MADRID — With NBA’s nuclear winter upon us, the Euroleague is ready to explode beneficially.
That was my first thought. Then I realized that, aside from being incredibly cheesy, it was also incredibly untrue.
In the absence of The Association, people will do many things. They will watch more football, dive a little deeper into college basketball, maybe finish that Tom Wolfe book that’s been peering at them from their bedside table for 16 months. They might start volunteering at their kids’ school or finally try that new Korean barbecue place that they saw on the Food Network. Maybe they’ll just sit at home and live out the 2011-12 NBA season on a PlayStation or XBox.
One thing people will not do is flock to the Euroleague en masse.
Folks will click on box scores, read headlines and re-tweet Tweets about their favorite players abroad. Others will watch some games online, start rooting for a team and figuring out a favorite player or two. And then a small percentage will fall in love with it—the style, the scheme and all that talent—and stick with it whether the NBA’s locked in or out.
But it is a very small percentage.
My job here is to make that percentage a little bigger, so while ‘explode’ is hyperbole, igniting an interest, maybe even a passion, in a person who already likes basketball is realistic. Reasonable, even.
A few things you might want to know before tipping your toes in…
You Might End Up Rooting For An Insurance Company
Or a bank. Or a beer. Maybe even a new collection of men’s designer clothing. You might be pulling for instant coffee, then instantly swap your allegiances to modern medicine.
Keeping up with the swiftly spinning world of sponsorships isn’t easy. It’s a guessing game, a crap shoot. And if you’re a Bilbao fan, you found out this week that your team is actually called Gescrap.
If you were parsing that word in hopes of deducing a meaning, you might have come pretty close. Gescrap recycles ferric materials, also known as scrap metal. Or crap.
And when Giorgio Armani throws Olimpia Milano some cash, they expect to be more than just “The Official Skinny Jeans of Olimpia Milano.” They want to see their name on that jersey, so Emporio Armani Milano it is.
Two summers ago at the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, Sheridan and I were greeted daily by an assortment of Ulker cookies and crackers (one brand was called Rondo) in Sinan Erdem Arena’s media section. That’s the same stadium in which Fenerbahce Ulker plays its home Euroleague games, with the cookie culprit’s logo sprawled across the chests of Thabo Sefolosha, Bojan Bogdanovic and the rest of the bunch.
And to wash those cream-filled, at times chalky treats down after a day of games? Why, an ice cold Efes Pilsen of course. A deliciously crisp pilsener that, at the time, shared its name with another of Istanbul’s Euroleague participants. But this offseason, management decided they wanted to tweak their title, changing the team’s name from a single strain of beer, Efes Pilsen, to the brewers’ company name, Anadolu Efes.
To ensure functionality the following mornings, I’d mix a few packets of Cafe Crown’s instant coffee with hot water and tilt my styrofoam cup back until I was ready to face the day. So imagine my dismay when I heard Euroleague qualifier Galatasaray Cafe Crown was ditching the powdered pick-me-ups for a group of Turkish hospitals, Medical Park.
Sponsorship may be the straw that stirs the drink, but without Cafe Crown, what is there to stir?
They Pay, You Play
The best job of getting papered in the NBA’s postseason belonged to Magnum Rolle. After sitting on the Atlanta Hawks bench for the final two games of the regular season, Rolle convinced Larry Drew he could perform equally well under the bright lights of the playoffs, so he stuck around a while longer. He executed to perfection, witnessing 12 straight games from the sidelines without even playing a second.
Then he collected his check.
In the Euroleague, however, things aren’t quite as cushy. If you’re accepting the team’s Euros, you’re expected to play for that team, and play well when you do.
In the 12 games this week, eight coaches made sure all 12 men saw some action. All but two—Panathinaikos and Brose Baskets Bamberg who, coincidentally, were playing each other—got 10 or more guys onto the floor.
On the other hand, stars have to sacrifice a few of their sacred minutes to make room for the glue guy-types. Case in point: last year’s All-Euroleague first teamers only averaged 26 minutes per game.
More role players. Fewer Rolle players.
Little Men On Campus
At Michigan State, Kalin Lucas was a Big Ten Player of the Year and got his Spartans to the Final Four in 2009 and 2010 (although he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in the second round of the 2010 tourney and had to miss the rest of the fun). Matt Howard made two finals himself with the Butler Bulldogs, picking up a Horizon League POY in 2009 and the Lou Henson Award in 2011, going to the nation’s best mid-major performer.
But throwing them onto an Olympiacos roster straight out of college was a bad idea, and there’s a reason few Euroleague teams ever take that leap of faith. Coaching legend Dusan Ivkovic has been hesitant to give Lucas the keys to the offense just yet and Howard contributed minimally for a couple games before getting hurt (the injury, of course, is not Matt’s fault).
Elsewhere, Ohio State standout David Lighty is finally easing into a role with Italian runners-up Bennett Cantu after spending most of his time on the bench; Iowa State point guard Diante Garrett’s stint with KK Zagreb finished shortly after it started; and Texas Longhorn and native Turk Dogus Balbay returned to Istanbul to play for Anadolu Efes, but hasn’t had a good game to date.
This is normal.
Last season, Southern California’s Marcus Johnson played only a few games in Croatia before Cibona cut him, and St. Mary’s NCAA tourney star Omar Samhan signed on with Zalgiris, only to find himself left either benched or off of the active roster entirely.
Former Duke Blue Devil Jon Scheyer joined Maccabi Electra this offseason expecting his first bite of Euroleague ball. Five games in, he’s still wondering what it might taste like.
So go ahead and scan the rosters for familiar names; it’s a great way to pique your interest and always fun to see how these college stars look in different colors. Just understand that the learning curve is steep, and immediate success at this level is next to impossible.
Get Your Donatas Motiejunas While It’s Hot
To save Houston Rockets GM Darryl Morey the million-dollar fine, I’ll say aloud what he wishes he could tweet: Donatas Motiejunas has been tearing it up with Asseco Prokom. Ever since Alonzo Gee texted his way out of Poland two weeks ago, the Lithuanian power forward has turned in back-to-back career games: 19 points and nine boards in a 72-68 loss to Unics Kazan two weeks ago, and then 26 and nine against a stingy Montepaschi defense.
But they lost that game also, by a final count of 84-73.
Five games in five weeks for Donatas and Prokom, and they’ve lost them all, meaning curious Rocket fans and prospect enthusiasts will likely have only five more chances to see how this newer, meaner Motiejunas stacks up against Euroleague bigs. That’s because the Euroleague’s format allows for 10 regular season games before cutting the field of 24 down to 16.
Bye-bye, bottom feeders.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that awful teams usually give youngsters awesome opportunities. So when they’re banished from the Big Show, so are their exciting prospects. All we can do after that is scour the web for choppy streams of their domestic league games and sift through an assortment of YouTubery to come away with a sense of how (or if) they’re progressing.
This might also be the case with Spurs draft pick Davis Bertans, the 6’10” Latvian string bean of a shooter who’s playing for Union Olimpija in Ljubljana, Slovenia. His team is 1-4 and at risk of missing out on the Top 16 just like Prokom. But if you’re looking for signs of stardom, sorry, Spurs fans. You’ll have to wait a minute; Bertans is just grazing the box score, averaging 3.4 points in just under ten minutes per game.
But I wouldn’t draw anything, positive or negative, from a sample size smaller than his biceps.
Nick Gibson, editor of EuroleagueAdventures.com, covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.