By Antonis Stroggylakis / firstname.lastname@example.org
If there was a survey about who has been the “hottest” player in Europe in 2019, then Shane Larkin would most likely dominate the popular vote.
It was March 7 when Larkin began to seriously pump up the volume of his game by dropping 37 points in a EuroLeague win over Barcelona to tie the fifth-best scoring output this century in the competition. He proceeded to lead Anadolu Efes’ to the Final Four for the first time in 18 years while torching the “Blaugrana” in the process. The same team the American guard nearly joined in 2017.
The records then began piling up. In Vitoria’s Final Four, a blazing Larkin put on some offensive performances that European basketball hadn’t seen in ages, scoring extravaganzas that were the stuff of legend. Efes lost to CSKA Moscow in the title game, but that didn’t change the fact that it was a historic team run paired with some monumental outings by Larkin.
The Turkish League Finals MVP as Efes won its first championship title since 2009, was the cherry on the cake. Now, Larkin has started the new season in pretty much the same fashion he completed the previous one: By making buckets at a furious rate.
Photo: Isa Terli/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
24 hours before his latest exploit, Larkin sat down with Eurohoops to discuss how he rediscovered himself in the previous campaign, the reasons he turned down NBA opportunities in the offseason, Team USA, and a vision he has to help people who, like him, have battled OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
– After six years of playing professional basketball, this season marks the first time in your career that you stay with the same team. Why do you think it happened just now?
– “I just think I grew a lot last year as a player. I think that being here on this team with the responsibility that I have allowed me to do that. That’s what I want to do, the most. I’m still relatively young. I just turned 27. So, I still have a lot of basketball left to play. And I just felt being here from another year. I think that last year, from March to June I took huge a jump into where I want to go. I think that being here for another season, I’ll be able to get another step to where I want to get to. So I think that’s why I came back here.”
– How different is this Shane Larkin in comparison with the one who returned to Europe a year ago?
– “I think I just really got back to being who I was. I was a first-round Draft pick (18th overall pick in 2013). And I was a point guard in college but I was a scoring point guard. And I think when I got to the league, I kind of tried to adjust myself and tried to be somebody who I wasn’t. I think that kind of hurt me. Last year, I just really made it a point to go back to being who I was. To be to who got me to where I am. Who got me to be a first-round pick and have all the opportunities that I’ve had. Now, whether I’m here, there, wherever, space (smiles), wherever… I’m just going to be who I am and play my game the way I can.”
– “I was just really checking all of my options. The NBA has always been a goal of mine. To be a guy that can go play minutes and earn the respect of my peers. That has always been a goal of mine. So, I had a couple of opportunities to go do that. Some decent opportunities to go and play. And get some minutes and make some money. But nothing was the exact opportunity that I was looking for.
Being here with Efes vs. maybe taking a lesser role in the league wasn’t something that I wanted to do. So I came back to Efes to be one of those guys that have the ball, who has a responsibility to help the team win. And I think that me doing that helps me grow more than not having as big of responsibility in the league. That’s why I came here and continue to grow as a player.”
– After Team USA’s elimination in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup, Fenerbahce forward and former No. 2 draft pick Derrick Williams told Eurohoops that it “makes sense” for them to consider EuroLeague players. What do you think about that?
– “I think that it’s something that they should think about. There’s a lot of players in Europe in general, not just Americans, who can play in the NBA. You know, you go and look at the 450 NBA players. There’s a lot of guys in the NBA who wouldn’t be able to come to Europe and even play. I mean, they would get some minutes, but they wouldn’t be as successful as they think they would be. It’s definitely a game that you have to be able to translate to. And I think that we have some Americans over here who do well pretty much every year. And knowing the game of basketball in Europe would definitely help in those situations.
Especially in the summer when everybody was saying “I don’t want to play, I don’t want to play, I don’t want to play.” I think they should definitely take that route as opposed to when you have Lebron, KD, Steph (Curry) and all these guys playing. Then, maybe you don’t need to look for a European guy. But in situations like this summer, I think it would have been smart to try and bring some European Americans to play.”
– Speaking of national teams, you said that an offer to play for the Turkish national team would be a “great offer.” Turkish Federation president Hedo Turkoglu mentioned how he likes watching you play and that the final decision will be taken by national team coach Ufuk Sarica. Has there been any development?
– “There haven’t been any more conversations. Obviously, with the season going on, the national team coach (Ufuk Sarica) is undefeated with his team in the Turkish League (Pinar Karsiyaka was 6-0 when the interview was taken). He’s probably focused on that and we are focused on our season. So there haven’t been any conversations but the rumors are all out there and we’ll see what happens.”