Friday, December 30, 2005

Terp Nation #1 for 2005-2006 season

Terrapin Nation – Opening Shots for the 2005-2006 Season

Just sneaking it in before the New Year, here is the first edition of Terrapin Nation for the 2005-2006 season. Warning, this one might require a print and read, lots of material to cover. I hope to heat up with conference play, just like our Terps, who are, uh, 14-18 in ACC competition the last two years, so maybe I’ll try to do a little better, and hopefully, so will they. The goal here will be to publish a weekly edition so stay tuned.

(we interrupt this column to provide a quick editorial note – this is a regular column written for Terps basketball fans. I email it to friends, friends of friends and others who enjoy Terps commentary. Please let me know if you have friends I should add, everything will always be sent BCC. Also let me know if you want off the list. Happy New Year –GA)

Do we all feel a little better now? I felt a lot of anxiety out there after the GW loss; gripes that Maryland had no point guard, couldn’t handle a press, and basically couldn’t keep up with G-freakin-W. But now, a few weeks and a few wins later, a 9-2 Maryland team is again climbing the polls and seems to have established itself as a quality, top 25 team. No real shame in losing to Gonzaga and a solid GW squad; and with wins over Boston College, Arkansas, and Minnesota, many are calling the Terps the second-best team in the ACC, behind, well, never mind.

But, before we even get into an analysis of this year’s Turtles, allow me to call your attention to two feel-good stories currently unfolding. Let’s call them Maryland West and Maryland North.

Maryland West

This just in, YOUR Portland Trailblazers, winners of three straight games, feature a starting backcourt of (ahem, ahem,) Steve Blake and Juan Dixon. Even the Wizards never started Blake and Dixon together.

Allow me to quote from Thursday morning’s Portland Oregonian, in a story about YOUR Blazers’ 94-91 win over the visiting 76ers.

My oh my, look at the Trail Blazers now.

Playing with a new-found verve since coach Nate McMillan shuffled the starting backcourt, the Blazers on Wednesday night won their season-high third consecutive game, 95-91 over the Philadelphia 76ers in front of 17,384 at the Rose Garden.

That Blazers team that two weeks ago everyone so readily discarded as a youthful work in progress all of a sudden looks like a team of promise that is gaining momentum with each victory.

"We're growing up," said Juan Dixon, whose appointment as starting shooting guard Dec. 18 has spearheaded the team's rejuvenation. "Growing up right before your eyes. In the preseason, we looked pretty young, but we are playing mature, playing hard, solid for 48 minutes, and that's the key."

I mean, how cool is that?

With baby point guard Sebastian Telfair nursing a hand injury and Darius Miles battling knee problems, the door swung open in the last few weeks for Blake and Dixon to run the show in Portland on a nightly basis. For the first six weeks of the season, Blake couldn’t get off the bench (rookie Jarrett Jack got the back-up point guard minutes) and Dixon’s playing time was sporadic. Now, Dixon is getting 30-plus minutes a game, Blake is running the team, and the coach is publicly crediting the duo for a recent stretch of quality basketball. Telfair might not even get his job back right away when he returns. For more on that story, click here (you need to enter some basic data to get access to the site):

If you’re like me, you’ll make Blazers box scores a must-read, and I’m this close to ordering the NBA season package so I can watch all their games.

Maryland North

Maryland North can be found near the corner of Cold Spring Lane and Charles St. in Baltimore at Loyola College. Yes, something is cooking in this north Baltimore neighborhood and it’s not just those big burgers at Alonzo’s.

Guided by Jimmy “Gary Williams Jr.” Patsos on the bench, who is flanked by Terrell “you gonna eat that?” Stokes, and Matt “pretty boy” Kovarik; the Greyhounds are 6-2, thanks mostly to the prolific scoring of former Terp Andre Collins.

You remember Collins right? He is a water bug of a point guard who scored in bunches whenever he could find his way on the court for the Terps, which wasn’t very often. After two-plus season playing behind every other guard on the roster save the walk-ons, Collins followed Patsos up to Loyola, where his arm may fall off from shooting this year.

Let me throw some AC data at you

  • Collins plays 38 minutes per game; he has sat out a total of 18 minutes in 8 games.
  • He takes an average of 21 shots per game, including an average of 11 three-point attempts per game.
  • He’s shooting 43 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range.
  • Twice this year already, Collins has scored more than 30 points in a game, he had 39 against Manhattan (on 15 of 25 shooting) and 34 last night against VMI.

I’m not trying to say Gary should have played him more at Maryland or that he should have stayed, mind you. I think this is the perfect situation for the guy. He wasn’t going to get 21 shots a game at Maryland. Dixon didn’t take 21 shots a game at Maryland. Haven’t you always wondered what an end of the bench guy who was a little too small or a little too something to get serious PT at a big-time school could do if given some minutes at a smaller program? Well, Collins is doing it. And he’s lighting it up. And the team is winning. Good for him.

Also, in the last two games, big Hassan Fofana, another Maryland transfer, became eligible for the Greyhounds and he’s scored 12 and 21 points respectively in his first two games.

So, let’s review what’s going on at Loyola:

  • The head coach is Patsos, a former long-time Maryland assistant, who sweats and yells just as much as Gary.
  • Two assistant coaches, Stokes and Kovarik, are former Maryland point guards,
  • The leading scorer on the team, the conference and fifth-best in the country, is a Maryland transfer, Collins.
  • And the team’s new big-man is another former Terp, that wild and crazy African, Hassan Fofana.

What’s not to love?

