BARCELONA — They say you should act like you’ve been there before. With a Euroleague-best 396 career 3-pointers, Cantu’s Gianluca Basile had been there plenty.
Still, with the clock racing toward triple zeroes and the game tied at 64 in Bilbao, nobody thought Basile’s 35-foot heave would turn into number 397. Then it did, and some 8,000 Bilbao supporters sat in stunned silence. The scoreboard told them that Cantu had taken the lead 67-64, and that in one-tenth of a second their heartbreak would become official.
Bilbao’s Roger Grimau inbounded the ball to Marko Banic, who chucked it at the rim as a formality, but the buzzer had already sounded. Cantu had locked themselves into a Top 16 berth, becoming the first team in the Euroleague’s chaotic Group A to do so.
The 36-year-old Basile grinned like a teenager out past his curfew as his teammates chased him down and buried him beneath their bodies, reminding us that having been there and actually being there are two entirely different sensations.
A year ago today, nothing about this scene would’ve made sense. For starters, Gianluca Basile would have been in street clothes at the end of Barcelona’s bench, his season lost to a balky left foot which required surgery and made us wonder aloud if this would be it for the battle-hardened Italian.
At season’s end Barcelona wrung much of the age and experience out of its backcourt, and Gianluca Basile got the axe along with Roger Grimau and Jaka Lakovic, both 33 years old. Together, those three had combined for 19 years of service to the red and blue. Now, with neither a team to play for nor 10 good toes to stand on, the likelihood of Basile landing on his feet seemed both physically and metaphorically unlikely.
Then there’s Cantu, the club from northern Italy that hadn’t made much noise since taking home back-to-back Euroleague championships in 1982-83. And with only one top four finish since 2002-03 in the Italian League, Cantu wasn’t a name that struck fear into the hearts of opponents domestically, either.
But behind a veteran-laden roster that mimicked head coach Andrea Trinchieri’s fiery, buckled down will, they shared the ball, out-disciplined nearly everyone and stormed through the Italian playoffs all the way to the finals. As was expected, Siena disposed of Trichieri’s bunch in five games, but the damage was done: Cantu was through to the Euroleague.
And as Cantu rummaged through the scrap heap for spare parts, they came across an abandoned Gianluca Basile. A little rickety in the lower body, but still armed with a record-setting jumper and all the pedigree you could ask of a man who’s about to guide a Born Again Euroleague Team through its infancy.
Cantu resurrected the career of an Italian basketball legend. This shot—and the season’s worth of leadership that preceded it—is just Gianluca’s way of saying Grazie.
Mirotic Is Your MVP. Thanks, Rulebook.
When Basile first suited up professionally for Reggiana in 1995, Nikola Mirotic was four years old. This week, he was a man among toddlers, as the Real Madrid power forward picked up weekly MVP honors by racking up 26 points, eight boards and three steals in his team’s 88-64 trouncing of Maccabi Electra on Thursday.
Mirotic has his 33 rank to thank for the award, but he should also tip his cap to a recent rule change. Before this season, the MVP found its way to the owner of the week’s highest single-game rank whether that player’s team won or lost. This year, victory is a secondary requirement. So while Mirza Teletovic’s 34 rank is impressive as all get out, Caja Laboral’s 84-82 loss to Olympiacos will keep the hardware out of his hands.
Don’t get too antsy, Bulls fans. His contract with Madrid runs until 2016.
Dunkin’ Donatas Sets A Rebounding Record
Houston fans: cross your fingers and hope David Stern doesn’t retroactively block the draft night deal that brought Donatas Motiejunas to the Rockets. The 21-year-old Lithuanian set a modern Euroleague record with 18 defensive rebounds in Asseco Prokom’s 67-52 win over Union Olimpija. He finished with 21 in all, leaving him just three shy of the 24 Antonis Fotsis pulled down in 2007 while playing for Dynamo Moscow.
This is Good Sign #437 this year for Motiejunas, who reads the word soft more than strong in his scouting reports. On the season, he’s averaging 14.3 points and 8.5 boards (good for second in the league, behind Andrei Kirilenko who’s out of commission with a bad shoulder).
The Rockets have decided to let him marinate in Poland for the time being, and I applaud their prudence; with a few more months fine tuning his role as The Man in Gdynia, he should be a heavy favorite to make Lithuania’s roster this summer as they prepare for the Olympic qualifying tournament.
He’s been the country’s most curious omission for two summers running (FIBA Worlds in ’10, EuroBasket in ’11), but there’s no way coach Kestutis Kemzura can ignore the way he’s pushing folks around in the big leagues.
CSKA Unbeaten, Barcelona Still Boring
Milos Teodosic beats Bamberg. Dimitris Diamantidis hands Unicaja 15 seconds from Hell. Teletovic posterizes Shermadini, Slaughter does the same to Sinanovic and Basile buries Bilbao. This regular season, one of the wildest in recent memory, has had no shortage of moments. So, as fate would have it I’m stuck here in Barcelona, where close games come to die.
Eight weeks in and Barcelona and is still perfect. Annoyingly, predictably, average-margin-of-victory-is-21 perfect. So perfect that I’ve started to cheat on Juan Carlos Navarro and the crew from the press box, opening up new tabs in Google Chrome just to catch the finishes of closer games between less perfect foes.
How are they doing it? How aren’t they, is a better question. They score 80 ppg, but even if they slump (They don’t slump. Only humans slump.), you won’t catch them; Barcelona allows an insanely low 59 ppg. Second place in that department is the Euroleague’s only other undefeated team, CSKA Moscow, who’s 71 ppg allowed is still a far cry from the top dogs.
This week was more of the same in Palau Blaugrana, where Navarro led 10 scorers with 13 and Barcelona rolled over UNICS Kazan 63-50.
CSKA Moscow inexplicably let KK Zagreb hang around before ensuring the 87-74 win with a 27-point fourth quarter. Former Mississippi State Bulldog Jamont Gordon had 18 and Nenad Krstic continued blazing his trail to the All-Euroleague Team with a tidy 14 and nine in only 17 minutes.
Thirteen Teams Shooting For Seven Spots.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, only Spirou Charleroi and Union Olimpija have shot themselves out of Top 16 contention. And now that nine teams have punched their ticket to the next round, we’re left with 13 teams angling for just seven slots.
If I could break down the dozens of possible scenarios for you, I would. But I can’t. So I’ll leave you with this clip of Dejan Bodiroga doing work on Carmelo Anthony at the DiamondBall tournament in Belgrade in 2004 (Sheridan was in the house).
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.