How Samardo Samuels (@OlimpiaEA7Mi) is growin’ up

When I met Samardo Samuels for the first time, earlier this season, I din’t know what to expect from this guy.

Of course, I knew about his past basketball experiences (including the NBA), but I really wanted to meet him to know what kind of guy he was.

Funny, this is the first word I would associate to him. Samardo Samuels is definitely a funny guy: he’s talkative, he definitely embraced the “fashion mode” living in Milan, he’s genuine and I’d say he’s a naive, candid big boy. A football addicted (soccer, for US readers), who once dreamt to play in the Premier League for a top English club, who pretends that he cried when Roberto Baggio missed the decisive penalty in the 1994 World Cup Final and now he’s crazy for AC Milan and Mario Balotelli.

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Everybody recognized from the very first minute how important he had to be for EA7 Emporio Armani Milan: starting the season he was the only “center”, as Angelo Gigli (then loaned to Reggio Emilia) and CJ Wallace (who’s more a PF but he’s got size) where struggling with injuries and/or fitness.

Even after the arrival of Gani Lawal, Samardo is still the only one low-post big man in the team, where he can work either with his body (especially in the Italian League) than with his soft touch. But, during the season he also had his troubles to deal with.

A few games in Israel last season can’t be enough to say that he arrived in Milan experienced enough to know how to be consistent any given day, for practice or games. He was facing Euroleague Basketball, and a big role in a top European team for the first time of his life.

Entering EA7 practice facility, he saw that sign that welcomes everybody is coming in: “If you’re not here to win, you are in the wrong place”. Well, this is just a sign. But it reminds to everybody how bad this team needs to win. Milan is desperate to lift a trophy since 18 years now. In 1996, the “then-called” Stefanel Milan won the Italian League and Cup, coached by Euro legend Bogdan Tanjevic, led on the court by stars like Nando Gentile (Alessandro’s father), Dejan Bodiroga, Rolando Blackman, Gregor Fucka and specialists like the sharp-shooter Flavio Portaluppi, who’s currently in charge of the general manager position.

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Not easy to face it, especially when the team that has dominated the last 7 years in Italy lost a lot of its power (Siena), and there are no more reliable title contender if we think it on a playoffs situation. Pick a team of your choice between Sassari, Siena, Rome and tell me who could beat Milan on a 7 games series, on paper. Yes, you know the answer.

That’s a big pressure, and everybody understood how much the team was feeling it during the quarterfinal series against Pistoia, a newcomer in the Beko Serie A League with a very short rotation: still, they pushed Milan to the limit, even leading by 1 at the halftime in game-5. In that meanwhile, EA7 was dealing with struggles on their game, arguing with referees, losing that confidence that led them to with the last 19 games of the regular season (19-0 since Daniel Hackett came).

In this situation, Samardo Samuels had worked good enough to figure out how to become a reliable starting center even at Euroleague Basketball level, being there day in and day out in the domestic league, improving his consistency in defense and overcoming a big injury that occurred in late november (he broke his right hand, then he came back in January). “When you’re forced to sit out injured you can better understand how the things are going, when you’re playing you’re just focused on that few things you have to do, and it’s more complicated to observe the whole thing”, he told me a few months ago.

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His impact before and after that injury was totally different: some insiders from the team told me that Samuels was a “coachable” guy, willing to improve and showing it. Sometimes, at practice, I saw him doing things that he never showed during the games: great passing, most of all. Then he started putting all his pieces together: his usual low-post moves, mid-range and long-range shooting (he scored a 3 pointer in the last 3 playoffs games), great passing from the post to find cutters and spot-up shooters. It’s safe to say that he is now the best center in this League.

Here are his numbers in the playoffs (5 games vs. Pistoia, 1 game vs. Sassari), compared to the regular season: Samuels is averaging 14.0 points (+2.6), shooting 65.9% on 2FG (+12.1), 36.4% on 3FG (+1.1), 70% on FT (+0.8), grabbing 6.7 rebounds (+1.6), even doing better on blocks (+0.5), assists (+0.1), turnovers (-0.1), plus minus (+1.0) and minutes played (+4.6).

Samuels signed a 2 years deal last summer: now it’s easy to understand why. He brought good technique and an interesting body. They bet on those qualities to make him a legit Euroleague starter and a difference maker. This is not 100% done yet, but we all can see the mark of progression.


Tale of the Tape: EA7 Milan (@OlimpiaEA7Mi) vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv (@MaccabiElectra) #RoadToFinal4 @Euroleague

One last, meaningless Top 16 game will not change what EA7 Emporio Armani Milan and Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv have done to qualify to the playoffs. They already know that their teams will square off in order to get a Final Four spot, and the Italian squad will also have the home court advantage.

