The only difference is that Kapono won his pair of trophies in different uniforms: with the Miami Heat in 2007 and the Toronto Raptors in 2008. Nearly four years after tying Hodges’ single-round record of 25, Kapono looks stunning in Panathinaikos Green.After news of his impending arrival hit way back in mid-November, Kapono made his long-awaited debut for the six-time Euroleague champions in Panathinaikos’ Top 16 opener against the 8-2 Zalgiris.
And what a first impression it was.
But was Kapono’s four-minute, 14-point explosion enough to rank him ahead of the Second Coming of Theo Papaloukas in Moscow or Andy Panko’s Spanish return flight?
Here’s a round-up of eight players who got their first touches with their new teams, three guys who will have to wait at least another week to make an impact, plus Shelden Williams and Aron Baynes, two elite rebounders that could still be had for the right price.
First Impressions, Worst Impressions
1. Andy Panko, Unicaja (from Panathinaikos)
16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists in 31 minutes
Last season with Lagun Aro, Panko averaged 19 points and 6 rebounds to become the first American MVP of the ACB since Tanoka Beard did it in 2001-02 with DKV Joventut. The 35-year-old finally got his Euroleague call up this offseason to Greek power Panathinaikos, but was stripped of the limitless offensive freedom he had in San Sebastian and was mediocre at best in Athens. After being swapped for James Gist in a rare Euroleague trade, Panko’s back in Spain playing alongside a bunch of guys that watched him tear it up in person last year. After only several days of preparation with Unicaja, Panko spent a team-high 31 minutes on the floor and hit a pair of game-clinching free throws down the stretch to give Unicaja a huge opening win against Bamberg. After ten (long) weeks away, Andy Panko is back home.
2. Jason Kapono, Panathinaikos (from free agency)
16 points, 4-of-6 from three, 2 assists in 17 minutes
Moments after checking into the ballgame, Jason Kapono was called for a phantom arm-bar foul in the post. He looked at the ref, then at his hand, then at the ref again. “Oh no,” I thought. “He’s already frustrated with Europe’s fickle whistles.” Then, out of a timeout and with seven on the shot clock, Kapono caught the inbounds pass, pumped once, drove the closeout and rose up for the shot before rethinking it mid-air and handing it off to fellow debutant James Gist. Gist missed, and I braced for a long first day at the office from the former three-point champion. I was wrong to doubt him. Apparently, the jitters left his hands at some point during that second shot fake, and he nailed his next two attempts from deep. After missing his third, he dribbled the ball up court, passed it inside to Kostas Tsartsaris (deferring to the elder statesman: smart move, JK), and drifted out as defenders’ eyes locked on Kostas. After a very patient post-up from Tsartsaris, the vet kicked it to his new buddy Jason, who hopefully held his follow through from the top of the key as the shot thudded against the front rim and bounced up, then in, for his third three in about two minutes. After that friendly OAKA roll, he planted himself in the corner as Panathinaikos conducted their drive-kick, entry-kick, ultra-Greek set before finding him again. Nailed it. Four-of-five. Turnaround jumper on the baseline? Didn’t know he came with that feature. Beautiful alley to Stephane Lasme to bring Panathinaikos within one at the 2:00 mark? Euroleague.net dubbed it the Assist of the Night.
Might as well just watch this.
3. Je’Kel Foster, ALBA Berlin (from Spirou Charleroi)
10 points, 2 assists and 3 turnovers in 24 minutes
This is Foster’s second go at the Euroleague. His first is one that I remember fondly. It was with EWE Baskets Oldenburg (Germany), a pet team of mine due to the wonderful hodgepodge of former collegians on the roster: Rickey Paulding (Missouri), Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (Georgetown) and Jason Gardner (Arizona), who once shared a Sports Illustrated cover with Luke Walton . Gardner missed the first six weeks and my/EWE’s Top 16 dreams were shattered, but Foster opened the season with back-to-back 20-point games and remained Oldenburg’s most reliable scoring threat over the following eight weeks. Now, Foster comes in to replace the steady-handed Vule Avdalovic in the Berlin backcourt. He will likely score more and pass less than Vule (his nine shot attempts led Berlin in his debut, an Alba loss), but it’s defense and the ever cliché “poise” that Alba will ask of Je’Kel, who needs to provide balance next to DaShaun Wood, Heiko Schaffartzik and Nihad Djedovic, who like to have the ball and shoot the ball as often as possible. Win one for the Boumtje, Je’Kel.
4. Omar Cook, Caja Laboral (from Olimpia Milano)
0 points, 3 assists, 1 steal in 17 minutes
The guy below Omar Cook on this list has dished out more assists than any Euroleaguer ever. But do you know whose per-game average of 5.6 is tops on the all-time list? It’s not Papaloukas or fellow Greek legend Dimitris Diamantidis. It’s not the Argentinian Pablo Prigioni or the Brazilian Marcelinho Huertas. It’s not Lithuanian Sarunas Jasikevicius, or former Tar Heel Ed Cota, who’s second at 4.8. Nope. It’s Omar Cook.