site.btaSasha Vezenkov Leads Bulgarian Basketball to New Heights

Sasha Vezenkov Leads Bulgarian Basketball to New Heights
Sasha Vezenkov Leads Bulgarian Basketball to New Heights
Bulgarian basketball player Aleksander Vezenkov (right) during his introductory press conference as Sacramento Kings' player (AP Photo)

Sometimes it is hard to realize the magnitude and historical significance of something while it's unfolding, as it is easier for people to do so from the distance of time. At this very moment, Aleksander ‘Sasha’ Vezenkov is writing the most thrilling story in Bulgarian basketball history and his debut for the Sacramento Kings in the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) preseason has added another page that makes Bulgarian basketball fans look towards the next chapter with excitement.

Vezenkov's First Game For Sacramento Kings

Vezenkov got his first minutes in a Sacramento shirt in the third quarter of the defeat against Toronto Raptors on October 9 and in his limited time on the court became the team’s leading scorer. He finished the game with 12 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist.

Only one other Bulgarian has played in the NBA, the best basketball league in the world. Georgi Glouchkov, the current President of the Bulgarian Basketball Federation, played for the Phoenix Suns between 1985 and 1986, which made him the first Eastern European in the NBA.

While Glouchkov struggled with weight fluctuations and that forced him to return to Europe after just one season, it seems that Vezenkov is there to stay. His impressive first game for Sacramento came on the back of high praise from his teammates and the team’s staff.

"One of the Best Shooters in the World"

King’s main star De’Aaron Fox called him “one of the best shooters in the world” during the Media Day on October 2.

"It is crazy how he shoots. One of our shooting drills, I think it is 150 shots, and I think he missed 7,” Fox pointed out.  "We want him to be comfortable. We want him to know that he has a green light to shoot the ball. He is one of the best shooters in the world," he added. "Once he gets it going, man, like even the nets are not even moving. It is crazy."

“We are extremely excited about him," Sacramento’s head coach Mike Brown said on May 9, cited by gazzetta.gr.

The Right Timing

Vezenkov has long been on the radar of NBA clubs. He was selected as the 57th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Brooklyn Nets. His draft rights were then acquired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2021 and Kings in 2022.

While many would jump at the chance to play across the Atlantic Ocean, Sasha took the time to first built his name in Europe and waited for the right moment so he can have a real chance to make a name for himself in the NBA, instead of risking to spend his time on the bench.

The Bulgarian arrived in the US as one of the best, if not the best, basketball players in Europe - he was named EuroLeague Most Valuable Player for the 2022-23 season and won the Alfonso Ford EuroLeague Top Scorer Trophy, becoming only the second player ever to win both honours in the same season.

Sacramento Kings

Vezenkov joined a team on the rise. Last season, the Kings finished third in the Western Conference, one of the two conferences that make up the NBA.  

Sasha also noted during his introductory press conference as a Sacramento player: “As we saw, Sacramento were great last season, playing great basketball, winning. I watched a lot of games and that influenced my decision. The speed at which they played was incredible. They were winning games with that speed, the other team could not keep up with them. Sacramento played very beautifully last year. A style that I love to watch,” he noted.

Two Sacramento players were selected for the NBA All-Star Game – forward-center Domantas Sabonis (25) and guard De’Aaron Fox (27). Vezenkov’s main competition for game time will come from 31-year-old power forward Harrison Barnes, who was the fourth top scorer in the team with 15 points per game. Sasha averaged 17.6 points per game in the EuroLeague.

Sacramento failed to impress in the playoffs as they were eliminated in the first round by one of the favourites in the competition - Golden State Warriors.

Founded in 1923, the California-based team is the oldest in the NBA. The Kings had the longest postseason drought in the four major North American sports (Major League Baseball, NBA, National Football League, National Hockey League), which started in 2006 and lasted until 2023. The club won the National Basketball League (NBL) in 1946 and the NBA in 1951 under the name Rochester Royals.

The Next Challenge

In his post-match interview after his first taste of NBA basketball on Monday, Vezenkov pointed out the differences to the EuroLeague:

“Even though it's a pre-season, the pace is different. It's [the NBA] a little bit faster. Over there [in the EuroLeague], it's more reading [of the game]. It's two totally different games. Every game has its own beauty,” he said, cited by Basket News.

Sasha described joining the NBA as a “goal” and “dream” and expressed belief that he will get used to the US basketball sooner rather than later:

“I am working every day. There is no other way, I said it many times. You have to face it, challenge, fail, race, and go through it. I don't expect to be 100% from the first day. I need to work every day, stay locked in, and help the team," the Bulgarian stressed.

The NBA regular season will start on October 23. Kings’ first game will be on October 26 against Utah Jazz in Sacramento.

/MR/

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By 11:36 on 20.06.2024 Today`s news

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