Let’s talk about how they made it. They insist a lot on the concept of “being a team” (in Maccabi’s case, “being a nation”), that’s why I want to analyze their work as a team without putting individual stats on first.

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Can some numbers define their basketball style without mentioning the players? They can, imho.

What can you say about Milan, for example? One simple thing: they make the opponent playing bad. There is a number for that: the Performance Index Rating is now a common data (scouts, coaches and analysts rely more on the advanced stats), but in this situation it’s very useful (4th best in the Top 16, only 72.1 per game for their opponent).

EA7 is the 3rd best team in the Top 16 in terms of points allowed (average): 70.5. Only Panathinaikos (68.5) and Barcelona (70.2) did better than them. But Milano haven’t the Green’s athleticism or Blaugrana’s size in the paint.

Their defense comes from the backcourt, first: Daniel Hackett, Curtis Jerrells, Bruno Cerella and David Moss are the guys that can put an unbelievable pressure on you, no matter what’s your name. Just ask to Vassilis Spanoulis, who lost by 30 in Milan with the reigning champion Olympiacos.

Alessandro Gentile also has the body to do it (not the feet), Keith Langford “know he’s not Gary Payton” (using his words during an interview) but he can be very effective on the passing lines more than on 1vs1. Make the opponents uncomfortable in dribbling, calling plays, using screens will make them uncomfortable on passing inside, finding the right spots, and the fine timing to reach the big man.

All that work lead us to another number: the assist/turnovers ratio. Let’s stay on the defensive halfcourt. EA7 Milan is the only team in the Top 16 that allows a ratio under 100% (95.2%). Maccabi is 6th overall with 123.6%. Milan is also doing a tremendous job against the perimeter danger: they allow only 18.5 three-point goals per game, and only 30% three-point goals made. They also are among the best teams in the Top 16 in terms of Opponent True Shooting Percentage: 46.4% (4th). Maccabi is 9th with 47.6%. Another great stat for Milan: steals. They are 2nd in Top 16 with 7.5 (Maccabi 8th with 5.9). Athletes, big bodies and quick hands on the perimeter are factors.

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It will be a great test for Milan’s defense: Maccabi is the 5th team in the Top 16 for three-point goals attempted (23.1), but they allow the same number to their opponents (3rd). Keep in mind that we’re talking about two of the best three teams at this stage for three-point shooting percentage (EA7 is 2° with 40.7, Maccabi follow with 39.7%). The italian side is the 7th Top 16 team in “threes” attempted (22.3), Maccabi allows a 36% of three-pointers made (7th).

Switching to the offensive end, Milan has only 104.7% (15th) in assist-turnovers ratio, while Maccabi is 4th with 167.9%. That means one thing: they take care of the basketball. This is easier when you know your teammates (6 major Maccabi players were there last season, Blu and Schortsanitis played there in the past with the same coach), and Luca Banchi insists on this in every practice, every day with a team full of newcomers (only Gentile, Langford and Melli came back from 2012-13) that went into struggles and important changes during the season (a new point guard, Hackett, came in late December). But that tells a lot about the style: EA7 have a lot of dribblers, great (or fine) scorers in the backcourt, few playmakers, a lot of guys “making plays”, which is very different. Taking care of the ball also lead you to create more open looks. That’s why Maccabi is great (3rd) in True Shooting Percentage (49.8%), Milan is pretty good also with 48.3% (6th).

But if you ask to coaches around Europe, most of them will tell you that Milan has an unbelievable power on 1vs1 plays more than great shooters. For instance, there’s another number that could confirm that: EA7 is the second best team in the Top 16 in received fouls (21.8), Maccabi is 12th with (19.7).

One common point between those teams is on defensive rebounds: they are 11° and 12° (Milan 22.8, Maccabi 22.5), and both have to improve in boxing out and protect the paint. Maccabi is the 2° worst team in offensive rebounds allowed (11.4), Milan 8° with 10.3. The Italian are doing a better job in finding somewhere else those lost possessions.

The Israeli side has to do it if they want to win where only Real Madrid did in the whole season. But that in the first part of the season, before the decisive move of signing Hackett. Since then, they won all their home games (+12.8 margin in the Top 16, including the +30 vs Olympiacos and +28 against Barcelona).


Former Kansas @keith_langford wants a Union for US #basketball players in Europe

Keith Langford is now playing with EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (Italy, Euroleague), one of the most important teams in European basketball history and owned by Giorgio Armani: his name speaks for itself.

