With the Italian, and indeed European season as a whole, nearly over Nicolò Origgi looks at the men teams turn to when the game is on the line. Across Lega Basket, there are a few heads you know will be turned to when it’s time for that final push. They are the closers, the guys who might control the game all night or be quiet for 35 minutes but still stand up when it’s business time.
Anywhere in the world, basketball games are often won or lost in what is generally known as crunch time, the deciding last minutes of a contest with the score on the line or, for playground lovers, the points that bring you closer to call game. A successful play in such circumstances might not become a memory for the ages as much as a true game-winning shot, but unquestionably leads viewers to forge an unconscious feeling about a player’s alleged killer instinct or – as it is commonly called nowadays – clutchness. While most ballers happen to score an occasional big shot over their careers, though, the status of elite performer down the stretch is not for one-time wonders but, instead, the result of a pattern. As a matter of fact, many guys want the rock in their hands dreaming of make something great happen, but only a handful of them is actually capable of consistently delivering under pressure. If Vassilis Spanoulis and Sergio Llull are the perfect specimens of such category, a number of familiar faces in the Italian league’s depths come to mind as well. Although no one can come close to match the two Euroleague stars’ closing powers, let’s have a closer look at those who can either raise your spirits or crush your soul any given Sunday depending on which team you are loyal to.
1. Drake Diener – 2016/17 team: Orlandina Basket
One of the most fundamentally sound players in the modern era of Italian basketball, Mandrake has proven himself as an excellent all-around guard with a silky jumpshot since his humble beginnings in the second division. A breakout Lega A rookie campaign in Capo d’Orlando the following year enabled him to finish such season on the great Siena side of those days. The predictable league title won in Tuscany would also be the one and only for him, but the best was yet to come nonetheless as his mentor Romeo Sacchetti – the man who trusted a then ordinary white American guy both in Castelletto Ticino and in Sicily – took another chance on him after a couple of solid seasons in Teramo. While joining his more coveted cousin Travis in Sassari, Drake stepped up countless times down the stretch as well as in waning seconds en route to deserved individual accolades and, of course, the Sardinia club’s first ever trophy. On a slight yet unavoidable decline since his departure from Dinamo, the DePaul alumni also seems to have lost some of his clutch magic along the road. Not a tragedy, though, for a still extraordinary 35-year-old veteran who had to overcome the scary Crohn’s disease at the end of his college days and an equally gruelling relapse last year.
2. David Logan – 2016/17 team: Scandone Avellino
Rightfully inserted into contention for the imaginary Top Scorer jersey due to his undeniable – and, sometimes, ill-advised – urge for netting points, back in 2014 the American-Polish guard was brought to Sassari in order to fill the aforementioned Diener’s shoes. Instead of crumbling under the pressure of such tough task, Logan continued the trend initiated by his illustrious forerunner and even outdid him as he carried Dinamo to an unprecedented scudetto – denying the same old local hero in a memorable final series against Reggio Emilia after downing an ever star-studded yet underachieving Milan. For this reason and the game-winning form displayed in the first half of this season, Avellino management hoped that he would repeat himself once again by pulling out plenty of his momentum-changing off-balance jumpers also in a green-and-white jersey. This time, though, he did not live up to his reputation as a fearsome fourth-quarter assassin, but his resume alone earns him a spot on this list anyway.
3. Phil Goss – 2016/17 team: Nuovo Basket Brindisi
An Italian league regular for almost a decade, the American combo-guard out of Drexel University is arguably the least renowned – beside the ever-present Logan and fresh Euroleague champion Bobby Dixon – among the future stars who experienced the bitter taste of defeat against then dynasty-like Prokom Sopot back in the 2007/08 Polish league playoffs. Signed by LegaDue club Rimini shortly thereafter, he has mercilessly cut hapless opponents’ throats since then through a wide range of dramatic game-clinching buzzer beaters and fourth-quarter takeovers when it mattered the most – Rome fans will always be thankful to him for the club’s unexpected 2013 postseason run ended only in the finals by the last winning Siena team. Although Brindisi could not make it to the playoffs in spite of a major spring addition, this year has been no exception as his patented high-arching jumpers following crafty hesitation dribbles found the bottom of the net and won a bunch of games as ever.
4. Ariel Filloy – 2016/17 team: Reyer Venezia
The younger brother of former Lega A and LegaDue journeyman Demian had to follow the typical path of many Argentine imports – most notably, his current on-court foe Andres Forray and Tenerife’s captain Nicolas Richotti – who seek their fortune here starting from lower tiers hoping to work their way up and get a precious Italian citizenship thanks to their family ties. Emerged out of the darkness sooner than his two now accomplished fellow countrymen, unlike them the Bahia Blanca native struggled to make the last step towards the summit, stuck in the second division for many years. Once he stepped on Lega A hardwoods, though, the son of another professional player – his father German even suited up for the Albiceleste – has never looked back and made the best out of each experience, earning important minutes and even the captaincy in Pistoia. Ready to take on bigger challenges, he has immediately embraced the role of closer for a Venice team whose backcourt boasts the likes of Marquez Haynes, Michael Bramos, Tyrus McGee and Stefano Tonut. In case his cold-blooded play during the season had not been enough, the latest playoffs heroics have definitely shed light on this gaucho’s huevos.
5. Marques Green – 2016/17 team: Scandone Avellino
No longer the top-notch floor general he used to be during the first of many stints in Avellino – higlighted by the achievement of the lone piece of silverware in club history – and over the following years to the point of arousing Milan’s fantasy, the 1.60m tall experienced point guard is still one of the fiercest competitors in the league as he has yet to lose the drive to leave it all on the floor and lock down his defensive assignments. An ice-cold second fiddle to the Dieners in Sassari’s 2014 Coppa Italia run, he has since then settled in his adoptive home for good. Revered and still given – literally – the green light in spite of his decreased scoring abilities, the pocket-sized American who also holds Macedonian citizenship has not forgotten how to drain back-breaking threes as well. As a result, Italian aficionados have now probably stopped marvelling at this diminutive man’s feats after seeing him pulling up out of nowhere for long-range daggers or slicing through powerless double teams for crafty teardrop finishes time and time again.