Under-the-Radar: Musa of BIH and Vasiliauskas of Lithuania are Talents from Unlikely Places

Dzanan Musa of Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the top talents in Europe that comes from a country that isn’t exactly a basketball powerhouse.

When it comes to European basketball development, certain countries and clubs have a stronger reputation for developing talent than others. If you are from Serbia, you have a strong basketball talent history that includes players like Vlade Divac and Milos Teodosic. If you played for Real Madrid B (Real Madrid’s developmental team), you also played for a club that developed talent such Nikola Mirotic and Bojan Bogdanovic. Certain countries and clubs in Europe have a more illustrious history when it comes to producing basketball talent, and thus, there is higher attention on players from those countries and clubs when it comes to finding “the next big stars” in European basketball.

However, there is a tendency sometimes for talent to come from unexpected European countries and/or club programs. That is the case with two players who faced off against each other in the 2015 U16 FIBA European Championship last year: Dzanan Musa of Bosnia/Herzegovina, who played for Cedevita Zagreb during the Euroleague and ANGT, and Grantas Vasiliauskas of Lithuania who played for his home club of Alytus SRC during the domestic season, and on loan for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in the ANGT. Despite the fact that they did not come from a “power” country or club in the European basketball scene, these two versatile talents are rising up quickly in the youth scene, and could be major contributors to upper-level clubs in the next couple of years.

Let’s take a brief look at each player, as well as check out some of their highlights.

 

Dzanan Musa, Forward

Dzanan Musa not only played for Cedevita during the ANGT, but also spent some time with the senior club during the Euroleague season.

Country: Bosnia/Herzegovina; Club: Cedevita Zagreb; Height: 2.03 meters

2015/2016 ANGT Stats: 16.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 7.2 apg, 2.4 spg, 52.9 2-pt FG %, 40 3-pt FG % (5 games).

Bosnia and Herzegovina is developing as a country in basketball, but by no means are they up there with traditional “former-Yugoslavian” powers such as Serbia and Croatia. In the 2015 Eurobasket, BIH failed to get out of the group round, and only went 1-4 in group play, their lone win being a 1-point win over Israel. Granted, they do have some recent talent who have made a name for themselves in the global basketball scene as of late. Sharp shooting forward Mirza Teletovic of the Phoenix Suns, and formerly of the Brooklyn Nets, has carved out a good career in the NBA, and center Jusuf Nurkic seems to be following his lead with the Denver Nuggets, though he suffered some injuries that set him back a little last year.  Furthermore, guard Nihad Dedovic of Bayern Munich, Milan Milosevic of AEK Athens, and Elmedin Kikanovic of Alba Berlin, have represented the BIH well by playing for clubs that participate in the Euroleague and Eurocup scene. But if you go back further or look beyond those names, there is not a lot of extensive history of basketball players from Bosnia and Herzegovina making a major impact in Europe or in America.

Musa however seems to be the exception to that rule. Last summer, during the U16 European Basketball Championships, Musa earned MVP honors in leading Bosnia and Herzegovina to their first Gold Medal in any kind of FIBA competition (be in European or World). Musa averaged 23.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 6.3 apg for BIH and scored 33 points and had 8 rebounds and 7 assists in BIH’s 85-83 victory of Lithuania, who was playing the Gold Medal game in front of their home country fans in Kaunas.

During the tournament, Musa displayed a versatile and explosive game, as he is able to beat defenders off the dribble, but is skilled enough to step back and hit the mid-range and 3-point shot. If there is one word to describe Musa’s game it is “active”. Musa is a multi-tool players and a legitimate “triple double” threat that can carry a team, as was obvious last year with his home BIH squad. Check out the highlights below and see how Musa torched the competition during the U16 European Championship, especially against global powers like Lithuania in the Gold Medal game and Spain in the Semi-finals (he also scored 24 points in their 86-78 OT win).

Since the European championship, Musa has kept the momentum going after signing with Cedevita Zagreb. He put up a strong overall performance in the ANGT, averaging 16.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 7.2 apg, once again showing that multi-faceted ability that makes him so intriguing as a player against the best under-18 talent in Europe. However, his success and impact wasn’t simply limited to the ANGT, as Musa also appeared in 10 games for Cedevita during the Euroleague campaign. Though he only averaged 2.7 ppg, Musa was the ninth-youngest player in Euroleague history to make his debut, and he held up well considering he was only 16 years old and playing against some of the best veterans in Europe (in his debut he matched up against Olympiacos guard and Greek legend Vasilis Spanoulis).