In today’s edition of the most renowned Italian sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, you can find my interview with Langford claiming the need of a Players Union for the US ballers that “take their talents” to Europe.

The interview is following three tweets from Langford about his brother Kevin’s issues with former team in Greece.


Here what Keith had to say:

Tell me about your tweets, and you idea.

“I spent my summer keeping up with the game, reading Twitter and online. It started with my brother, but I’ve just seen there are a lot of issues with players and clubs. It was frustrating to hear that, then I start tweeting about it”.

Did you start working on it?

“I’ve started to work with Linton Johnson [Sassari], we’re trying to understand how to run a Union in order to help other players. It’s important that a guy that’s not having trouble, that is playing for the right team to say something. If the guys on top don’t speak up, nothing can never happen”.

What the next steps will be?

“Linton is in touch with Billy Hunter, the former NBPA president, to get informations. We’ll talk and we’ll meet with him. We know that we have to talk with European leagues and organizations and FIBA, but before getting there we have to be ready”.

How do you rate the agents’ role in this business?

“There are good agents and bad agents. Their job is to put their clients in the best situation possible, but I don’t think the agents’ role really concerns this situation. I think that the most important thing is that American guys get together and try to form something in order to protect all of us”.

Are you satisfied about the level of the cooperation between American and European agents?

“No, I’m not. There are agents that only work for their commission, and they’re not doing their job properly following their client’s career step by step. Me, Johnson and other players with our experience have to get together to fill a gap. Many times even the big American agencies are sending their players without even know where they are going”.

American players often say “I play overseas”. But Europe is not the same everywhere…

“Overseas means nothing. The countries and the clubs are so different. Americans need a platform to prepare them before coming to Europe. There are guys that don’t even know how to call home, almost 100% ignores the FIBA rules. I’ve read a story about Pierre Jackson, who had a great NCAA career but left Villeurbanne because he was homesick. If we could have helped him, maybe he could have saved his contract”.

What a “typical” American player know about Europe before coming here?

“You can do a couple of things, most of the time: Google and check the team’s site. The typical case, when you say to your family that you’re going to play in Europe, they don’t even know where is it. Your relatives and your friends can’t understand where are you and how things are going until they come over here to see you. For them it doesn’t matter if you play in Cremona or Milan, in Portugal or Barcelona. You’re just far from home”.

What can you concretely do?

“Why don’t we make something similar to the NBA Rookie Transition Program? We could organize meetings, classes and other things to let guys understand where they are going, the lifestyle and how to fit in. It takes months to feel comfortable in another country, but you have to be 100% focused on basketball too”.

Any other issues?

“One example is the LOC (Letter of Clearance). I can understand that a club can be in trouble, but if you’re not getting your money and you have the chance to play somewhere else, and provide to your family, it has to be easier to do it. Then, the season length is another issue: It’s 10 months potentially, I think it’s too much. None of this is meant to be controversial, just to make everyones experiences more enjoyable”.

Will you meet the GIBA [the Italian players union], too?

“Of course we will. GIBA has always been great with us. Mason Rocca took care of this in the past, but this organization only works on the Italian League. What I want to do is something that can help everybody in Europe”.


La meteora J.D.

L’inglese Mark Deeks, che gestisce il sito, ha buttato giù una lista di giocatori che potrebbero prossimamente essere l’oggetto di un “call-up”: quelli, cioè, che stanno facendo molto bene nella D-League e potrebbero essere chiamati da qualche franchigia NBA.

Tra i nomi proposti ce n’è uno che riguarda da vicino l’EA7 Emporio Armani Milano: trattasi di Justin Dentmon, apparso sul finire della scorsa stagione quando si infortunò J.R. Bremer.

Lo si vide in campo soltanto nella serie di playoff contro Venezia: segnò 11 punti in 20 minuti (con 3 assist, 2 rimbalzi e 3 perse) in gara-1, per poi mettere insieme altri 2 punti, 1 assist e 2 rimbalzi in 17 minuti complessivi nelle successive due partite.

Arrivò in condizioni fisiche non ottimali, ma in tanti si domandarono cosa sapesse fare questo ragazzo.

Ecco la spiegazione, o almeno quella di Deeks, che ha inserito Dentmon tra le point guard più interessanti.

Justin Dentmon – 19.7 ppg, 4.0 apg, 5.0 rpg: Uno che non si vergogna a fare canestro, Dentmon è il miglior marcatore della squadra con il secondo miglior attacco della D-League [gli Austin Toros, ndr]. Anche lui ha avuto qualche possibilità nella NBA in diverse occasioni [Toronto per 4 partite e San Antonio per 2, ndr], grazie alla qualità del suo tiro (43.2% da fuori in carriera nella D-League) e alla sua capacità di crearselo. Tuttavia, per poter avere una possibilità di essere qualcosa di più di un giocatore marginale nella Lega, deve avere la stessa fortuna di un Eddie House [l’annosa questione del trovarsi al posto giusto nel momento giusto, ndr].


