French powerhouse LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne are on a four-game losing streak in Europe’s premier competition. The squad coached by Tony Parker’s brother, TJ, has a 5-13 balance which places it just three wins ahead of Khimki Moscow Region, the undisputed letdown of the 2020-21 season.
Avoiding the last place in the standings can barely provide consolation for what David Lighty succinctly describes as an “inconsistent” campaign for a club that will be allocated a long-term EuroLeague license and will be part of the big stage for many years to come.
Lighty, now on his fourth consecutive season with ASVEL and sixth overall, is averaging 10.8 points on 96.8% free-throw shooting, plus 3.3 rebounds. A 32-year-old guard from Ohio, he has been playing professionally in Europe since 2011, with Italy and France being his only two destinations.
On the other hand, another veteran like Norris Cole, provides the French outlet with firepower on the perimeter. Despite his 12.8 points and 3.2 assists per game, his season is far from perfect. In fact, it mirrors what ASVEL Villeurbanne has been doing since the beginning of this peculiar endeavor. Like his teammate, Cole is an Ohio native and in fact, he relished the chance to not only share the floor with LeBron James, the state’s most well-known ambassador, but win a couple of NBA titles on his side. Since 2017, the 6’2” guard has been getting buckets in Europe. Alas, his teams never make the playoffs. Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2018, Buducnost Voli in 2019 and now the almost “doomed” ASVEL, missed EuroLeague’s penultimate phase by a mile.
Following a 88-71 blowout defeat to Panathinaikos OPAP in Athens, Lighty and Cole, who share the same age, state of origin and -of course- locker room, spoke to TalkBasket.net about the things that have kept their team behind and their relationship with president Tony Parker.
“We had a tough second half, man. They kept the rhythm and the flow. You got to commend them, they executed on both ends, making every basket for us difficult and creating offensive possessions for themselves”, David Lighty uttered upon exiting the locker.
The goal of the French team now is debatable: “We got to take it game by game. That’s the only thing we can do. We can’t look forward, ahead of anything. This season has been like Covid. It’s crazy! It’s been up and down. At times, we show a great level, that we can play and beat games. We are lacking consistency. Just finding the right flow for everybody and being on the same page has been tough this year”.
The question is how can the squad change the bad momentum. Lighty reiterates: “If we had the answer for it, we wouldn’t be inconsistent! It’s something that we’ve been working on, in order to fight for every possession. I think that against Panathinaikos, we started the game well and we did a great job, but then they got all the 50-50 balls and the rebounds. We just have to keep fighting. You can’t give up.”
Norris Cole believes that “the goal is to take it one game at a time. Stay positive. That’s all we can do: stay together though the good and the bad times. Now, it’s a tough time, but we’re going to stay together, keep working every day and remain professional. There’s multiple problems. Every game is different. We just have to make sure that we get better and limit the mistakes that we make. We don’t point fingers on this team. We all take accountability and we have to play better.”
Serbian star Nemanja Nedovic had another splendid performance this season, scoring 33 points in just over 28 minutes for a Performance Index Rating of 40. Guarding him is “very hard”, David Lighty concedes. “He’s moving so fast and then there’s the actions that they draw up for him. He’s coming off the down screens and ball screens. He has the green light and can shoot at any time. With a player like that, it’s very difficult. You can’t be physical and put your body onto him. He found his rhythm early and kept going.”
One cannot help but notice the big disparity between ASVEL’s home and away games, especially in terms of shooting percentages: “Exactly, that’s been a big thing for us”, Lighty admits. “We got to focus and lock in. it’s up to us. Maybe, if there were fans, it would be a little more easier. Now, we have to make do with the empty gym.”
How is it playing for a team managed by Tony Parker? Norris Cole takes the stage: “Tony is very professional. He takes care of his players. He makes sure we have everything we need; the organization provides all the resources that we need and that’s all you can ask for. I’ve been fortunate to be able to play for him and his team.”
Lighty played for ASVEL between 2014 and 2016 and then from 2017. Last summer, he signed a three-year extension. Does this mean he will end his career with Asvel, as Tony Parker said in the summer? “I’m always open to anything. We never know what’s going to happen. It’s a good situation and a good place for me. If anyone would like me, we could go and see what’s the best options and details for me and the team. Italy and France were the two best places for me. I had offers from other places and teams, but I don’t think the fit might have been right. In the end, you never know what’s going to happen. That’s why I go out and whatever teams has me, I try to fit the role.”
In Norris Cole‘s case, the player-president relationship is the one that holds sway, although the two share a great deal of NBA past in common. The former Miami Heat reserve faced the Frenchman, who was a starting point guard for the 2014 NBA champs: “We get to talk sometimes. Obviously, I practice and play and Tony does what he has to do, but when we see each other, we talk a bit about our NBA time. I’m sure that as the season goes on, we’ll get to talk more about the (2013, 2014) NBA Finals, when we played each other a lot. It was great. I was a young player in the league at the time. Obviously, he was a veteran, but it was great to compete against him.”