Canaria, after a bumpy journey through the United States, a retirement to take care of his mind and a return this summer to the Spanish competition. But it is no longer the same. Pressure, injuries and anxiety have been his traveling companions and have forged his character. His case symbolizes the fragility of those who jump to professional sports since childhood and the importance of taking care of the soul as much as the muscles.
Iris Junio, in 2013, with 14 years, in Madrid.Carlos Rosillo
"I was just a girl who played basketball", Iris Junio relives today during the presentation of the Endesa League (the competition starts this weekend, today Gran Canaria debuts at the home of Perfumerías Avenida, 12.00, FEB TV); "I remember those days I was shaking, very nervous. He loved to play. If I didn't, I was missing something. Deep down, I just wanted to have fun and be treated like one of them." But no, it wasn't one more. And not only because, as the youngest of the team, she had to carry the first aid kit in her backpack at matches and in training. While boys her age squeezed adolescence on weekends, she competed with the best in Spain and traveled around the country by road and plane. On Sunday afternoons it was time to exchange the ball for books. On Monday, the tallest girl in the class (1.82m), born in Las Palmas, daughter of Puri Mbulito, international for Equatorial Guinea, returned to her student life. From that time he keeps the newspaper clippings that documented his fame.
The first blow came at age 15. Rupture of the cruciate ligament of the left knee. Just seven months later, in a hurry to return, another snap in the same joint. More than a season and a half without playing. Thus began an ordeal that has sent him to the operating room to operate four times on the knee (two cruciates and two menisci), again on a shoulder, an ankle ...
At age 19, Iris Junio had decided to change scenery and fly to the United States to play the university league with the Arizona State team. There he played 81 matches and graduated in Languages, Translation and Interpretation. He was happy, but physical problems haunted him. Skating, he fractured his fibula and three ligaments in an ankle. And something began to break inside as well.
"The injuries had to happen. Everything happens for something in life. They may have been influenced by food, fatigue, lack of muscle... many things. That helped me to play today in a different way and be smarter on the court," says Iris. "In Spain everything had gone very well with my team and with the Spanish national team [in lower categories since I was 13 years old, and gold and MVP in a European Under-20]. In the United States, not everything went as I expected, and I put pressure on myself. Me and my surroundings. I wondered what they would be thinking of me in Spain. I put pressure on myself and I didn't realize that it affected me negatively when it came to playing. That went on for a long time, until the anxiety was so much that I wasn't myself. He wasn't taking care of me," he continues; "I was diagnosed with depression. I tried to keep playing, but I had no illusion. When I would wake up and think about basketball, I got anxious. I would go to bed thinking about basketball and it would make me anxious. I couldn't sleep. I missed half of the training because I was out with my physio crying. I discovered depression. I started going to therapy and medicating. I didn't care about the sport anymore, whether we won or lost. I didn't want to train or play. I stopped so I didn't end up hating basketball."
August 2021. With 22 years, Iris Junio announces her retirement with a brief message on Instagram: "See you later, basketball. I have to take care of my body and my mind." She became just another university student, started a master's degree in Business Administration and Management and kept the ball in the closet. Until a few months ago, he returned to the court, to basketball, to a more modest team, in Long Island (New York), also in the university league. And from there the return home, to Gran Canaria.
10 years have passed and Iris Junio Mbulito is accompanied by fame, the memory of that child prodigy. Its name evokes a past that today revives with the feeling of having started another life. "These 10 years have helped me grow as a person and as a player. I've dealt with all those injuries and mental health issues that have made me grow. It has been a long and rocky journey. It was hard for me to tell it, because I didn't even know what was wrong with me, I had never felt that way. But I got through it and I take the good. Now Gran Canaria has welcomed me with the door open and I am very excited to be at home", says Iris before writing her letter of wishes: "This year, honestly, I focus on health. That's my mission, to be physically and mentally well, to enjoy basketball again. That's why I put zero pressure, I try to take it off. I'm already nervous enough about the return to Spain. If I don't get injured and my head is fine, I've already won."
"With Ricky Rubio I was in tears"
Child prodigies, broken knees, mental health... A thread ties the careers of Iris Junio and Ricky Rubio. The base of the Cleveland Cavaliers, 32, left the concentration of the Spanish team before the last World Cup due to a mood problem, and Iris felt that step next to Ricky as if she lived it. "Talking about mental health is a sensitive subject, and seeing Ricky Rubio express it and be so supportive brought tears to my eyes. I'm happy for him because you have to take care of yourself, and nobody is going to do it like you. No one is going to take care of you like that. It's good that you take the time you need. I felt identified because it was difficult for me to tell it and when I did I felt a lot of affection. My advice is to talk, to know if you are okay and if you need time. That helps you know you're not alone."
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