That's what it means to be excited about the upcoming season. The season hasn't even officially started yet, but the crew is already on the road. This week I'm visiting two pre-season tournaments in Belek and Istanbul, while my colleague Jonas Miklovas will travel to Cyprus for some exclusive content. Let's begin with Day 1 of the Gloria Cup and my hot impressions.

Emmanuel Mudiay

Emmanuel  Mudiay
Team: Zalgiris Kaunas
Position: PG
Age: 25
Height: 196 cm
Weight: 91 kg
Birth place: Kinshasa, Congo (Republic of the)

Ergin Ataman was typing something on his phone in the stands of Gloria Sports Arena. It might have been a text for his son Sarp, the unofficial member of Efes coaching staff. It might have been nothing essential. But it could have been that Ataman was googling about Jonathan Motley (I have to admit that I stole this joke from one brilliant person). By the way, I wouldn't be surprised if he mistyped Jonathan's surname to MONSTER-ley.

That guy was destroying Zalgiris defense for the second game in a row. What frightened me more, that he did it with a smile on his face. If he was not dunking over the people (God bless Marek Blazevic), he grabbed the rebounds, passed the ball, and executed all these different kinds of assaults on Zalgiris basket.

Twenty-one points (8/10 FGs), 12 rebounds, five assists in Belek. 19 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the first encounter between Zalgiris and Lokomotiv last week in Kaunas. This one at Gloria Cup was even more impressive for Motley since Zalgiris coaching staff had a better chance of preparing on how to stop the electric Lokomotiv newcomer.

Zalgiris couldn't match Motley's physicality as he started to dominate from the jump ball, scoring 14 points and grabbing six rebounds before halftime. Motley was also a significant presence on the defensive end. Zalgiris scored 28 points in the paint (14/28, 50%), compared to Loko's 36 (18/27, 66,7%).

If you know what I mean, Bryant Dunston's contract expires in 2022 (he has a +1 option, though). If Motley is consistent and Loko are successful, I can see him signing a solid EuroLeague deal next summer.

I was missing that Motley-type of energy on the Zalgiris bench.

Listen, Zalgiris fans are crazy. Although the game was played behind closed doors, somehow Zalgiris managed to get some special invitations, and a bunch of green-and-whites made some noise in the Gloria Cup opener. The worst part was that team wasn't inspired by that at all.

Maybe I'm too picky. Perhaps it's too early to demand it in the preseason. But Zalgiris bench and those who played on the court were pretty much dead. The same night the waiter at some local Belek restaurant made awkward dance moves before delivering the meal. But it was by far better effort than I saw from Zalgiris players.

Lokomotiv could have lent one of their players just to sit on the Zalgiris bench for one game. If not Motley, then maybe at least Alan Williams (the loudest guy in the building). Especially when he can't play yet, since his rehab took longer than expected after rupture of the patella's own ligament. Alan is still couple weeks away from his return to action, but I can't wait to see him on the court together with Motley.

But Loko's bench was a great example for Zalgiris. They played like it was a playoff game.

It was more than that. Zalgiris missed too many free throws (21/28, 71.4%) and couldn't find the target beyond the arc (5/25, 20%). Lukas Lekavicius, Arturas Milaknis, and Janis Strelnieks, probably the top Zalgiris shooters besides Tyler Cavanaugh, combined only three from 17 three-pointers. 

Shout out to Lokomotiv's coaching staff, which made some adjustments to stop Emmanuel Mudiay. From 21 point performance in Kaunas, Mudiay was limited to 11 points, two assists, and three turnovers on four from 8 shooting. Loko just made the court smaller for Mudiay, who couldn't find a spot to use his advantages.

Zalgiris' defense was collapsing as well. At first, they didn't stop Russians in transition, and then Green-and-whites couldn't keep their guards in front of them. The communication was also somewhere but for sure not in the Gloria Sports Arena.

To make things worse, Mantas Kalnietis couldn't finish the game due to injury. In the second half, he watched the game with his right shoe off and limping rather significantly.

But hey, that's a preseason. Zalgiris, and Loko as well, will fix their game for the upcoming ten months. That's only the start of the journey, especially since both teams experienced so many roster changes.

Gloria Cup in Belek is a perfect destination for basketball lovers. It's over 30+ in Celsius outside (sun-kissed Luigi Lamonica confirms). Basketball people, including Anadolu Efes stars like Shane Larkin, Rodrigue Beaubois, or Bryant Dunston playing cards in the lobby, are just buzzing inside the glory sports complex, which can accommodate more than 50 different sports.

Last year the Gloria Cup became a center of coronavirus. There were so many COVID-19 cases among the participants that teams withdrew from the tournament. Because of that, the Gloria Cup organizers tighten the COVID-19 protocol. For example, the vaccination certificate is required to enter the arena and a PCR test every three days. Thanks to the Gloria Cup organizers for their hospitality and for making everything smooth.

What's next on Thursday? Anadolu Efes vs. Tofas Bursa, and at least four interviews with Zalgiris and Anadolu Efes representatives. Stay tuned.

Hopefully just early chemistry and will connect better when the season starts.
nice stuff! thanks Donatas!
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