Hidden gems: 10 players to watch in the VTB United League

2021-09-28 12:00
Pijus Sapetka, BasketNews
Credit: FIBA, AP-Scanpix
Credit FIBA, AP-Scanpix

VTB United League is one of the strongest competitions in Europe with a significant amount of talent.

The highest level basketball athletes like Mario Hezonja, Alexey Shved, Errick McCollum, Shabaz Nappier, or other stars rival in this competition. But this article is not about the spotlight of basketball athletes.

People love underdogs and players, seeking something to prove. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at the less known athletes who can explode and be exciting to follow.

Casper Ware – Enisey Krasnoyarsk

The 31-year-old guard comes to Enisey after two phenomenal seasons in the NBL with Sydney Kings. The American athlete has proven himself as an elite scoring machine. Last year Ware averaged 17.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 36 NBL games.

Throughout his career, the 1.78-meter point guard represented clubs from Italy (Novipiu Casale Monferrato, Virtus Bologna), United States (Philadelphia 76ers), Germany (EWE Baskets Oldenburg), China (Tianjin Pioneers), France (LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne), Poland (Stal Ostrow Wielkopolski), Australia (Melbourne United, Sydney kings), and now Russia.

Wherever he played, except NBA, Casper Ware averaged over 10 points. In Philadelphia, the American guard appeared in 9 contests and posted 5.3 points.

He is NBL champion, German Cup winner, LNB Pro A champion, and Finals MVP. It seems like a good Enisey move that will give hope for the VTB top 8 fight in the 2021-22 campaign (Enisey were 11th past season).

Jerrett Grant – Avtodor Saratov

The 28-year-old was selected with the 40th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. However, during his career in the NBA, Grant saw the court only in 8 games and accumulated 2 points.

The 2.08-meter power forward spent 5 seasons in the G League, trying to prove himself for the NBA teams.

In 2019, Jerrett Grant’s career brought him to Europe, where he signed with Ratiopharm Ulm.

After a stint in Germany, the American athlete came to Turkey, Darussafaka Istanbul. Last season he averaged 12 points (38.2% 3PT) and 6 rebounds in 30 Turkish league matches and registered 13.2 points, 5 rebounds per 6 BCL games.

There is no doubt that Grant will be a highlight machine in the VTB regular season, as he has untapped athletic potential, being able to catch even the unhandy lobs thanks to his wingspan.

Jaylen Barford – Astana Nur-Sultan

Barford arrives in Nur-Sultan as the main go-to guy. The 25-year-old shooting guard went undrafted in 2018.

He joined Greensboro Swarm, the Charlotte Hornets affiliate in the G League, and provided 17.8 points in 47 games. After a successful first professional season, Barford came to Italy. He spent two years there with a short stint in Egypt.

Last season the 1.91-meter shooting guard represented Vanoli Cremona and averaged 15 points, 3.3 rebounds in 9 Italian Basketball League contests.

He will form an American trio with other Astana’s newcomers, Skylar Spencer and Anthony Hickey, and try to lift the Kazakhstan club from the VTB bottom (12th place last season out of 13 teams).

Rion Brown – Enisey Krasnoyarsk

The 30-year-old swingman played college basketball at the University of Miami and went undrafted in 2014.

Then he moved overseas and landed in Hapoel Tel Aviv. Brown’s gradually growing career led him to the Greek powerhouse, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens.

The 1.98-meter swingman tried his luck in the 2019-20 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague campaign. However, the experience in Europe’s top competition was not flourishing (0.4 PPG).

Last season Brown was a member of Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana, where he posted 10.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in 24 Adriatic League games while averaging 8.2 points, 4 rebounds per 15 7DAYS EuroCup duels.

It seems that Brown is ready to sacrifice the high-level European competitions to deliver a stellar performance in Russia and try to surprise everybody with a new project of Enisey.

Branden Frazier – Zielona Gora

The 29-year-old guard started his professional path in Hungary (2014). Frazier will not be a newbie of the VTB United League since he played for Avtodor Saratov in 2016-18.

After a successful stint in Russia, the 1.91-meter point guard transferred to Spain (San Pablo Burgos), then to Germany (Telekom Baskets Bonn), and his last stops, before the stint in Poland, were Turkey (Fethiye Belediyespor) and France (AS Monaco).

