He is rarely in the spotlight, but few players know the 7DAYS EuroCup better than Stefan Markovic, the undisputed assists king of the competition. Markovic has a golden opportunity to finally win the competition with Virtus Segafredo Bologna and is ready to help his teammates shine and be a silent, efficient leader on the court.
Markovic is in his 11th season in the competition. He has been close to winning the EuroCup several times, but never lifted the trophy. Early in his EuroCup career, he helped Hemofarm Vrsac reach the 2009 semifinals, losing against Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. He played two more semifinals with Benetton Treviso in 2011 and Valencia Basket in 2013, and played the 2012 EuroCup Championship Game with Valencia, losing against Khimki Moscow Region. Last season, Virtus was widely seen as one of the top contenders to lift the trophy but the season got canceled before the playoffs due to the COVIC-19 pandemic.
At age 32, Markovic has more EuroCup experience than most and arguably more motivation than anyone to win the competition. He proved it against Buducnost VOLI Podgorica in Top 16 Round 4. It was Virtus's first opportunity to qualify to the playoffs and Markovic had an outstanding all-around game. He led Virtus to an 89-99 win in Podgorica with 7 points, 7 rebounds, 13 assists and 3 steals for a PIR of 20.
He was 1 assist shy of his personal-best mark in the EuroCup; Markovic had 14 for Zenit St Petersburg against Unicaja Malaga on November 9, 2016. His 7 rebounds were also close to a career-high; Markovic had pulled down 8 with Virtus against MoraBanc Andorra on October 15, 2019.
"It is a big win for us. We are 4-0, so we mathematically qualified for the next round, but there is a lot of work ahead of us. If we want to achieve some goals that we put in front of us, we need to work a lot," Markovic said after the game, leaving no doubt about his team's intentions. "Winning the title is the goal, but there is a lot of hard work and a lot of good basketball ahead of us. We cannot escape from that and everyone knows that. It's not easy. You need to play a lot of good basketball until the end of the season to win the championship."
Markovic is miles ahead of everyone else in the all-time assists list. He leads the standings with 676, and Dmitry Khvostov is a distant second at 404. Markovic has more than twice as many assists as any other player in the competition this season; Andrew Albicy of Herbalife Gran Canaria would be second, and ninth overall, at 321. Markovic is also the all-time leader in steals (208) and ranks second in games played (135). Rafa Martinez is first at 144, so Markovic could take first place if Virtus goes to the finals.
Virtus is now on a 15-game winning streak, something unprecedented in Markovic's career. It started in Top 16 Round 6 last season. It is tied for the third-best mark in the competition; Khimki Moscow Region won 15 consecutive games in the 2013-14 season and Valencia Basket did the same in 2018-19. Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar went on a 20-game winning streak twice.
Markovic was not the only player to do well against Buducnost. Regular Season MVP Milos Teodosic led the way with 26 points. Kyle Weems added 14 and Julian Gamble scored 10 for the Italian powerhouse. Most important, Virtus scored 99 points even when one of its biggest scoring weapons, Marco Belinelli, had just 2.
Virtus may be qualified, but like Markovic pointed out, it still has a lot of work to do in the Top 16. It needs one more win to finish first. Winning as many games as you can is critical, too. All qualifiers to the playoffs will be ranked according to their Top 16 final place and record. The highest team according to that Top 16 ranking will have home-court advantage in any subsequent best-of-three playoff series en route to the title.
Virtus did not manage to do that last season, finishing second in its group at 4-2, so there is room for improvement.