By Vlad Ionasc
Just a little over two months ago, Chester’s Mens Basketball team, led by Alvaro Garcia-Chaichio’s team-high 16 points, secured the university’s first ever league title across any sport, following a hard-earned 63-61 win over the University of Manchester in a frantic evening at the Downes Sports Hall.
I caught up with Garcia-Chaichio to find out more about his basketball journey and his experience as an international student undertaking his Erasmus year at the University of Chester.
Garcia-Chaichio grew up in Torredonjimeno, a little town in the province of Jaèn, Spain. The Spaniard actually hadn’t played basketball at all until he was 11 years old. Initially, he was more captivated by his country’s favourite pastime, football. He played as a defender for a team in his hometown while drawing inspiration from various legends playing for giants such as Real Madrid in Spain’s autochthonous La Liga and Liverpool in the Premier League. Garcia-Chaichio stated that the 2-time NBA champion Pau Gasol along with FIBA World Cup winner Berni Rodríguez were his biggest basketball inspirations once his journey on the hardwood commenced. Garcia-Chaichio wasn’t blessed with Gasol’s or even Rodríguez’s height, however, his toughness and relentless drive to win at all costs made him an extremely valuable asset to Chester’s already ambitious and talented team.
The Andalusian maestro embarked on his academic voyage at the University of Granada, situated one hour away from his hometown. Undergraduate students in Spain can apply to spend one academic year abroad. Garcia-Chaichio took full advantage of the opportunity and chose to spend his year abroad in the United Kingdom.
“I studied Primary Education in England, which in Spain is known as Bilingual Primary Education.
“To be honest, I was told really good things about this university [Chester] and the facilities it had and also about the basketball team, so there was no doubt [that I would choose Chester].” stated Garcia-Chaichio.
The Spaniard enjoyed his academic experience at the University of Chester. He stated that courses in Spain focus on general education and general aspects of social life, whereas the course at Chester was better catered to his needs and provided him with a huge academic boost.
“Chester is a university that focuses on students and as I said before, it has so many facilities. The subjects I chose to study here were totally focused on my degree and my personal development.” said Garcia-Chaichio.
From an athletic standpoint, nothing was given on a plate to Garcia-Chaichio. He played for Chester’s BUCS team at first. His exceptional performances eventually helped him solidify his place in the starting five of the BUCS squad before being called up to Chester’s National League D2 team where he became a regular starter in Chris Leonard’s historic 2019-20 squad. Garcia-Chaichio was tasked with obtaining crucial rebounds and creating second-chance opportunities. He crashed the glass well for Chester, averaging 2.1 offensive rebounds per game while also shooting 55.3% from the field. The forward stated that his teammates helped him tremendously during a year in which he had to adapt to a new culture and a new language. He formed a special bond with teammate Joe Kincaid, whom he credits as the guy responsible for bringing him to coach Leonard’s attention.
“He was the first guy I got in touch with in England and he was the guy I got in touch with to join the basketball team. There was no day that he wasn’t supporting me with the language, strategy and basketball in general.
“It’s not easy with a different language and a whole year in a different country, without your parents, without any help and with a different culture. All of these boys have given me one of the best years of my life and I appreciate them a lot and I know that I have a family in Chester.” said Garcia-Chaichio.
Chester’s forward also noticed a cultural difference in terms of basketball, claiming that the play-style of English teams is “relatively” different to their Spanish counterparts.
“In England, basketball is played really fast and physical.” said Garcia-Chaichio.
Adjusting to the British way of playing actually helped the Spaniard improve as a player.
“I improved my ball handling, my positioning on the court and my mid-range and long distance shooting a lot.
“I also made a great improvement physically in terms of my high jumping, speed and endurance.” admitted Garcia-Chaichio.
Garcia-Chaichio is now back in Spain after his Erasmus year and basketball season were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. He finalised by recommending the city of Chester along with the University of Chester and its basketball programme to every international student considering the ‘year abroad’ experience.
“If you want to spend a really good university year in a different university, this one must be Chester.”
“The city is so pretty, it has so many places to visit…You won’t get bored. Never. You’ll never get bored because you’ll always have something to do. I highly recommend societies to meet new people, mostly the basketball one!” concluded Garcia-Chaichio.