OK, that’s probably enough on a team that lost by 40 to UVa last week… but the Greyhound are worth keeping an eye on this year.

Let’s Get Back to the Terps -- Why This Season is Really Important – Get Back to Winning

What’s most worrisome about the last two seasons of Maryland hoops, is that after the back-to-back trips to the Final Four and the National Championship team in 2002, Maryland, as a program, regressed.

This is Gary’s recruiting class coming off of the national championship team and their most impressive accomplishment is the 2004 ACC tournament championship, which was more of a fluke than an outgrowth of how this team has actually played for the past 2 seasons. Which is to say that they have been inconsistent, a little tough to watch, lacking in true leadership and, for the most part, a big letdown from the era that produced a bunch of banners and retired numbers and gave us the excitement of watching performances by Dixon, Baxter, Blake, Nicholas, Wilcox, Mouton, and others.

It’s not that the current group doesn’t try hard, but they don’t seem to be great as a team. It’s a new season, however, and with a new season comes new hope, new expectations, and new opportunities. A nice run through the ACC this year will make us forget all about the last two years.

Remember, one of the turning points last year, aside from the Gilchrist meltdown, was the loss of D.J. Strawberry for the season. D.J. isn’t a great basketball player per se, or a great point guard. But he is an extremely intense competitor, and one of those guys that makes a team better just by being on it. Strawberry hates to lose, tries as hard as he possibly can on every play, and seems to be improving his ball-handling and shooting skills, even if he was exposed a bit in the GW game. Pair him with the ever-steady McCray in the backcourt, and you’ve got a solid duo that plays great defense.

If you want to nitpick, the problem with Maryland’s roster is that that every one of the team’s best seven players are 2s, 3s, and 4s, there’s no true center and no true point guard to be found. Will Bowers is a center, but let’s face it, he might lose a foot race with a stapler. Sterling Ledbetter and Parrish Brown are point guards, but aren’t good enough to supplant Strawberry or McCray or Jones in the rotation.

General thoughts the Terps key players so far this season.

  • Caner-Medley was up to his old tricks Wednesday night, looking like an NBA first round draft pick against a bad team. He was AWOL against GW and Gonzaga, both losses, by the way, with 3 points against Gonzaga and 10 against GW on 4 of 12 shooting. On the positive side, it looks like Nik is not forcing his offense as much this season, so hopefully he’ll try to get his points in the flow of the offense. Put it this way, Maryland needs him to play well to have a good season, it’s that simple.

  • Mike Jones is getting more playing time (about 20 mins/game) and has had some nice scoring games so far, but remains a terrible decision-maker in a half court offense.* He can shoot. He can jump. He often rebounds with flourish and he has hit some huge shots for Maryland. But he throws the ball away and makes dumb decisions all the time. Commentators often talk about a player’s “basketball IQ.” Jones has a basketball IQ of retarded. And what’s up with the hairdo? Is he going dreads or full-on Afro this year? He’s now the Ben Wallace of reserve shooting guards with good jumpers and bad decision-making skills. I always root for Jones though, don’t you?

    * Let me tell remind you of something Jones did in the Arkansas game in Maui. On THREE CONSECUTIVE POSSESSIONS Jones received the ball from the point guard to set up the half-court offense. Jones threw the ball away or had it stolen by the other team each time. Let me make sure you’re with me here. Three times down the court. Each time Jones got the ball first after it crossed half court. Each time he threw it away. End of possession. No shots, no other passes, that’s it. Moral of the story? Mike Jones cannot be trusted. He may win a few games for Maryland this year and he will definitely provide some fantastic highlights. But he cannot be trusted. Do not forget this.

  • Travis Garrison is a jump shooter. There, I said it. Stop expecting him to score in the paint. He’s been here for four years; playing with his back to the basket is simply not what he does, unless it’s by accident. That said, he’s been pretty steady so far. Didn’t complain when Gist started over him early in the year, did his job and won back his starting role. He’s a good player, he can rebound and block shots, just don’t expect him to start playing like Lonnie Baxter next week. It’s not going to happen.

  • Ikene Ebekwe changed his shooting form in the offseason from truly hideous to just plain ugly, and it seems to be helping at the free throw line. He is fast, athletic and has a mean streak. I like Ebekwe’s game, it’s kind of funky, isn’t it?

  • McCray is a pleasure to watch. Makes good decisions, hits his shots, great from the free throw line shares the ball, he is Maryland’s best player.

  • If I had to bet money on one guy on the roster to eventually make an NBA team, I’m going with James Gist, but we may have to be a little more patient with this guy than we initially thought. He’s had some nice games but also some stinkers where he disappears or doesn’t get that many minutes. The good news is that he appears to be a good free throw shooter, has a great attitude, and can leap out of the gym. Give him time. Nothing wrong with bringing a guy this talented off the bench.

  • Will Bowers. Um, whatever. I guess he’s not horrible. He should probably go up to Loyola and pair up with Fofana to give the Greyhounds the largest front line in the history of the MAAAAAC and see what happens.

  • Sterling Ledbetter was Maryland’s starting point guard during that fantastic and exciting run to the semifinals of the NIT but seems to have regressed in Gary’s eyes. Parrish Brown has emerged as Gary’s favorite back-up point guard but this battle is going back and forth. To be continued.

The prediction here is that Maryland will finish with a 10-6, or 11-5 record in the ACC and a national ranking in the teens, ending up with a 4 or 5 seed in the tournament. With a couple of good bounces, they might even get a 3 seed and go 12-4 in the league. I think it will be a fun, and far less frustrating season.