Basket: a quando la scissione?

Dopo la famosa “aria rancida” di cui ha parlato Sergio Scariolo ai microfoni di Radio24, dopo le dichiarazioni del suo presidente (quello di Milano, per chi non seguisse) Livio Proli al Corriere della Sera, che hanno indotto il procuratore federale Alabiso a convocare entrambi il 26 maggio, è arrivato anche il presidente di Casale Monferrato (e de “Il Sole 24 ore Spa”) Giancarlo Cerutti su

In queste ultime due interviste vi sono due dichiarazioni di particolare rilevanza, per me: una di Proli e l’altra di Cerutti.

Il primo, alla domanda di Roberto De Ponti sulle proposte (mancate) dell’Olimpia Milano in Legabasket ha risposto così: “In un mondo cosi apatico non ho mai espresso una mezza idea, perche sarebbe annegata nella palude. Anzi, avrebbero detto: qual è il suo vero fine? Io poi non capisco di basket…”. Niente male.

Il secondo dice a Stefano Valenti: “I problemi delle società vanno affrontati in maniera più professionale e strutturata. Nell’interesse stesso del movimento del basket è fondamentale che tutti accettino regole chiare e precise. Che poi ci sarebbero pure. Va inquadrato ancora meglio il sistema dei controlli, economici e finanziari. Se non è incombenza della Lega, allora che la Lega se ne faccia promotrice verso la Federazione affinché le regole siano severe e rispettate. Ed i controlli effettuati in tempi rapidi. E la Lega li supervisioni nell’interesse dei suoi soci. Quel documento è stato condiviso da Cantù, Varese, Treviso, Cremona e Venezia”.

Ora, quando la FIBA propose la SuproLeague generò una reazione furiosa dei top team europei, che si scatenarono e crearono una nuova Eurolega, con una governance del tutto diversa (con un uomo forte al comando, Jordi Bertomeu). Non si può dire che il prodotto non piaccia, anche se soffre del fatto di dover accogliere per forza tante realtà diverse, con problemi, situazioni fiscali, di eleggibilità dei giocatori del tutto differenti tra loro in partenza. Difficile omologare tutto questo, ma l’Eurolega ULEB ha ormai concluso la sua dodicesima edizione, e l’aspetto più positivo è probabilmente la ricerca continua del proprio perfezionamento: dalle norme amministrative, alla gestione dei calendari, alle variazioni del format.

Dunque, se questo sistema italiano che fa capo alla Legabasket è veramente “un mondo apatico”, “una palude”, e fa dire a Ceruttti “se le nostre aziende fossero gestite allo stesso modo, non oso immaginare“, perché i migliori imprenditori, i più importanti personaggi coinvolti nel basket italiano non decidono di uscire, di creare un movimento alternativo, di imporre loro delle regole nuove, certe, sicure, con l’obiettivo (vero, stavolta) dello sviluppo di questo sport?

Io, personalmente, mi sono disamorato del basket italiano non da oggi: non è nemmeno corretto scoprire nel 2012 che ci sono società che non pagano, quando da anni (e anni, e anni) ormai abbiamo notizia di situazioni di gravi criticità, e tanti club ci hanno lasciato le penne (il che vuol dire anche che ci sono giocatori, allenatori e agenti che hanno perso dei soldi, e persone che hanno perso il lavoro). Non riesco per questo ad appassionarmi a “#imieiplayoff”, perché non basta un hashtag su Twitter per dimenticarsi che questo sport non interessa ai media, e di conseguenza non interessa a nessuno (il caso La7 è lì a dimostrarlo). Ok, non a nessuno: diciamo a pochissima gente su scala nazionale, tolte le “appartenenze” locali per mere questioni di tifo.

Io dico: Proli (Armani, cioé), Cerutti, ma anche quei club che secondo il patròn di Casale condividono il suo punto di vista, invece di andare alle assemblee di Lega dove club che a momenti non hanno occhi per piangere deliberano l’allungamento dei quarti e delle semifinali al meglio delle sette partite, aprite un nuovo ufficio, una nuova Lega, diventate dei nuovi interlocutori. Che succederebbe? Vi accuserebbero di essere disfattisti? Tanto meglio. Se una cosa non funziona, non va bene, se non c’è crisi ma agonia (sempre citando Cerutti), molto ma molto meglio disfarla. O no?