Musa has the chance to be a real impact player not just in Europe, but abroad as well. He has a well-rounded game (he can create for others as well as himself), an excellent shooting stroke and the kind of competitive fire that can carry a team, even one that may not be as talented. Musa does have times where his game can be streaky. In the ANGT, he started off strong in the qualifying round with a 37 point performance against Bayern Munich and a 24 point performance against Partizan Belgrade, but he struggled to find his rhythm in the following 3 games, as he scored only 9 points in the final qualifying round game against Zemun Belgrade, 13 points against Spurs Sarajevo in the first Belgrade Final Round game, and zero in 9 minutes of play in a re-match with Partizan with a trip to the Finals in Berlin on the line (though an injury was a reason for his limited time).

Granted, while Musa couldn’t carry Cedevita to the ANGT Finals in Berlin, and didn’t have as strong a finish to the tournament as his start, he definitely displayed that he has the potential to be one of the best overall players and pure scorers in Europe. And furthermore, he’s doing it from a country whose national program has only been established since 1992.

Yes, Teletovic and Nurkic may be the figureheads for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s basketball program now, and rightfully so considering their status in the NBA. However, expect Musa to inherit their place on that mantle within the next five or so years.

 

Grantas Vasiliauskas, Forward

Grantas Vasiliauskas had a strong performance for Lithuania in the 2015 Euorpean Championships as well as the ANGT for Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius

Country: Lithuania; Club: Alytus SRC and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius; Height: 2.00 meters.

2015/2016 ANGT stats: 14.7 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.7 apg; 47.5 2-pt FG%; 30.8 3-pt FG%.

Vasiliauskas comes from Lithuania, which is a pretty big hotbed when it comes to basketball talent. NBA players that have come from the county include Jonas Valanciunas of the Toronto Raptors, Sarunas Marciulonis, formerly of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors, Sarunas Jasikevicius, formerly of the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors (not to mention numerous European clubs like Maccabi Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Fenerbahce, Zalgris, and Panathinaikos), and of course, Arvydas Sabonis, formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers. So, Vasiliauskas doesn’t exactly come from a less-developed basketball country like Musa.

However, what makes Vasiliauskas different from other Lithuanian basketball players is the fact that he doesn’t come from a big program or town. He isn’t from Vilnius or Kaunas (the two biggest cities in Lithuania), nor is he in the systems of Lithuania’s premier clubs, like Zalgiris, Lietuvos (more on this later) or Neptunas. Instead, Vasiliauskas played for his hometown club of Alytus SRC, based in his home town of Alytus, which has a population of less than 55,000 residents, according to this feature piece on Vasiliauskas on the Euroleague web site. Vasiliauskas went under the radar in his home country by the major clubs, mostly because of where he lived, and the fact that his father was a champion rower, not basketball player.

However, while his background may be anonymous in Lithuania, his game certainly is not. Lietuvos sought the “under-the-radar” talent from Alytus, after his strong performance in the European Championships where he averaged 10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 2.4 apg in 9 games, which included a 12 point-6 rebound performance in the championship against BIH. Vasiliauskas did not disappoint for the club based out of Vilnius, as he averaged 14.7 ppg, 5 rpg and 3.1 apg while averaging 29 minutes per game. Vasiliauskas’ best performance came in the qualifying round, where he averaged 16.7 ppg and put up a 25 point-9 rebound stat line against VEF Riga. Furthermore, he did have some strong performances against much better competition in the Final Round in Berlin, as he scored 15 points against ANGT runner-up Crvena Zvzeda and 15 points against Alba Berlin.

Vasiliauskas doesn’t have the dynamic scoring ability or explosiveness of Musa, but if there is one word to describe his game it is “consistency”. Vasiliauskas plays within himself on a regular basis, and displays a solid overall skill set that mirrors Musa’s, though he doesn’t have the ceiling that Musa has as a player. One of the most impressive aspects of Vasiliauskas’ game is his heightened-sense of awareness on the court. He finds open pockets of the defense naturally, which leads to a lot of easy baskets; has a nose for the ball on lose balls and on rebounds, both on the offensive and defensive end; and is a strong passer, able to hit cutting teammates through tight windows with relative ease. Check out his highlights below, and though he doesn’t blow one away like Musa, he certainly does impress with his consistency and overall skill set displayed.

If there is one issue with Vasiliauskas’ game is that his shooting isn’t consistent and still is in need of refinement. Most of the buckets we see for him in the highlight tape are finishes around the hoop (layups and dunks), and his lackluster shooting percentages (47.5 from 2; 30.8 from 3) during the ANGT display that he doesn’t have the kind of outside game to make opponents play him honest on the perimeter (teams can sag to stop his drive or push him off the block, which is where he seems to prefer to play in the half court: moving from high to low post and creating from where he receives the ball). Vasiliauskas’ shooting form looks good in terms of elbow positioning and footwork, but it appears that his release is a little slow, which may be a reason why he struggles to find a consistent stroke on the floor.

