By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
EuroLeague – and, to a lesser extent – EuroCup teams don’t like to take chances when they are building their rosters.
Getting some veterans with experience in the competition is a must if you want to go far. It’s a rule from which very teams few deviate and very few succeed when they don’t follow it. But every now and then, there’s an exception that proves that team chemistry can compensate for experience and that “rookies” can make a difference, no matter their previous experience or even their ages.
This season, 7Bet-Lietkabelis Panevezys enjoys a solid 3-3 record in Group A of the 7DAYS EuroCup despite having four key players with no prior experience in either the EuroLeague of the EuroCup. All four are delivering at an impressive rate.
There’s 30-year-old American import Jamel Morris, who finally is part of a continental competition after five seasons in Europe and leads Lietkabelis with 16.7 points per game. The shooting guard is finally making a splash in the most unconventional path.
The same can be said for 34-year-old EuroCup rookie Zeljko Sakic, who has played only three games so far, averaging 14.3 points. The Croatian forward, a product of Cibona’s junior teams, almost quit basketball back in 2007, when he didn’t get an offer to play on the senior team. Still, he kept pushing on, playing professionally in Croatia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Russia, and Poland. This is his second tour of duty with Liektabelis after the 2019-20 season. It’s kind of a vindication for him to be turning heads in the EuroCup, maybe bigger than the chance he finally got in 2016-17 to sign with Cibona’s senior team.
Then there’s Estonian Kristian Kullamae, riding the wave and averaging 12.8 points per game. The 23-year-old guard had already impressed in Spain with San Pablo Burgos, and his future seems at least solid.
You have also Lithuanian center Benas Griciunas, who’s putting up 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest. A top prospect in his junior years who played in the NCAA for Auburn, Charlotte, and Eastern Washington, he is finally finding his groove at 28 years of age.
And last but not least, there’s Hungarian Gyorgy Goloman, with 8.5 points per game. He also played in the NCAA, for UCLA. This is just his third season in Europe and the 26-year-old big man is proving that he belongs at this level.
To be exact, those are five of the top six scorers for Lietkabelis, all of whom never played in either the EuroLeague or the EuroCup in the past.
It was a gamble that has already paid off, especially with the team’s big 104-98 home win against Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana last week, despite the visitors having veterans like Zoran Dragic, Alen Omic, and Josh Adams, not to mention a marquee name like Yogi Ferrell. Kullamae scored 24 points and Goloman 23 to lead the charge for the home side, while Griciunas added 16.
Getting such a result, even against a struggling Cedevita, proves that Lietkabelis is on the rise and they are doing it their own way, trusting players with no prior experience in the competition.
And here’s the moral of the story: Sometimes using an unconventional route may work and you have to go with the flow, even if you know that there’s a risk.
As head coach Nenad Canak said after the win over Cedevita: “Great win for us, first of all. Congratulations to my guys. But it’s not our game. We don’t play like this and I don’t think that we will have again a win like this with that rhythm, with this many points.… But okay. Now at the moment, I am very happy because of the win.”
So if it works, don’t fix it…