Some Final Randomness

(anyone still with me? I told you it would be long)

While watching Delaware State, I found myself wondering why there isn’t a Maryland State. I mean, wouldn’t Towson be cooler if it was Maryland State? Have they ever thought about this? Has UMBC? What’s better, a directional university or a State university? I’m going State every time, aren’t you? Speaking of Towson, does anyone remember that former Florida State and DePaul coach Pat Kennedy is the head coach at Towson? Is this more or less ridiculous than when Lefty went to Georgia State? At least Lefty won at Georgia State. “Pat’s Cats” went 5-24 last year. This year the Tigers are 3-6. But they did beat UMBC, so that’s good.

So, what’s next for the Terps? They have two more glorified scrimmages – home games against weak teams from weak conferences – before the ACC season begins. Saturday VMI comes to the Comcast Center for a ritual slaughter fresh off the Andre Collins beat-down; and then Texas A&M Corpus Christi visits for a juicy Wednesday night match-up.

Speaking of VMI and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I understand why the top Division I programs like Maryland have to schedule cupcakes to pad the record. In fairness, Gary always has his teams play a few meaty games against solid programs leading up to the ACC – this year particularly – but I always get a laugh out of the randomness of the non conference “sure thing” schedule.

How do you think the calls to set up these games go between ADs? To find out, I recently eavesdropped outside of Maryland AD Debbie Yow’s office while she was taking care of business. Here’s the transcript.

Yow: “Alice, get me the phone number for the AD at one of those Horizon League schools.”

Alice: “Coming right up. You want Wisconsin-Milwaukee?”

Yow: “Hell no, they win sometimes. You got another Wisconsin?”

Alice: “I got Green Bay and Oshkosh. Who you want?

Yow: “Give me Oshkosh.”

Alice: “Here you go. (pause) Is it true they play in overalls?”

Yow: After dialing… “Hi, Debbie Yow here from the University of Maryland, calling to see what your ’08-’09 non-conference schedule looks like for men’s basketball.”

Wisconsin-Oshkosh AD: “Well, so far I have 12 road games booked in November and December. I could pencil you in for December 28th or 29th; we’ll have just played Texas and we have Syracuse lined up for the following weekend. Wait, no, I mean we’ll have just played UCLA on Saturday, Texas is the following week, but we could fly cross-country by Tuesday. Would you like to beat us by 40 to improve your NCAA resume in front of an apathetic crowd with limited regional TV coverage and Glenn Consor on color commentary on a Tuesday or a Wednesday?”

Yow: “Wednesday’s good. How much?”

Wisconsin Osh Kosh AD: “That’ll be $50,000, plus some of that tasty CluckU.”

Yow: “What’s done is done.”


Thoughts on the Terps for the season?

Hit reply and let me know what you think or send an email to

I’ll post top Terps banter on the Terp Nation Report next Friday.

Coming Next Week:

Catching up with Drew Nicholas – The Richard Hamilton of European basketball.

Happy New Year,


Friday, July 01, 2005

Sarunas Feature for Washington Post - June 2005

Publication Logo
The Washington Post

June 29, 2005 Wednesday
Final Edition

Jasikevicius Looks for NBA Shot;
Free Agent Hopeful Counts On His Stardom in Europe

BYLINE: Greg Abel, Special to The Washington Post

SECTION: Sports; E08

LENGTH: 1012 words

When Gary Williams took his University of Maryland men's basketball team to Italy last summer, European fans kept asking Maryland players and coaches about a particular former player who has become a global superstar with a reputation for delivering championships.

Steve Francis? Juan Dixon?

No, the former Terrapin with the biggest reputation outside the United States is none other than Sarunas Jasikevicius, who played for Maryland from 1994 to 1998.

"He's a rock star in Europe," Williams said of the 6-foot-4 Lithuanian, who recently led Maccabi Tel Aviv to its second consecutive Euroleague title.

A solid but unspectacular player in College Park, the 29-year-old Jasikevicius has blossomed into perhaps Europe's most popular and respected player. His leadership and consistent ability to perform in the clutch has made NBA teams almost as high on "Saras," as he is known, as the rabid Maccabi fans, who have devoted Web sites, short films and "please stay" petitions to try to keep him.

As NBA teams evaluate their needs following last night's draft, however, it appears that Jasikevicius will finally make his debut in the NBA next season, more than seven years after departing College Park. He has emerged as one of the hottest -- if perhaps trickiest to pronounce -- free agent names of the summer. (It's pronounced yes-uh-KA-vi-shus).

Indiana, Portland, Boston, Dallas, Utah and Cleveland are interested in the point guard-shooting guard, according to league sources.

"He has a legitimate NBA game," Toronto Raptors General Manager Rob Babcock said last month during the Euroleague Final Four in Moscow.

Now that the league has a new labor deal in place, the player's agent, Doug Neustadt of McLean-based Octagon, can begin talking to teams on July 1 and hopes to strike a multiyear deal soon thereafter. For Jasikevicius, an NBA contract would mark the end to an amazing run as a superstar in Europe and the start of a new challenge as a rookie in the NBA.

"I know that my time is now," he said. "I'm very happy with what I've done, but the NBA has always been my dream."

Jasikevicius acknowledges that he wasn't good enough for the NBA when he left Maryland after averaging 12.4 points per game his senior year. He went home to Lithuania in 1998 and played for one season, then moved to Slovenia for another, all the while gaining confidence. In 2000, Jasikevicius joined Spanish power Barcelona and remained for three seasons, piling up championships and accolades, including one Euroleague and two Spanish League titles.