Last year in Monaco, Frazier registered 8.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in 24 LNB Pro A meetings.

The American and Zielona Gora have already started the 2021-22 campaign in the Polish Basketball League. Frazier contributed with 8.5 points and 9.3 assists per 6 games.

Without a doubt, the ball will be in his hands most of the time, and Frazier will have to create not only for himself but also for others. He is a willing passer, as point guard’s career stats are showing. Zielona Gora needed a leader, and it looks like they found one.

JeQuan Lewis – Kalev Tallinn

The 27-year-old point guard joined the Estonian team’s forces, which are traditionally distinguished by bright point guards. Lewis fought for a place in the Milwaukee Bucks team in 2017, then played in the G-League and finally moved to Europe in 2018.

Lewis has the main qualities that are required from a point guard at the Tallinn team. A fast overseas athlete who is always ready to develop a quick break and deliver the ball to the rim with his own hands or with the help of teammates.

Last season he spent in Israel, Ramat HaSharon. So far, Lewis’ career highlight was a stint with PAOK. In the 2019-20 campaign, he averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 assists in the 13 Greek Basket League games and recorded the averages of 11.7 points and 4.4 assists in 9 BCL match-ups.

It seems that he was missing Kalev’s part after the leaving of Marcus Keane (2020-21 VTB top scorer with 20 PPG). JeQuan Lewis has already shown his qualities in BCL qualifying round. He scored 24 points and dished out 6 assists in the victorious final game against Uniclub Casino-Juventus Utena to secure the Kalev’s place in the regular BCL season.

Darral Willis – Enisey Krasnoyarsk

Another Enisey representative made a list. The 25-year-old power forward started his professional career in 2019 with Nizhny Novgorod. Willis is well aware of VTB United League as he had a good run there, averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.

In the 2020-21 campaign, the 2.06-meter power forward split time between AS Monaco and Pallacanestro Brescia. In France, he accumulated 7.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per 7 LNB Pro A contests while averaging 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds in 11 EuroCup games.

Willis, however, did not become a EuroCup champion after leaving the team in the middle of the season.

In Italy, the American big man participated in 13 duels and posted 10.4 points. Considering the mentioned Enisey players on the list, the squad looks capable of reaching decent results and playing eye-catching basketball.

Jeremiah Hill – Parma-Parimatch

The 26-year-old shooting guard came to the VTB United League in 2019 after a stint in G League with Lakeland Magic. Hill was a member of Astana Nur-Sultan and played in Kazachstan until the summer of 2021.

Last season the 1.88-meter guard averaged 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 5 assists in 24 games.

In Astana, Jeremiah Hill was an attack-oriented player who drew a lot of attention on himself.

The quality to be a constant threat in the offensive end will come in handy for Parma, as the Russian team has reliable shooters on the perimeter, with Adas Juskevicius leading the way.

Adas Juskevicius – Parma-Parimatch

Unquestionably, the 32-year-old Lithuanian will form a dynamic backcourt with just mentioned newcomer Jeremiah Hill. They match together and reduce the workload from each other.

Juskevicius has been a member of Parma since 2019. European basketball veteran has a perfect environment to show his full potential there.

Before coming to Russia, Juskevicius represented Lithuanian powerhouses like Zalgiris, Rytas, Lietkabelis and played for well-known European clubs as Zaragoza, Galatasaray, and Nanterre 92.

Last season the 1.94-meter combo guard registered 13.6 points (42.5% 3PT), 2.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 22 VTB games.

Zeljko Sakic – Avtodor Saratov

The 33-year-old forward joined Avtodor’s forces more than a year ago. Last season the Croatian forward averaged 12.2 points (39.4% 3PT), 6.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 24 games.

Sakic is one of the best all-around big men in the VTB United League. He can be used in different attacking schemes, as he has a high basketball IQ and always finds his spot on the court.

He involves others and can score from different situations and angles himself. Being a 2.03-meter, strong big man, Sakic is a good shooter from behind the arc and perfectly stretches the floor.

On top of that, he has a good mid-range jumper. These qualities draw the attention of basketball lovers, therefore, watching him moving on the court is a freshness for fans’ eyes.

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