Group C has a new outright leader, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne, which registered its fifth consecutive win on Tuesday night. In a clash for first place, ASVEL resisted Valencia Basket's aggressive defense by holding the visitors to a season-low 69 points.
It was already the fourth time this season ASVEL has held opponents below 70 points, but this one is more significant because the team did so without two starters, team captain Charles Kahudi and big man Amine Noua. The two guys who unexpectedly stepped up in their places were teenagers Theo Maledon and Khadim Sow.
"My team surprises me positively every game," ASVEL head coach Zvezda Mitrovic praised his team after the game. This time, it was his youngsters. "Our young guys showed up on the court in the difficult moments. All our guys did, but for me, the big surprise was our young players; they played on a high level."
Maledon is a 17-year old playmaker, who was making his second consecutive start. This was not the most he played this season, but it might have been his best performance. In 17 minutes on the floor, Maledon had 3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 assists. An even bigger surprise was Sow. Entering this game, the 19-year old big man had played less than 19 minutes this season, but Sow logged 28 quality minutes in his first career start. Against the likes of Bojan Dubljevic, Mike Tobey and Will Thomas, he finished with only 2 points but collected 7 rebounds, including 3 on the offensive end.
"Sow played 28 minutes and he played on a good level," Mitrovic said and stressed that Noua, who was missing in action, is also only 21 years of age. Mitrovic said that for him it is not as important how these guys perform in the game as it is seeing them work hard in practice every day. "I like to have good talents to push, to put them 'in the fire' You can build a player if you give him a chance to play, but only, of course, if they deserve it, if they work hard and play hard."
His young players have not only been deserving of minutes, but have been important contributors in the team's five-game winning streak and no team will have a better record than ASVEL heading into Round 7. And that may be to the surprise of everybody, including their coach.