In Europe, Jasikevicius has played the point, unlike his career at Maryland, where he found himself on the wing and without much leadership responsibility.

"In general, being a pro and being able to concentrate totally on basketball really changed me," he said. "I'm a better ballhandler."

After helping Barcelona win the Euroleague crown in 2003, Jasikevicius led the Lithuanian national team to the European championship later that same summer. Maccabi won a bidding war for his services for the next two seasons -- both culminating in Euroleague championships.

On the court during the Euroleague Final Four in Moscow last month, Jasikevicius exuded confidence, determination and a bit of a temper. He constantly encouraged teammates, chided the referees and waved at the crowd to make noise.

"I don't know any other way to play the game," he said.

This season for Maccabi, Jasikevicius averaged about 15 points and six assists per game, but teammates and coaches say his true value lies in his ability to produce when it matters most.

"He's a tremendous open-court passer, a big-game player, and a big playmaker, the likes of which you don't find every day anywhere," said David Blatt, a former assistant coach with Maccabi who recruited Jasikevicius to Tel Aviv. "When the money is on the line, Saras is going to step up and make plays."

The persistent knock against Jasikevicius has been his defense and quickness, with some questioning whether he can guard on the perimeter. Given the opportunity to play against America's best, however, Jasikevicius has performed well.

During the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he scored 27 points for the underdog Lithuanians and missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to nearly cap an enormous upset over the Dream Team. In 2004 in Athens, Jasikevicius scored 28 points to help put the Americans away, 94-90, during a qualifying-round win.

He regards his success against Team USA with pride, but also a dose of realism, saying, "Those guys are good, but the Olympics is not their priority for sure."

As much as Jasikevicius has evolved since his days in College Park, so too has the NBA, which welcomes and recruits international players as never before. Fans need to look no further than the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs to see players such as Tony Parker from France and Manu Ginobili from Argentina as examples of international players making a dramatic impact.

"The Europeans are playing sound, fundamental basketball, and that's why we'll see more and more in the NBA," Portland Trail Blazers General Manger John Nash said.

For his part, Jasikevicius said he has no desire to come to the NBA if it means sitting on the bench. He wants to play for a team that has a chance to win and that will give him an opportunity to play meaningful minutes.

And the money has to be right. While salaries in Europe aren't reported as openly as in the United States, Jasikevicius is certainly one of Europe's top-paid players, which means at least a seven-figure salary, plus perks and benefits. If, for some reason, the right NBA deal isn't offered, he'll have plenty of suitors overseas.

"There was always the question of whether there was enough money to bring him over," said Neustadt, his agent. "But now, NBA teams are opening their eyes to the high-end professionals in Europe. No one has accomplished what Sarunas has accomplished."

Said Jasikevicius, "I would like to go in and compete against the best players in the world and see what I can do."

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Sporting News - May Madness in Europe

The Sporting News

May 18, 2005

HEADLINE: May Madness in Europe

BYLINE: Greg Abel, For Sporting News


In 1980, during the height of the Cold War, the United States famously boycotted the Summer Olympics as a protest against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Games went on, of course -- in part at the Olympiysky Arena, built for the occasion near the center of Moscow.

Twenty-five years later on an early May weekend, Americans could be found all over Moscow and particularly at the Olympiysky Arena as they took in the Euroleague Final Four, the showcase event of Europe's most prominent basketball league.

Americans in attendance came in the form of NBA coaches, general managers, scouts and agents, there to take a look at European free agents interested in making the jump to the NBA and to unearth some young talent -- the event also included a tournament of 18-and-under teams from throughout Europe.

"It's an opportunity to see very good players as well as your colleagues and friends from around the world," says Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, whose roster includes players from Argentina (Manu Ginobili), France (Tony Parker), and Slovenia (Beno Udrih and Rasho Nesterovic).

"This event is becoming like our Final Four," says Joe Ash, director of scouting for the Pacers, referring to the dozens of NBA executives in town. The Euroleague has grown into the most highly regarded basketball league in Europe. It brings together 24 teams from 13 countries for weekly competitions culminating in the Final Four, which alternates host cities each year.

The environment at the aging Olympiysky Arena, partitioned to allow for a 13,500-seat championship stage as well as two smaller courts and media facilities, even felt like the NCAA Final Four during the single-elimination games held on a Friday and Sunday. All games were sold out as thousands of fans of host CSKA Moscow, Tau Ceramica of Vittoria, Spain, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Panathinaikos (Athens) sang songs, waved flags, danced, jeered and cheered with passion and energy.

Maccabi, led by Lithuanian point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, MVP of the tournament, and former Bradley standout Anthony Parker, MVP of the regular season, captured the title with a 90-78 victory over Tau Ceramica in the final. NBA fans might remember Jasikevicius, who played at Maryland, as the hotshot who led Lithuania past Team USA at the Athens Olympics. After three exceptional years overseas, he likely will be in the NBA next season. He is 29 and no longer draft-eligible but should attract considerable interest as a free agent from clubs looking for a good combo No. 3 guard.

Maccabi's fans, in their trademark yellow jerseys, overwhelmed the arena, occupying perhaps half of the seats and making both of their team's contests feel like home games. Israelis from as far as New York and San Francisco made the trip to see their team win its second consecutive Euroleague title. "Maccabi gives the people of Israel something to be happy about," said one fan before the championship game. "They are our heart."

Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu told reporters that Maccabi has become a model franchise for the league because of its rabid fan base, regularly sold-out 10,000-seat arena and polished operations extending from sales and marketing to media relations. The challenge for the league, Bertomeu conceded, is bringing together a group of teams from so many countries, not all of which are a part of the European Union, to meet equal standards in areas such as attendance and TV distribution. With new television, licensing and marketing deals expected next year, Bertomeu anticipates continued growth.

The league announced in Moscow that the 2006 Final Four will be held in Prague at the 18,000-seat Sazka Arena, considered one of Europe's top venues, complete with American-style private suites and club seats.

The success of the Euroleague and its players creates a sometimes uneasy partnership with the NBA. Though the Euroleague welcomes the NBA staff to its events and broadcasts a game of the week on NBA TV, the league has a long-term interest in keeping its best players at home -- especially with increasing speculation regarding NBA expansion to Europe in the next decade.

"If the NBA wants to come, they have to know that the Euroleague has a culture of strong clubs," Bertomeu says.

In the meantime, the growing presence of NBA executives at events such as the Euroleague Final Four guarantees NBA fans likely will see more and more international players on their favorite teams' rosters.

Things sure have changed in 25 years.

Monday, May 09, 2005

EuroLeague Final Four Feature for LA Times

Los Angeles Times

May 9, 2005 Monday

HEADLINE: Continental Dividends

Europe has become fertile ground for NBA talent scouts, and the EuroLeague final four is the prime destination point

BYLINE: Greg Abel, Special to The Times


For NBA scouts, general managers, coaches and agents, a few events every year qualify as unofficial conventions, when those in the business convene to evaluate players, talk deals and swap stories. This weekend, the EuroLeague final four here became just such a "must-attend" event, confirming the increasing respect and attention paid to European basketball.

"It's about talent," Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We're here to see players."

Dunleavy and many others came to take in this growing basketball showcase, which also featured an eight-team junior tournament with top players 18 and under representing clubs from all over Europe.

The brotherhood of NBA talent evaluators spent the weekend at the Olympiysky Sport Complex scribbling in notebooks, analyzing stat sheets and monitoring the progress of potential draft picks as well as a few established European veterans who might be ready to make the jump to the NBA.

"There are so many key people here from the NBA and the European teams, it's a great chance to build relationships. It's almost like an All-Star weekend," said John Nash, general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Said David Griffin, the Phoenix Suns' director of player personnel: "This is where we get together and we all lie to each other about how good guys are or aren't."

The final four competition featured teams from host CSKA Moscow, Tau Ceramica of Vitoria, Spain, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos of Athens. Led by Lithuanian national team star Sarunas Jasikevicius and inspired by more than 6,000 yellow-clad Maccabi fans whose wildly enthusiastic encouragement deafened the arena, Maccabi captured its second consecutive championship Sunday night with a 90-78 victory over Tau, which had upset Moscow in the semifinals Friday night.

Count Jasikevicius, the final four MVP, and sharp-shooting countryman Arvydas Macijauskas of Tau Ceramica as players whose multisyllabic names might become more familiar to NBA fans as soon as next season. The 29-year-old Jasikevicius, a 6-foot-4 guard who played at Maryland, has been on the last three EuroLeague championship teams (2003 with Barcelona and '04 and '05 with Tel Aviv) and also led Lithuania to a European title. His steady floor game and fiery leadership have made him perhaps Europe's top player.

"I thought [he] should have been in the NBA three years ago," said Arturas Karnisovas, who starred at Seton Hall in the early 1990s before going on to a successful European career. Karnisovas now works for the NBA's international division; part of his job is helping European players adjust to life in America and the NBA. Judging from NBA interest in Moscow, Karnisovas should be a busy man for the foreseeable future.

The Trail Blazers have demonstrated a recent penchant for foreign players. After selecting high school player Sebastian Telfair with the 13th overall pick last June, the team went the European route, grabbing 6-8 Russian forward Sergei Monya with the 23rd pick and trading for 6-9 Russian forward Viktor Khryapa in a deal with the New Jersey Nets. Monya is expected to join the Trail Blazers next season, and Coach Kevin Pritchard and team President Steve Patterson joined Nash in Moscow to look for more talent.

In explaining why NBA teams have become so enamored of European players, Nash said it comes down to fundamentals.

"The Europeans are playing sound, fundamental basketball and that's why we'll see more and more in the NBA," he said.

Dunleavy pointed to the addition of zone defenses in the NBA as a reason why European players have found a larger niche in recent years.

"Our young players focus on one-on-one skills, beating people off the dribble for lay-ups and dunks," he said. "When you play against a zone, there are not as many opportunities off the dribble; you need to focus more on passing and shooting."

San Antonio Spur General Manager R.C. Buford, whose team has benefited immensely from such imported players as Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina), made the trip to visit with Luis Scola, a bruising power forward for Tau who was drafted by the Spurs in 2003. The Spurs also hold the rights to Russian forward Sergei Karaulov, a 7-1 center they selected in the second round last year.

"We wanted to see Luis of course, but there's also a chance to evaluate players in the junior tournament, who are the next generation of EuroLeague players," Buford said.

NBA teams may not simply draft and take European players away, however. Often, as in the case of Scola, they have contracts with their European clubs and must negotiate a buyout or wait until their contract expires. That's why European players often don't show up in an NBA box score until a year or two after they are drafted, if at all.

The EuroLeague, of course, wants to keep its best players at home, though league officials do say that interest from the NBA typically increases exposure and hype. The NBA and EuroLeague have a cooperative relationship. NBA TV, for example, broadcasts one EuroLeague game a week and carries the semifinals and finals live. More and more, top European players aren't a secret because satellite TV and international scouting have opened the game to a truly global scale.

