Amazing Vezenkov allowing Bulgaria to dream
TBILISI (Georgia) - Aleksandar Vezenkov has been playing as well as any of the biggest European basketball stars at FIBA EuroBasket 2022, with Bulgaria able to dream thanks to its leader's consistently stellar output.
There's a problem for Bulgaria. At times, they have been allowing baskets left and right, which has prevented them from coming out on top in some games.
There's also a problem for the rest of the teams in Group A. They cannot stop one of EuroBasket's top performers Aleksandar Vezenkov.
"Unfortunately, the opposite to what we expected has happened," Vezenkov says before Bulgaria's first win. "On offense we play really well. On defense we play really bad. This way we don't have any chances against any team."
Vezenkov is a treasure of a player for Bulgaria coach Rosen Barchovski. It's not because he's Top 3 in points scored, rebounds, efficiency and minutes played. Nor is it because he gets huge attention from opposing coaches like Dario Gjergja who calls him a Top 3 power forward in Europe.
The experienced Bulgarian coach just can't say enough about Vezenkov because he works his tail off for him and is a real team leader.
"THE BEST THING ABOUT HIM IS THAT HE'S A GOOD GUY. HE HELPS US, BUT HE ALSO HELPS EVERYBODY."
"He's one of the best players in Europe, for sure," Barchovski proclaims. "It's not easy for any team to defend him. He has a very big role in our team - as a player, as a person and as a leader. In everything."
"The best thing about him is that he's a good guy. He helps us, but he also helps everybody," teammate Pavlin Ivanov praises Vezenkov for his character.
So, what does Vezenkov turn to when asked about his impressive play? The hard work he's done.
"The last two years I have had a lot of confidence because of the way I worked during summers with my personal coaches from Olympiacos. Especially with our development coach Michalis Kalavros. That allowed me to become a better player and to explore my game more," Vezenkov explains.
The forward's play has been a sight to see. Vezenkov moves around the court with purpose, understanding where and when opportunities for efficient shots will arise. He's been especially brilliant on deadly scoop shots in the lane that must annoy every rim-protecting big man.
"We have worked on different footwork, different angles," Vezenkov shares his magic behind the signature shot. "Coach Kalavros saw that I'm good at it so we worked on it more. And then it's confidence, and trusting yourself."
Just as Barchovski points out, the team comes first for Vezenkov. Playing small ball center? Shrugs it off as Bulgaria need him to do it. Competing with Giannis Antetokounmpo for EuroBasket's scoring title?
"It's good, but I don't give a lot of attention to this. The most important is the team," Vezenkov says.
Same applies to the fact that he doesn't take possessions off on defense or show clear signs of fatigue, despite averaging close to 37 minutes per game.
"I have only one problem with this team," Barchovski smiles. "Dee Bost and Sasha Vezenkov don't want to sit on the bench. They want to play 50 minutes."
Vezenkov himself acknowledges that on some level such continuous play allows a player to feel very comfortable on the court.
"On the other hand, everybody is expecting something from you, scouting you, hitting you. A lot of defenders are switching on you. Everybody is more focused on you. It's a combination of both things," Vezenkov shares the downsides.
Rosen Barchovski has a dream to visit Berlin and participate in the Round of 16.
With Bulgaria dreaming about advancing further, Vezenkov shares no signs of being thrilled about the tournament. For him and his team, the goal is to win.
"The most important thing is the team. If the team is good, everybody is good. If the team is not good, nobody is good. We play a team sport to win," Vezenkov says.
The forward is also quick to point out that Bulgaria's basketball scene has more than one problem to solve, with many of those issues requiring a longer conversation.
For example, he hopes that their younger players find important roles on their clubs so they would improve.
Other piece of advice? To work more. Despite his accolades with Olympiacos, Vezenkov will continue to do just the same, so they could repeat the success of last season.
"I want to develop more, be healthy and become better every year. Obviously, next year it will be more difficult because every team knows me and our team," Vezenkov says about his club
And who knows? Maybe certain dreams will come true and every team will be forced to become acquainted with Bulgaria just a little bit more.