At age 23, Sasha Vezenkov is in his fourth Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season and is already a young veteran in the competition. His father, Sachko Vezenkov, was a professional basketball player, and Sasha was born in Nicosia, Cyprus while his father was playing there. He started his professional career with Aris Thessaloniki, where he played for five seasons. After the 2014-15 season, final one with Aris, Vezenkov was named the Greek League MVP and was chosen as the competition's Best Young Player for the third consecutive time. Vezenkov made his EuroLeague debut with FC Barcelona Lassa, where he played for three years before joining Olympiacos Piraeus over the summer. In this blog, Vezenkov will tell us all about his new life in Athens and what is going on with his team throughout the season.
First of all, I would like to introduce myself, although if you have followed the EuroLeague lately, you probably know who I am. I am Sasha and I was born in Cyprus while my father was playing basketball there. I stayed there until I was 15, and then I moved to Greece to play with Aris for five years. After that, I played for Barcelona for three years and I am now in Athens for the first time in my career. I had been in Greece for a long time so I know the culture and all the people, the pressure, everything! So, I am sure that my adaptation has been easier than it is for other players. I am happy to be back in Greece!
After pre-season, we are almost there, ready to start the EuroLeague again! I think that every player is looking forward to playing games – it is always better to play games than to practice. Every player is excited to start the games after six weeks of preseason, even when it was a little bit different because of the national team games. The games are coming, the new EuroLeague season! Everyone is excited about this.
"Every word Coach Blatt says makes sense."
I love Athens, it is very sunny, more or less like Barcelona, by the sea. I am living close to Piraeus, and I love being so close to the sea. People from the club made my adaptation faster, better and easier. Everything is going perfectly and, like I said, I cannot wait for the start of the games. We had the EuroLeague Media Day last week, and that meant the season would be coming soon. It is part of our job to talk about the team and every player has to do it, but it was a nice experience. One thing we did was have a shooting contest on a couple of small baskets. I made it to the semifinals and lost against Vangelis Mantzaris, who ended up winning it.
I guess fans can expect this Olympiacos team to be different, with a new coach and some new players. Every coach has his philosophy and coaching strategies, and we, the new players, are trying to find each other and play together with those who have been here for many years, who are helping us a lot. It will be a very interesting EuroLeague season because all the teams are going to be powerful and a lot of good players came or stayed in the competition. All teams will have ups and downs, and being able to manage the psychological aspects will be very important. All teams will be very good, very competitive.
It is really nice to work for Coach David Blatt. He won everywhere in this career and he really tries to teach you how do to things. Every word Coach Blatt says makes sense. Every action he shows you is done to help you. All the new players who came in are known by basketball fans – they are top-level players. We practiced a lot and played friendly games in these six weeks before the start of the competition. All our players are really good guys and the team chemistry is getting built up. We have an advantage – a core of Greek players who have been together for many years and are helping us fit into the team's philosophy. In Greece, I don't feel like I am a foreign player. It is really nice to speak Greek in the locker room again!
"We have been waiting for this moment for some time – and it is finally here!"
Like I said, all teams made very good signings but the teams to beat will be the same. CSKA, Fenerbahce, Madrid want to stay at the top level, then Maccabi, Barcelona, Efes want to make a good comeback. Then Panathinaikos is a good, strong team. It will be a very interesting, tough competition. We have to take one game at a time. We know it will be a tough schedule for everyone, especially in back-to-back weeks, but we have to be consistent and play the way our coach says. If we follow his direction, we will make it.
Our first game is on the road against Khimki. In the EuroLeague, you play against all teams home and away, so playing against Khimki now or in Round 10 does not make any difference. Khimki is a really good team, very athletic and did a good job with Coach Bartzokas last year, making it to the playoffs. It will be a very, very tough game but we will have a week to prepare and I am sure we will be at the maximum level we can give so early in the season.
It is a really nice time of the year because all players worked hard in summer for this, to be back in the EuroLeague and compete. It is now time to win games and show that you can help your team be successful. We have been waiting for this moment for some time – and it is finally here!