With many NBA teams employing scouts overseas and so many talent evaluators attending events like the final four, is it still possible to find a hidden gem?

"It's all beauty in the eye of the beholder," Dunleavy said. "The test is to recognize them first and get to them first. And sometimes, it just comes down to where you pick."

Tony Ronzone, a globetrotting scout for the Detroit Pistons who has coached in the U.S. and overseas with clubs in places as diverse as Saudi Arabia and New Zealand, enjoys the challenge of trying to find players in places where others haven't even tried to look. He has recruited in Australia, Africa, even North Korea.

"Sleepers?" Ronzone said, a smile crossing his face, "You can still pull one out."


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Drew Nicholas Feature from Rome for Baltimore Sun, March 2005

The Baltimore Sun

March 15, 2005 Tuesday

Underestimated, he goes overseas;
Drew Nicholas: The former Terp hopes his stay in Italy's professional league will lead to a chance to make the NBA.



LENGTH: 1483 words


ROME - On the same blustery late February evening that the University of Maryland men's basketball team battled North Carolina in front of nearly 18,000 fans at Comcast Center, former Terrapins shooting guard Drew Nicholas took the court in Rome, six time zones and 4,500 miles away. His team, Basket Livorno, had traveled three hours by bus to the Ancient City to take on Lottomatica Roma, a team led by former UCLA star Tyus Edney.

As March Madness approaches in the United States, fans in Rome likely had little idea that they were about to watch two players who created two of the most famous moments in recent NCAA tournament history. Ten years ago, Edney's baseline-to-baseline dash and lay-in against Missouri saved UCLA's championship season; and Terps fans will never forget Nicholas' running, fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer to give Maryland a dramatic first-round win over UNC-Wilmington in 2003.

These days, Nicholas, 23, is a rising star in European basketball, leading the well-regarded Italian League in scoring at 23 points a game.

By tip-off in Rome, fans filled the seats of the Palazetto Dello Sport to near capacity. But in this soccer-obsessed city, that meant a crowd just shy of 3,000 in a cozy, loud venue that American fans would more closely associate with minor league hockey than pro basketball. The seats, benches actually, had no back rests; the concession stands featured popcorn, sodas and Twix bars; and the halftime show consisted of a shoot-around by the team's teenage ball boys.

Still, with the boisterous Roman fans cheering, jeering, singing, whistling and waving flags, the game had plenty of energy and drama. On the court, Nicholas got off to a slow start, but ultimately found his game with an array of pull-up jumpers, drives and three-pointers, including a buzzer-beater at the end of the first half. To the dismay of the local fans, Livorno pulled away to win, 75-63, eliciting a shower of crumpled cans and programs onto the court.

Nicholas led all scorers with 18 points.

Initially overlooked by NBA scouts and top European clubs, Nicholas continues to surprise by putting up big numbers against formidable international competition. Much like his senior season at Maryland, when Nicholas emerged from Juan Dixon's shadow to average nearly 18 points per game, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard is proving all over again that he's much more than a role player.

"I've always had to be the patient one," he said. "I didn't start in high school until my junior year. I didn't start at Maryland until my senior year. But I've always said, `If you give me the minutes, the points will come.'"

Going overseas

Lounging in the lobby of the well-appointed Hotel Degli Aranci in Rome the night before the game, Nicholas discussed his decision to go overseas to earn a living, the pursuit of his ultimate dream to make it in the NBA, and the many challenges and surprises he's faced on and off the court in Italy. Since leaving College Park two years ago, he's added about 10 pounds of muscle, a basketball-and-crucifix tattoo on his right shoulder, and a proficiency in Italian strong enough to converse with just about anyone, as long as they don't speak too fast.

Although Nicholas has gained an appreciation for Italian culture and cuisine, he's become a regular at an American military base near his home to pick up the, uh, essentials.

"Gotta have my Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Chips Ahoy," he said.

The Long Island native said he's on the phone "all the time" with friends and family back home, and nearly every month, a visitor comes to stay for a few days.

More than anything, however, Nicholas makes it clear that he's in Italy to work, and he takes his job seriously. After going undrafted in 2003 and playing sparingly in the NBA Summer League with Orlando, the sixth man for Maryland's 2002 national championship team evaluated his options and decided to get his passport ready.

"I knew that I didn't want to stay around and do the CBA or NBDL thing because frankly, there's just no money there," he said. "So the next option for me was coming over here."

"Over here" initially meant a job with a second division, or "A2," Italian club, Fabriano, making less than six figures but plenty for a single guy with no expenses. American players overseas don't pay much taxes and typically receive a free, furnished apartment and car. In Fabriano, a small town about 100 miles north of Rome, Nicholas had little to do other than work out and play basketball.

"No one there spoke English," he said. "Nobody. And the nearest McDonald's was like, 45 minutes away."

Sustained by the fact that he was playing basketball for a living and motivated to prove everyone wrong who underestimated him, Nicholas went out and averaged 28 points a game. He also learned a few things about living on his own.

Maryland coach Gary Williams has kept an eye on Nicholas' progress.

"Drew got to play against Juan Dixon in practice every day and became a very hard worker," Williams said. "He's one of those guys that gradually got really good, and he's obviously continued to improve."

Moving up

Nicholas' performance for Fabriano brought attention from Livorno, a team that plays in "A1," the top Italian league. Saddled by a limited budget, general manager Claudio Crippa told Nicholas that the team's only goal this season was to avoid a demotion to A2 - the fate of the bottom two teams in the league.

