Real Madrid and CAI Zaragoza started the 2014 edition of the Copa del Rey in good fashion. The former crushed CB Gran Canaria by 23 points (83-60) while the latter beat the home team Unicaja (74-79) thanks to a great second half by Damjan Rudez, Viktor Sanikidze and Giorgi Shermadini.
Two players definitely made an impact in this day 1: a skilled guy from Montenegro and a colossus born and raised in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Nikola Mirotic needed just ten minutes to prove the ACB is too small for him. The Real Madrid power forward scored 11 points in the first quarter, helping his team outscore Gran Canaria 19-9, 41-20 in the first half. We shouldn’t be surprised since he’s been doing that, day in and day out, all season long.
It reaches a point where you may think he is wasting his time playing in the ACB.
Niko keeps saying he hasn’t decided yet what he wants to do next season, but all signs point to him leaving Madrid for the NBA next summer. Last month Real somehow managed to extend Sergio Rodriguez contract till 2018. If Mirotic is the best player in Europe right now, Sergio might be number two. Keeping the two of them long term? Unrealistic. Real’s budget is not that big.
Chicago, you better be ready.
Mirotic finished with 17 points in 22 minutes. It was enough because Real Madrid played another flawless, fun-to-watch game. Sergio Rodriguez shined with 8 assists, Rudy and Carroll stroke from the distance and Felipe Reyes (13 points and 7 rebounds in just 14 minutes), one of the oldest players of the tournament, showed again he’s a tireless warrior.
But there was another guy who made a statement in this Day 1 of the Copa del Rey: Walter Samuel Tavares. While his teammates struggled mightly (5 of 27 from downtown) against Real Madrid’s aggresive defense, Tavares impressed in both ends of the floor -16 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks-. He brutally dunked the ball, grabbed every rebound like he was playing against children, blocked four shots and altered many more.
With 17 NBA scouts in the stands, the 21-year-old center from Cape Verde, known as ‘Edy’ or ‘Big Edy’, should be a first round in the next Draft. Period.
He’s been playing this sport for only four and a half years but he’s certainly made the most of his time. At 2.20 metres tall (7’ 3”) and with a 2.40 m. wingspan (7’ 9”) he is a monster under the glass. Good coordination, excelent at rim protection and, according to everyone who’s been in touch with him, he’s a nice, humble guy with a great work ethic.
And he has quite a story.
CB Gran Canaria found him in 2009 thanks to a German citizen who put them on his track. He said he knew a kid in Cape Verde that was taller than every player they had at that time. To prove it, he showed them a picture in which Edy was touching the top of a door frame with his elbow. That big he was: 2.13m. as a 16-year-old teenager.
Tavares, who had not played basketball in his life, traveled to Las Palmas to start an uncertain career in that sport. CB Gran Canaria gave him time and the tools to become a better player. Last season he barely played in the ACB (62 minutes, 8 games). He wasn’t ready. Now he is.
Some reports said he had been followed by Memphis and Cleveland. After what he did tonight, add another dozen of NBA franchises. Big Edy’s rise to stardom has just begun.
Unicaja disappoints its city
The second game of the day was way more close. CAI Zaragoza defeated the home team, something that could be expected given Unicaja’s previous games. As Zoran Dragic told SpanishHoops on Sunday, his team lacks energy. I would add they lack leadership.
Joan Plaza is a great coach, no doubt about it, but his team is underachieving. Unicaja has too many good players waiting for each other to do the right thing. Someone must step up.
With this win, CAI will face Real Madrid next saturday, a rematch of last season’s ACB semifinals.
P.S. On a side note, Iberostar Tenerife announced today the signing of Lazaros Papadopoulos. Disturbing news. His only previous experience in the ACB, as the big center Real Madrid was desperately looking for (and didn’t find in him) in 2007, was a big fiasco. He traveled more times than he scored. His new team has gone all the way from the Spanish basketball catacombs to the Copa del Rey thanks to a bunch of low profile, extremely hungry players. Lazaros, a free agent this seaso, is neither of the two. Maybe Tenerife’s black sand beaches give him a reason to fight.