It will be interesting to see if the “small town” kid will find a bigger club to participate with next year. His impressive performance with Lietuvos has the big club (which finished second in the Lithuanian league at the senior level) thinking about buying him out from Alytus and developing him year-around, which would be crucial since he still has parts of his game that need work (mostly his shooting). However, they are not the only club in Lithuania with interest: defending Lithuanian champion and Euroleague participant Zalgiris is also thinking about buying his rights as well.

Vasiliauskas hasn’t necessarily hinted what club he is leaning toward, and he seems to not have ruled out staying with Alytus SRC for another year as well, though I think the need to face better competition will be better satisfied if he played with Lietuvos or Zalgiris. Whatever the young forward chooses, he is certainly rising in the radar of players to watch out for, not just in Lithuania, but in Europe as well. He probably doesn’t have the European superstar potential like Musa, and I don’t even know if he has the kind of game that would translate to the NBA. While he certainly has the maturity and intensity to perhaps compete at that level down the road, I just don’t know if he will develop the size and athleticism to match up against NBA players (Musa on the other hand has all those characteristics).

That being said, Vasiliauskas is a very talented player with a polished skill set and considerable upside that would be beneficial to a major European club’s current developmental team and senior team down the road. Don’t be surprised to see him starting or playing a primary bench role for a major club team in the Euroleague or Eurocup within the next 10 years.

Fresh Friday: How to Dress Well, Sports, Chet Faker and Bosnia and Herzegovina a Budding Basketball Force in Europe?

How to Dress Well (the stage name of singer Tom Krell) is one of the rising PBR&B artists that is worth listening to extensively.

In this edition of “Fresh Friday, we’re going to take a look at some “chill” beats from some up and coming Indie artists, and examine Bosnia’s win at the FIBA Under-16 European Championships and whether or not it’s a sign that Bosnia is a European dark horse in development. As it is officially October, it means Fall is upon us, it is time to shelf the shorts and t-shirts and bring back the flannel and jeans, and basketball season is nearly upon us. Hence, it is even more important to build up some chill music on the Spotify queue in anticipation of basketball junkies’ late nights with NBA League Pass. D-League on YouTube, FIBA Global Pass (via LiveBasketball.tv) and Euroleague TV (if that thing will launch of course…if anybody has any updates, please let me know…I’m committed to covering more Euroleague for this blog) as well as cheap, but classy sundry choices that make the basketball addiction feel a bit more normal (even when in reality it is not).

This weekend’s beer of choice: Pabst Blue Ribbon. Cheap, classic, from Milwaukee (which is always a good thing and a hell of a lot better than St. Louis), and readily available in the Midtown area of Kansas City. There is a lot of good music going on this weekend in Midtown and Downtown Kansas City (with Of Monsters and Men being the headline weekend act in KC tonight at the Midland Theatre), so as you’re spending your money on tickets and covers to see some great shows, counter that with something cheap to drink that will make the night a little bit easier on your wallet.

So on with the music and basketball for “Fresh Friday.”

How to Dress Well “Repeat Pleasure”

There is something utterly endearing about “How to Dress Well”, the stage name of Chicago-based R&B singer Tom Krell. His style makes listeners hark back to older R&B acts like Immature and Boyz II Men, but has a modern-day Hipster-ish hue in the mold of say a Bon Iver (especially his voice, which makes one think of Justin Vernon, as it is hypnotic, but not exactly the easiest when it comes to deciphering lyrics). Krell started out as a nameless blogger who released new audio tracks anonymously via his blog “How to Dress Well” (which later became his stage name). In an era when self-promotion is huge in the independent music scene (I can’t tell you how many indie artists will follow random people just to get people to listen to their stuff…not that this is bad, but this is what it takes to get noticed musically as an artist), Krell seems to be a true artist, caring more about his craft than fame. He probably is more talented than most of the modern-day R&B singers out there in the scene now, but he goes unnoticed because he doesn’t have the marketability (he doesn’t have the flashy style or appearance of a Ginuwine or Tyrese for example) or product-promoting aggressiveness of some up and coming artists. But, that is refreshing, and it’s just a matter of time before “How to Dress Well” becomes more mainstream. His albums, including his most recent, “What is this Heart?” have all received rave reviews, so he is on the cusp of becoming a bigger name in the indie and R&B scene.

The track above, “Repeat Pleasure” is classic “How to Dress Well”: a nostalgic but chill R&B tune that is great to listen when un-winding from a long week day or a long night out…especially if you are spending it with a significant other (wink…wink…)

Sports “Panama”

I witnessed Sports playing live at “The Riot Room” in Westport about a month ago. They looked like something straight out of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” or “Dazed and Confused” and I guess I was expecting some kind of Punk Rock act. Instead, I was greeted with a super chill, heavily electronic group that featured a nostalgic 80’s sound that made you think of 80’s artists like Huey Lewis and Phil Collins. I was thoroughly entertained by their set, even as they struggled to get the sound they wanted from their equipment and the sound system.

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, Sports has one album out “Naked All the Time” which just recently came out this summer to some good reviews. The album is worth a listening to on Spotify or buying on ITunes, as many of the songs are the kind of hypnotic, hip and head swaying tracks that are great to jam to at a small get-together when you just need something to fill the space but not overpower the people in attendance. People will remark that it sounds familiar, as if it were something from the 80’s, and that is where you can come in and say it’s actually a band that is currently active. Sports is that kind of “Wow, I didn’t know they were an active band” remark-generating act. By knowing who they are, it will make you seem “cool” and “cultured” in the music scene with friends and even acquaintances, even if you only know them because you stumbled upon them by accident one Friday night in Westport.

So yeah, keep “Sports” on the playlist, especially “Panama” which is one of their albums’ best tracks.

Chet Faker “No Diggity”

Any time Hipster culture can clash with my own personal nostalgia, I am hooked. That was the case when I was listening to one of Spotify’s playlists (Indie Chill: Covers) and stumbled upon this. I loved this song when it came out performed by Blackstreet. I was in like the fourth or fifth grade, and this single was in my music collection along with Keith Sweat, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, and AZ Yet. And yes, I was in the fourth and fifth grade. And my mom was totally cool with me listening to this music. Music that featured lyrics like this, from AZ Yet’s “Last Night”.

Last night
I was inside of you
Last night
While making love to you
I saw the sun , the moon
The mountains and the rivers
I saw heaven when I made sweet love to you

Again. I repeat. I WAS IN THE FOURTH AND FIFTH GRADE WHEN I WAS LISTENING TO THIS. By the time we talked about sex ed in 6th grade, I knew a lot about the sexual reproduction process because that’s all that was talked about in my music collection. Maybe that’s why my mom let me listen to all that R&B: Keith Sweat, Blackstreet and AZ Yet could teach me about the “Birds and the Bees” so my parents didn’t have to.

As for Chet Faker’s rendition, it is not the original Blackstreet of course, but for covers it stands out firmly on its own. I like the chill, lo-fi remix to the classic R&B track, and it is the perfect track to jam to while reading or writing or just hanging out in your apartment. Faker has a fantastic voice and unique sound, like lounge meets indie pop meets soul. He’s worth checking out more of if you dig any of the three listed above, with his first major EP “Thinking in Textures” being a good start.

Replay of the Week: Bosnia and Herzegovina-Lithuania FIBA U16 European Championship

Bosnia and Herzegovina may be one of the most intriguing basketball countries as of late. While we know about the impact Jusuf Nurkic had as a rookie with the Denver Nuggets, the intimidating center may be just the tip of the iceberg of what kind of potential Bosnia and Herzegovina may have in the future. BIH didn’t do great in the FIBA Eurobasket 2015, as their Men’s National Team went 1-4, finished last in their group, and failed to make it out of group play (though they did have an exhilarating win over Israel in their third game). However, the future of their program may be quite bright, as evidenced by their Under-16 Boys squad.

BIH’s youth team went undefeated in the tournament, with big wins over France and Germany in the early rounds, a big win over Spain in the semifinal, and then a 85-83 win over Lithuania in front of a packed pro-Lithuanian crowd (as the U16 European Championships took place in Lithuania). The game was also a showcase for BIH star Dzanan Musa who scored 23.3 ppg, nabbed 9.0 rpg and dished 6.3 apg in the 9-game span. The 6’6 shooting guard displayed an incredible shooting touch, as he regularly sized up Lithuanian defenders in the tape above and made all kinds of incredible “Curry-esque” shots from beyond the arc. Only 16, Musa is an international player that will be worth paying attention to and following as he grows older and transitions from development ball to more serious professional ball, be it in Europe or here in the States.

Also, another thing worth noting about BIH’s win over Lithuania was the celebration in Sarajevo following their victory. Just look at the picture below and see what I mean:

God, can you imagine what the city would do if they won the FIBA Eurobasket? Or World Cup?

I can’t…really I can’t considering that scene above and its massiveness. But I will say this: the U16 championship game and the BIH celebration in Sarajevo is a reason why I love European and International basketball. Fans really care…a whole hell of a lot…when it comes to national pride in sports, especially basketball.