By Tobias Seitz
I just came home from Athens, Greece where the Euroleague Final Four took place from May 4th-6th. It was quite an experience to see the games in an arena with 20,000 crazy fans – and I mean crazier than Golden State fans these days. I was writing a live blog for FIBA.com so I got the opportunity to meet some very interesting people in European and American basketball.
During this weekend, there was also the Nike Junior Tournament taking place, therefore, I will split this article into two parts.
When I arrived on Saturday, there was not any Euroleague mens action going on so I went to the practice facility to watch the Junior tournament. I saw the game of Siena (Italy) against Basketball Club FMP (Belgrade, Republic of Serbia) because I heard that a upcoming talent is be on the FMP team: Milan Macvan (6’7″), born in 1989. Physically, he is very strong but also showed some of his nice offensive moves. He can score on the drive or with his back to the basket and showed some nice jumpers.
How do players like him develop? Do they work out themselves? Is he on a good mens’ team? No, he is just part of a well-organized youth program. I guess the coaches knew that a lot of NBA scouts (I saw the Blazers, Lakers, Detroit, Memphis, Orlando and Washington scouts) would be at the games so there were booklets on the seats about their program. They built an new sports arena in Zelezink as well as a modern training center called – BASKETLAND in Belgrade “where the most talented boys have the possibility to improve their skills on a everyday basis”. The brochure has some pictures in it where you can see the boys going to the school of the facility, eat together, work out in the weight room, celebrate wins as well as the impressive arena.
FMP made it to the final and lost just by 4 against Zalgiris Kaunas with Milan Macvan scoring 28 points (8/14 2-pointers and 3/6 3-pointers) plus 15 rebounds. Another young man that might have drawn the attention of the NBA scouts was Donatas Motiejunas from Zalgiris Kaunas had 20 points with 9/15 from the floor but a terrible free throw percentage of 0.18. I would not be suprised if we soon read that the draft rights on these players are owned by a NBA team.
On Sunday, the game for third place and the championship took place. The four rosters consisted of seven American players, with six of them had already participated in the NBA: Tony Delk (who did not play one minute at the Final Four), Michael Batiste, who had a very strong game in the final to lead Panathinaikos Athens to the title, Fred House, Marcus Brown, David Vanterpool (injured) and former Duke and Cleveland Cavaliers player Trajan Langdon. My personal opinion is that Trajan Langdon is still good for 10 points per game in the NBA and almost won the game for CSKA Moscow last night.
What about the non-American players? Some of them have already been to the NBA like former New Jersey Net Zoran Planinic, Igor Rakocevic (Minnesota), Jiri Welsch (Golden State, Boston, Milwaukee) and Pepe Sanchez (Philadelphia). So the question is – why aren’t they still in the NBA? Well I talked to some of them and they all said one thing: “I wanted to be more involved in the games” – meaning they did not play enough and didn’t just want to be a name on the roster, make their money. So they went back to Europe, make almost the same money – tax free – and have big and important roles on their team.
Some players haven’t been to the NBA yet but their draft rights are owned by NBA teams – like Luis Scola who’s rights are owned by the San Antonio Spurs. I watched the game of his team for 3rd place, but you just don’t recognize him – however at the end he had 14 points and 5 rebounds. Then, you realize why his rights are owned by the San Antonio Spurs – solid, unspectacular basketball. I would not be surprised to see him join his fellow Argentinians in the NBA soon.
The players whom that I think will have the biggest chance to enter the NBA and have the biggest impact are Moscow’s Theodoros Papaloukas and Panathinaikos’s player Dimitrios Diamantidis, who got the MVP of the final four tournament. As always, his stat line does not look that impressive, but he has huge impact on the game. In my opinion, finishing with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals shows how versatile this athletic guard is. It was further impressive that he shot 100% from the floor and only missed one free throw in the final against CSKA Moscow. Papaloukas had also a very strong night in front of 20,000 fellow Greek fans that yelled at him the whole game since he was playing for CSKA. Also, another guy that already made it to the NBA and has a very similar style of play: Toronto Raptor’s Jose Calderon.
I would say that the person who is mainly responsible for the victories of CSKA Moscow is their head coach Ettore Messina from Italy. He was the CSKA coach when they beat the Los Angeles Clippers last year and some people say he could be the first European to enter the NBA as a head coach. There has even been some connections between Messina and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors as Messina told the press after the final game: “In the beginning of the season, I had a Toronto Raptors t-shirt sent to me by Maurizio Gherardini. I wanted to come to the press conference with the t-shirt, just as a joke to give you guys something to write about.”
Tobias is guest writer on HoopsAddict.com and his input on the European Championships was greatly appreciated. If you would like to read more of his writing you can find his columns on FIBA.com and HoopNation.de. To view pictures that Tobias took while attending the Euroleague Final Four click here.