Livorno offered Nicholas a nice bump in salary, plus bonus incentives and perks, including a spacious two-bedroom apartment and car. Perhaps most enticing, Crippa told Nicholas he'd have the green light to shoot and score as much as possible.

Nicholas jumped at the chance to star, and has done so game after game.

On Sunday night, in a win over Lauretana, Nicholas scored 35, including 25 in the first half. On March 6, Livorno hosted Benetton Treviso, one of the most successful franchises in European basketball, which entered the game with a league-best 20-3 record. Before a packed home crowd of 8,000, Nicholas scored 30 points, including five three-pointers to lead Livorno to a 76-71 upset.

In no small part due to Nicholas' play, Livorno is fighting for a playoff spot this season with a 12-13 record after going 11-23 last year.

"Drew is the perfect player for Europe because at this point in his life, he needs to be on the court," said Crippa, a 15-year veteran of European basketball.

"Maybe he could be a 12th man on an NBA team, but why? You want to play? European basketball is perfect."

His agent, Doug Neustadt of Virginia-based Octagon, said Nicholas' stock is on the rise.

"Drew doesn't care that he wasn't a McDonald's All-American, or that he wasn't drafted. Every step along the way people have knocked him, and every step of the way he's been successful by putting up numbers, working hard, and being a factor in helping his team win."

How it works

Most professional teams in Europe carry two or three American players, with a maximum of four per team from countries outside of the continent. On Livorno, for example, Nicholas has two American teammates: small forward Preston Shumpert, a 6-foot-7 sharpshooter from Syracuse, and Aloysius Anagonye, a muscular, 6-8 power forward from Michigan State. The remainder of the team is made up of Italians and other Europeans.

The American trio averages 52 of the team's 82 points per game.

"The Americans typically make the most money and carry the most responsibility," said Neustadt, who specializes in finding jobs for American players overseas.

The Italian League season runs from October through April. Each of the 18 teams plays a 34-game regular season consisting of home and away dates against each other, mostly on Sunday nights.

Next year, Nicholas figures he's unlikely to return to Livorno because he first wants to give the NBA Summer League a shot, and then anticipates offers from higher-profile teams in Italy or Spain.

The ultimate goal

With the recent dethroning of USA Basketball in the Summer Olympics and the increasing popularity and success of international players in the NBA, more NBA general managers view success in Europe with respect.

Every year, the NBA plucks away a few Italian League stars, such as Manu Ginobili, an Argentine who played three years in Italy before joining the San Antonio Spurs.

So Nicholas, who won't turn 24 until May, hopes the big numbers he's putting up will persuade NBA general managers to at least take a closer look. And if the call from "the League" never comes, Nicholas has certainly found a comfort zone overseas.

"You know, a lot of people never thought I would even get to this point," he said. "People are always saying, `OK, fine, he's done it here, but can he do it at the next level?' Like right now, I'm sure there are people saying, `Maybe he's not good enough for the NBA.' It all ties back into waiting my turn and being patient. Things will happen for the right reasons."


LOAD-DATE: March 15, 2005


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tyus Edney Feature for LA Times from March 2005

Los Angeles Times

March 14, 2005 Monday

Home Edition

SECTION: SPECIAL SECTION; Sports Desk; Part S; Pg. 17

LENGTH: 1453 words



Still Going End to End;

Edney's heart and hustle have helped make him one of the most popular players in Europe.

BYLINE: Greg Abel, Special to The Times



Ten years ago this month, Tyus Edney sprinted from one end of a basketball court to the other, flew in the air and banked in a game-winning shot. His heroics saved a season, inspired a championship and created one of the most electric and enduring memories in NCAA tournament history.

Not bad for 4.8 seconds of work.

On the eve of the 2005 NCAA men's basketball tournament, Edney's dash to beat Missouri and rescue UCLA in a second-round game in 1995 holds up as one of the quintessential "shining moments" of all time.

"It doesn't seem like 10 years ago, it seems like yesterday when you think about it," Edney said.

But it has been a decade since the team featuring Edney, Ed and Charles O'Bannon, Toby Bailey, George Zidek, J.R. Henderson and Cameron Dollar gave UCLA its only national championship since the John Wooden era. Edney, now 32 and playing for Lottomatica Roma in the Italian League, still looks as if he could pass for a sophomore -- OK, maybe a senior -- on the current edition of the Bruins.

But youthful appearance aside, the 5-foot-10 point guard has grown up to become a man of the world with an international basketball resume that includes multiple championships, all-star teams and most-valuable-player awards in the Italian League and EuroLeague, which brings together the best teams on the continent. After a couple of trips back and forth between the NBA and Europe, Edney has settled comfortably into his role as one of the most popular and successful U.S. players overseas.

"Tyus is huge in Europe," said Ed O'Bannon, who retired this year from professional basketball after playing the previous three seasons in Poland. "His style, his size, the fact that his teams always win; he's somewhat of a novelty, a celebrity. When my teammates overseas found out that I played with him, it would be like someone in the States finding

out that you played with Michael Jordan."

After four years in Italy, Edney speaks fluent Italian and is engaged to be married to his Italian-Brazilian fiancée, Ainoa, with whom he has a 1-year-old son, Tyus Jr. The couple and their child live in a spacious apartment in central Rome with a balcony that overlooks the famous dome of St. Peter's.

Sure, he sometimes misses the perks and status of the NBA, his family and friends back home and the familiarity of life in the U.S., but Edney has embraced his Italian lifestyle with no regrets.

