AX Armani Exchange Milan played its first road game in the newborn 2021-22 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season on a court that brings good - and bad - memories to some of its main stars. But on Friday night at Buesa Arena, the Italian powerhouse focused on the present without thinking much about the past and registered a really solid 64-78 road victory over Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz to stay undefeated in the competition.
No other Milan player has more memories linked to Baskonia than small forward Shavon Shields, who played for the team for two seasons. Shields made his EuroLeague debut in 2018 with Baskonia and helped win a Spanish League title in his last game with the team, before joining Milan.
Shields finished Friday’s game with the third double-double of his 96-game EuroLeague career, leading Milan with 12 points and 10 rebounds. And when he returned to the bench at the end of the game, over 7,000 Baskonia fans at Buesa Arena rewarded him with a nice ovation. "I am really grateful for the love that they showed me. I really loved my time here," he said. "We ended with a championship, so I think I brought something pretty nice to the city, I was a part of something, so I appreciate my time here and I look back on it, it was really fun."
Four more Milan players have big memories linked to Buesa Arena, having been present at the 2019 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, played in the same building. Nicolo Melli and Luigi Datome played for Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in the 2018-19 campaign, when their team lost against Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the semifinals. Playmaker Sergio Rodriguez and center Kyle Hines have sweeter memories - their team, CSKA Moscow, ended up lifting the trophy. It was Rodriguez's second EuroLeague title, and the fourth for Hines.
Melli finished his first EuroLeague stint that weekend, and Friday’s was his first road game since returning to the competition. He led Milan in PIR against Baskonia (16), finishing the game with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
"Every time you come to Vitoria and play against Baskonia, it is very tough. The gym is a tough gym, plus with the fans back in the arena, it was a special game," Melli said after the game. "But we came here and approached the game well besides maybe the first minute, when the other team impacted more the game, but we handled the game very well."
Rodriguez came off the bench to get 8 points and 6 assists, and Hines also had a solid performance, getting 8 points and 7 rebounds for a big road win in a familiar venue. And having tasted victory in its first home game, the Italian team Will now hope to maintain momentum in front of its own fans - its next three games are at home – against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne.