Sasha Vezenkov was born 27 years ago in Nicosia, Cyprus. He has been a Greek national since his formative years in Thessaloniki. He plays for the Bulgarian national team, the country of his parents. He spent three seasons in Spain, dressed in the Barça shirt. And he also manages speaking in English. The salad turns every appearance of the Olympiacos power forward into an impromptu language school. The man responds in one language or another with the same versatility with which he moves on the dance floor. The 2.06 meters of him appear everywhere. He has a wrist to hurt in the outside game and at medium distance, a body to crash under the basket, score two and rebound, vision to weave the game and legs to make the defender dizzy. Tavares, who will see him and Moustapha Fall in the area this Sunday, is alert: “It doesn’t stop. He moves all the time looking for space to shoot, scores from the outside, teams up with Sloukas, goes for the rebound… He is a player who knows how to play very well and they also move by heart. It’s going to be difficult to stop him.” The Bulgarian praises the Real Madrid player: “He is super dominant. He has played very well all season but the last month is something special. It is the main reason why Madrid is here, but it is not just him. We don’t just have to focus on Tavares.”
In an Olympiacos that shakes Sloukas and lights Papanikolaou, Vezenkov is the heavy artillery. The top scorer in the regular season in the Euroleague (17.2 points on average adorned with 6.8 rebounds per night) succeeded Mirotic as the championship’s most valuable player, MVP, an award he received this past Thursday from his parents and his sister, whom he pointed to as his example. The next day he displayed gallons in the comeback against Monaco with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Lorenzo Brown (Maccabi), Musa y Tavares (Madrid) and Lessort (Partizán) accompany him in the Euroleague ideal five. But that individual glory tastes little to Vezenkov, eager to win his first European crown. “The work that I have done during the season has been reflected in the MVP. That is a prize for the regular phase and now I want the title. Nothing changes for me because basketball is a team sport. The award does motivate me to improve and to show that this has not only been one year, but that I can be consistent in my performance. In sport the most difficult thing is to maintain yourself. I have to prove it to myself. This is just the beginning”.
Vezenkov remembers those three seasons at Barcelona (2015-18), after passing through Aris, in which he also suffered the upheaval of a club that in that period passed through the hands of Xavi Pascual, Bartzokas and Sito Alonso in the dock. “There were bad times,” revives the Bulgarian, a friend of former soccer player Hristo Stoichkov. “Those moments made me work harder, they made me better, stronger, and they made me the person and the player that I am today.” The semifinal lost last year against Efes with a three-pointer from Micic when he was defending him also left a scar, and then he lost in the duel for third place against Barça.
The past hardened him, the present has crowned him as the jewel of the Euroleague and in the future the option of the NBA appears. Vezenkov was chosen in the 57th position of the draft 2017 by the Brooklyn Nets, but his rights moved first to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then to the Sacramento Kings. Precisely last summer he refused to go to training with the team led by Mike Brown, and in which the Catalan Jordi Fernández is the first assistant, to concentrate with the Bulgarian team.
You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.