"I like it here," Edney said. "Over here, I play more and it's a great atmosphere. I could have been a guy who bounced around in the NBA until maybe I stuck somewhere, but I didn't like the uncertainty."

Edney's NBA career began with great promise. A second-round draft pick by the Sacramento Kings in 1995, he started 60 games as a rookie and averaged 10.8 points and 6.1 assists, helping Sacramento make its first playoff appearance in nine years. But in his second season, he lost his starting spot and his minutes were reduced. He landed in Boston in Year 3 and played in 52 games, averaging 12 minutes and 5.3 points.

When NBA owners locked out the players in 1998, Edney decided to give overseas basketball a shot. He joined former UCLA teammate Zidek on a Lithuanian team, BC Zalgiris Kaunus. Edney's quickness and confident playmaking made him an instant success. The team won the 1999 EuroLeague championship, Europe's most prominent title, and an overseas star was born.

The next season, Benetton Basket Treviso picked him up, and Edney became

an Italian League fan favorite.

"The thing that sets him apart is his heart," said Donn Nelson, player personnel director for the Dallas Mavericks, and a consultant for the Lithuanian national team. "Whatever team he plays for, whether it's UCLA, or Zalgiris, or Benetton Treviso -- that team is in the running for a championship."

The NBA and Edney gave each other one more shot in 2000-01, when he signed with the Indiana Pacers. His line for the season: 24 games, zero starts, 4.4 points a game. He returned to Treviso the next season and didn't look back. For the first time in his professional career, he found stability as Treviso's point guard and unquestioned leader.

With Edney running the show, Treviso won consecutive Italian League championships and made the EuroLeague Final Four in 2002 and 2003. Current Phoenix Sun Coach Mike D'Antoni coached Treviso and Edney in 2001-02; the team went 28-8.

Charles O'Bannon, who had a short-lived NBA career with the Detroit Pistons and now plays in Japan, joined the team late in the season. The team also featured former Michigan State star Charlie Bell and future NBA draft picks Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Bostjan Nachbar.

"That was the best year," Edney said. "It was run and gun."

Said D'Antoni: "That game-winning drive that Tyus had in the NCAA tournament? That's not unusual for him. After getting to know him and watching him play, Tyus has an innate ability to rise to the occasion in big moments."

Thinking for a moment, D'Antoni added: "Did he tell you about the shot against Tel Aviv?"

In the 2003 EuroLeague quarterfinals in Thessalonika, Greece, Treviso trailed Maccabi Tel Aviv by two with two seconds left. A long inbounds pass came to Edney near midcourt. He jumped, caught the ball and heaved a shot at the buzzer. Final score: Treviso 84, Tel Aviv 83.

"The thing about it was, I didn't land and then shoot the ball. I jumped and caught it and shot in one motion," he said, a slight smile crossing his face. "That was probably my best shot ever. That was crazy."

This season has been unusual for Edney. For the first time in his European career, he is struggling through a difficult season. His new team, Lottomatica Roma, is 12-13 and fighting to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Italian League.

He had his first-ever surgery in December, an arthroscopic procedure to remove loose cartilage from his left knee. Since then, he has worked hard to get back to his normal, ultra-quick self but admits that the strength hasn't fully returned. His scoring average is down to 11.7 from his typical 15 or 16 a game.

"The last few years, Tyus has been the best point guard in Europe," said Roberto Brunamonti, general manager of Roma and an Italian basketball legend who played on several Olympic teams. "But he is the type of player who needs to be 100 %."

At midseason, Roma replaced its coach and brought in the famously demanding and successful Svetislav Pesic, who led Yugoslavia to the 2002 world championship in Indianapolis.

In late February against visiting Basket Livorno, Roma let a close game slip away in the final minutes and lost, 75-63. The stands of the Palazetto Dello Sport were nearly full, but in soccer-mad Rome, that meant roughly 3,000 fans who sat on concrete benches. Still, they were an emotional group who sang, clapped, whistled and waved banners throughout the game.

With a few seconds left in the game and the result no longer in doubt, fans littered the court with crumpled soda cans and programs, jeering the home team.

"Here," Edney said. "It can get personal."

This season's struggles aside, Edney is a man at peace with his place in the world. He doesn't spend any time thinking about what might have been in the NBA. He has enjoyed the comfortable setup his Italian teams provide -- stability, playing time and a salary that can approach $1 million but goes further because it's largely untaxed. American players

overseas also typically receive a car and furnished apartment.

"When guys go to Europe and get comfortable with the lifestyle and a team, you can have a nice long career over there," Nelson said.

And the basketball isn't bad either. It's no secret that the NBA has become enamored of international players in recent years, adding credibility and interest to the various European leagues. Add the recent uprising by international teams in the Olympics to the mix, and you have a basketball culture that can no longer be viewed as minor league.

"When I saw the players on the national teams, knowing what they can do and seeing them do it, it didn't surprise me that America lost in the Olympics," Edney said. "But I think maybe Americans don't really, really respect that a lot of guys over here can play."

The lifestyle in European basketball might not be as flashy as in the NBA, but it suits the inquisitive Edney just fine. Perhaps as much as any physical talents, his open mind has helped him succeed overseas.

"Sometimes it's difficult for Americans to adjust because half their mind is thinking about trying to get to the NBA and the other half is here, just getting through the season instead of learning the culture or trying to see things," he said. "For me, it has always been fun to

learn a new culture and a new language. I think you grow and learn to adapt."


Edney now plays for Lottomatica Roma in the Italian League. PHOTOGRAPHER:

Agenzia Ciamillo-Castoria

LOAD-DATE: March 14, 2005