By Lefteris Moutis/ email@example.com
It’s unusual for the European champions to be beaten by 26 points in the second game of the season and by 18 in a home game the next week. Olympiacos was defeated at SEF by Zalgiris Kaunas in their first loss in regular season home game after 16 wins in row and got in trouble about the qualification to the next round. Meanwhile, the Lithuanians proved (especially in the second half of the match) that their two wins against Caja Laboral and Cedevita wasn’t a coincidence.
Marko Popovic was the leader of Zalgiris scoring 11 points in the third quarter, but the guy who changed at all the game was Ibrahim Jaaber. The newcomer of the team played excellent in defense, scored 9 points and gave the right rhythm to his team in order to keep leading the score. He came to Kaunas two weeks ago as a last-minute addition to cover the gap of Mantas Kalnietis. He played only 6 minutes against Caja Laboral and in Greece impressed everyone as he admitted to Eurohoops: “I was very good and tried to find myself in a new team. I started to play hard, not to focus to other things and take advantage of the good opportunity. I’m just getting adjusted to the team and the team, the players, the coach are doing a good job to bring me up to the level I have to be as a team player”.
Zalgiris has already three wins and leads the group. Is that some kind of surprise for Jaaber? “It’s a sign of hard work. We push each other every day in the practice and the guys are mature. It’s important to have now three wins but we are not finished. We want to go further ahead, keep this mentality and not celebrate too much. It’s not time to celebrate. It’s good but we can do it better. We want to go to Top16, Top8. We have goals and we have the players for our goals”.
Except Zalgiris, none is unbeaten in the group and the final standings are unpredictable. The American guard says that “I think we have the toughest group. All the teams, Olympiacos, Milano, Efes, Caja Laboral, are strong teams and we have to keep playing. Every night we have tough games. There aren’t easy games”.
Jaaber signed to Zalgiris after taking a sabbatical last year in which he reveals to Eurohoops.net that: “It was awesome. I went to a religious program in Mecca and today (25th of October) is the day that everybody is there now. It’s the best day of my religion. So, last year it was a great opportunity to relax, to learn, to take some time away from basketball, which is financially important for me. It’s something I love since I grew up. So, it was important for me to come back to the game, as well. The team has been working with me with shooting, running so to keep me in the right condition”.
Also, Ibrahim Jaaber has a personal blog in which he writes his point of view about life and religious as Muslim. As he explains “I’m a person that has life outside of basketball and my religion is very important to me. I created an opportunity to express this to other people in the world”.