It’s April 5, 2009. Lietuvos Rytas has become the first team in Eurocup history to win a second championship. Marius Petravicius, the large man with the closely sheared hair, pours in 20 and 7 to earn Final Four MVP honors and lead Vilnius to a Euroleague berth.
Close your eyes, open them and it’s July 1. Marius Petravicius still wears red, but now it’s in the Italian League for Armani Jeans Milano. Now it’s July 13 and Eurcoup MVP Chuck Eidson is shipping down to Tel Aviv to play for Maccabi. The Rytas core which won everything it played for—LKL, Lithuanian Cup, Baltic League and of course the Eurocup—is effectively dissembled. Well done guys, and in under two weeks, too. How pleasantly efficient.
Now it’s April 18, 2010 and Valencia is lifting the Eurocup trophy in Vitoria, Spain. Like Rytas 378 days prior, this is their second such accomplishment, putting them in an elite pair with the Lithuanians. Matt Nielsen is the Final Four MVP (I’ll tell you his statline if you like, but you have to promise you’ll believe me. OK, let’s do it then: 7 points and 6 rebounds). In one of the most disgustingly atrocious efforts at semi-functional offense I’ve ever seen, Alba Berlin managed—and ‘manage’ really is the right word here; I wouldn’t say they dropped or torched the nets for or or any such misleading hyperbole—just 46 points, failing to score more than 12 points in nay of the quarters. And surprisingly, yes, they did play all four. Unfortunately I can visually attest to that. But all Alba embarrassments aside, that defense which forced this disgraceful thing was anchored by the big Aussie, Matt Nielsen. He dove for loose balls, controlled the weakside boards and made Adam Chubb look like Adam Chubb again after the chubby one scored 27 the night before on an inhuman 11/16 shooting.
Now before my paragraph style semi-timeline creeps up on the present day, it’s time to wave goodbye to our ECF4 hero yet again, because on July 14 Matt Nielsen became property of Olympiacos.
Now once more we head back to January 13 of this year. It was Lietuvos Rytas’ last stab at a Euroleague Top 16 berth and it fell flat. The loss came to Unicaja in Vilnius and Omar Cook dished out a game-high 6 assists and even dropped in 15 puntos. This matters for three reasons:
1. For Rytas fans to get all gassed up from 2009 and then lose to a dysfunctional familia in Unicaja, at home no less, had to have sucked. Martynas Gecevicius was great and will only get better, but it’s tough leaving your team in the hands of a 20-something who played five minutes for you in the Eurocup Finals.
2. Omar Cook represents Valencia’s commitment to not sucking. Lietuvos Rytas’ model of slash and pray didn’t amount to much (and I realize there were financial constraints which motivated much of the inactivity, but still…). A month into the signings and all Valencia had done was lose Kosta Perovic, sign Dusko Savanovic (=push), and allow rumors to swirl about Nielsen’s departure. We hadn’t heard the status of their 2009 NBA draftees Victor Calver (Blazers) or Nando de Colo (Spurs) and the greasy little point guard Rafa Martinez hadn’t made a decision regarding his future with the club (or perhaps the wording is backwards on that one). And then Cook happened. And things started swiveling into focus.
3. And lastly, we really, really, really think Omar Cook’s forehead deserves its own reality show, so we’re tossing plugs in whenever we get the chance.
So as I alluded to, Cook will head east from Malaga and settle in Valencia where he’ll try to up his all-time EL assists per game average of 5.53, and he just might have the supporting cast to help him do it. If Claver and de Colo decide the NBA can wait—and based on their absence in the NBA’s Summer League, it would seem that’s the direction they’re leaning—the Cook-Colo(de)-Claver connection is my preseason favorite to win ‘Badassest 1-2-3 in Europe’ award. Besides, it’ll be nice to have Cook when Rafa decides to leave.
Or should that be if?
Before the ink had dried on Cook’s contract, Rafa decided he couldn’t stay away from Valencia’s paella for too long so he re-upped for four more years of it. And to make sure the Perovic vs. Savanovic push leaned in their favor, Valencia brought Robertas Javtokas into their orange and purple paint to swat shots and flex his abnormally veiny arms all over the place. Picking between Omar’s head and Robertas’ sweatbanded biceps is like choosing between children, but if I had to put one up for adoption it’d be Omar. This Javtokas deal just smells like the one; that sort of thing that we’ll look back in a year and say, “Damn, can you imagine these guys without Javotkas? Wouldn’t have made it to the Final Four without him.”
Do I sound like I’m kidding? Well at least, hypothetically, if you could hear me, do you think you’d feel as though I sounded like I were kidding? I promise you there’s no LOLing going on over on the American end of cyberspace right now. Just straightfaced confidence in a team that has no interest in sucking.