BallinEurope had no intention of covering the FIBA Europe Cup this week but then a process of elimination in a Starbucks led us to a fun arrival in Hungary
It’s been a quiet few weeks here on BiE. First, I went on holidays for a month. As soon as I got back, I fired out this piece on Dragan Bender but right after that I was off to Lisbon for the Web Summit (it’s a tech gig that 50,000 people go to and do tech things). It was lovely, thank you for asking, but this crazy phase has left us a bit behind. In a bit to get back up and running the plan today was to do a deep dive on CSKA’s narrow win over Real Madrid…only then here was a connection error. Never fear, just the one game right? Nope, two more attempts to load games for a similar approach (Baskonia thumping Fenerbahce and Darussafaka edging Bamberg) yielded the same results.
Never fear, I could go to the FIBA Champions League where Aris and Banvit had an interesting battle midweek…only the YouTube channel hasn’t loaded the Week 4 games yet. Things were getting weird now it was time to go down another level (I had skipped Eurocup because, well, hard to find full game videos of it at the best of times). The fourth tier of European competition, FIBA Europe Cup, would surely hold some promise right?
At this point, for our US readers unfamiliar with this, yes there are four levels of competition in Europe and FIBA Europe Cup essentially lives in a world where it has earned a spot on John Oliver’s ‘How is this still a thing?’ despite being in only its second year of existence.
Picking a game in a competition with a really wild variation in standard was going to require picking a reason out of my ass. Given I got back from Lisbon today, I figured hey Benfica. Fortunately their hosts last week, Alba Fehérvár, had Bradford Burgess who I had seen with VCU at the pre-season NIT in Madison Square Garden back in 2011. Sorted, that would suffice as a stupid enough reason.
An under-sized guard out of Utah, Taylor is in his first pro season and there were definitely signs of him still needing to learn certain aspects of the game in Europe here but it was his upside that leapt off the screen.
Here was a kid with energy, IQ, and confidence looking to lead an offensively adventurous side from the off. The stat-line wasn’t exactly earth shattering (9 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 turnovers, and 1 steal) but it was the overall approach that made Taylor stand out.
Right now, it’s his fellow rookie Justin Edwards (ex Kansas State) who is deservedly drawing the plaudits with an excellent offensive game driven by efficiency and intelligence. Taylor still looks a touch more in the developmental stage here but against Benfica he showed why he has as much reason to be hopeful of a long stint in Europe.
Throughout the game, particularly in the first quarter, Taylor was looking to make things happen and force the pace on Benfica. The Portuguese champions own some wins over the biggest names in European basketball but it’s been 20 years since those glory days, now they rule the far weaker LPB and looked clearly outmatched here. The higher calibre of Alba Fehérvár’s side wore down the visitors and Taylor showed his awareness of the energy difference to make the smartest move of the game. Watch this play:
Taylor’s steal from Mario Fernandes midway through the final quarter (video starts at the beginning of the play) showed that mix of speed and intelligence. Taylor stays with Fernandes patiently as the Benfica man brings the ball across the court before timing his steal well and then racing away for the lay-up.
It was that urge to get the first step advantage and willingness to know when to wait that really made Taylor stand out here. He knows what he is doing and, quite crucially for his future prospects, looks like he is enjoying himself. The life in Europe varies wildly from city to city. Székesfehérvár, where Alba play, has a population close to 100,000 which is fine for most players but for a rookie in Europe there’s the distance from home, the language barrier, and the wildly different cultures across different regions. That lifestyle factor breaks plenty of young players early. Guys are used to far more attention from their time in the NCAA ranks and far better facilities.
Playing pro here requires a player being able to fend for themselves in unfamiliar surroundings and leave anything bothering them off the court when it’s time to go. That goes a long way towards cementing longevity here and moving up the ranks. Few players fail in Europe because of talent, if you are good enough to get here you are usually good enough to stay here but you’ve got to keep your head right.
The attitude in Taylor’s game against Benfica paints a really positive picture in this respect. Where he needs to look at his game is the physical aspects. Young players in Europe, particularly outside the top leagues, get battered and have to give as good as they get to earn their place. Everybody is out to keep their job and that physical side . Right now, he’s not exactly the biggest guy in the world but size isn’t what Taylor needs to work on. It’s canny toughness. One of the best examples he could follow was playing against Taylor in this one.
Damian Hollis played for Alba Fehérvár for a few seasons but is now plying his trade with the Portuguese champions. A naturalised Hungarian, Hollis plays for the national side but it’s a long way from taking silver at the FIBA U19 championships alongside Steph Curry, DeAndre Jordan, and Patrick Beverley in 2007.
Hollis still drives to be the best he can be but he’s had to adapt his game. He knows how to bruise inside and how to draw easy fouls. It’s not an aesthetically pleasing side of his game but it’s what Taylor needs on top of the energy and speed to progress in Europe.
The early signs for the kid are good and the win put his side top of Group A in the competition with two games left to play in the opening phase. It wasn’t the most conventional way to find a player worth following but it paid off well. As for Burgess? He was solid off the bench, he just wasn’t the reason to remember this one.