Sharpshooter Alex Abrines nailed seven threes to hand FC Barcelona an easy win over ACB and EuroLeague rivals Valencia Basket (80-64).
That was the latest showcase of what the 27-year-old former NBA player is capable of. Now, in his second season of his second tenure with the club that propelled his career, Abrines has again found himself on a team stacked with stars: Mirotic, Higgins, Calathes, Hanga, Claver can work miracles on the court, but the ultimate difference-maker is the man pulling the strings.
Former Barca point guard and EuroLeague legend Sarunas Jasikevicius returned to the Catalan side last summer to restore some of the old glory. A 4-time EuroLeague champ himself, Saras knows better than most what it takes to win. With the exception of Cory Higgins, no FC Barcelona player has a continental title under his belt.
Alex Abrines and Kyle Kuric are the main weapons on the perimeter for the current EuroLeague regular season leaders, who want to go all the way to their third crown. The team’s trajectory has been almost flawless and includes a Spanish Cup triumph over archrivals Real Madrid.
“Overall, I am satisfied with what we have accomplished so far, but we can play even better and we still have a lot to improve on”, the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft and 2016 EuroLeague Rising Star said in a quick chat with TalkBasket.net.
“Results have brought us at the highest level possible. There is reason for us to be happy, although we shouldn’t forget that our work continues”, he went on to say.
This season is “a continuation of the last one”. “I’m more important to the team and I’ve had more opportunities because of Victor Claver’s injury. I’m very happy. Saras has faith in me and I am getting better every day as a player.”
According to him, the most visible difference from last year is the fact that the present version of FC Barcelona treats its shooters differently.
“We play a lot for the shooters of the team”, Abrines explains. “This means that Saras likes to play with me and Kyle Kuric always on the floor and I am very happy that there are these type of plays for me. Usually, they start after timeouts or in the beginning of a quarter. For players like me, this confidence means a lot and it’s also something that can make you better defensively.”
Adapting to Saras’s orders can be tough, even for players like him and Calathes, who had previously shared the same locker room with the Lithuanian legend.
“At first, it wasn’t easy”, the Mallorca-born guard-forward concedes. “He gave us many new things. He has been a Barca player and knows his roster very well, talking to everyone and doing a great job in getting the best out of each one of us.”
Fighting with depression was the hardest thing that Alex Abrines had to deal with during his pro career. It was one of the main reasons why he left the NBA and came back to Spain. What was the most profound and meaningful lesson that he picked up while struggling with his demons?
“I found out that if you are willing, it is possible to get over it. The first thing you have to do is talk about it and once you do that and you have the willpower, it is possible to win the battle. Always seek support in friends and family, the persons that can ease the tension for you”, he suggests.
Apart from himself and teammates Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol, another old acquaintance decided to return to Europe from the NBA. Mario Hezonja wore the jersey of Panathinaikos OPAP for the first time in the game against his former team, where he and Abrines shared three years (2012-15) together:
“He is a good player. He has an incredible offensive talent to score in many situations and I am sure that he will help this Panathinaikos team win some games”, the Spaniard commented.