Siena have a new “American” hero
Bobby Brown is the sole reason Montepaschi Siena fans have long forgotten about Bo McCalebb.
Let’s rewind to the start of this season, pre-Euroleague – and Fenerbahce were the talk of Europe – as they signed a quarter of the previous season’s Siena side, including last year’s Euroleague leading scorer and scoring champion McCalebb, who himself came off a great year by guiding Macedonia to the brink of Eurobasket podium glory.
Simone Piangiani; who became Fenerbahce coach in the summer, after six years as Siena’s head coach – was responsible for bringing in McCalebb and prior to that – he was the assistant plus the youth team’s coach between 1995 and 2006. Piangiani brought David Andersen with him as well along with Romain Sato and Mike Batiste from Panathinaikos. The buzz was one of anticipation and even talk of the Turkish side making their first Euroleague Final Four.
Meanwhile back in Italy, Montepaschi gave the coaching reins to Piangiani’s assistant Luca Banchi and the talk was a bit muted, but the predominant reaction and prediction was one of rebuilding and making the squad better with time.
Banchi brought in Bobby Brown from German side EWE Baskets Oldenburg, who at the time were competing in the Eurochallenge. The signing was not met with a jaw-dropped response. Brown was replacing a Euroleague superstar, regarded as the best player outside of the NBA for his position.
A personal flashback was when I saw Brown hit a near half-court buzzer-beater for Alba Berlin when they visited Guildford Heat in the old ULEB Cup back in 2008, but other than that. He didn’t show the European basketball eyes what he is capable of. At that time, he was an NBA hopeful but never really shined on court to prove that hefty credential.
The 27-year-old wasn’t really known for his explosive scoring bursts. Brown was a solid point guard, granted, but he was no Bo McCalebb.
With both Fenerbahce and Montepaschi’s rosters finalised, we were all expecting more from the Istanbul side, based on the Asian side of Turkey as opposed to the team located in Tuscany.
Fast forward to the present day and Siena, after losing their first three games exploded out of their regular season group and are now 4-0 in Group F and riding high of Brown’s extraordinary performances. The supporters are enjoying the team’s run and have put last season’s castaways firmly behind them.
Despite all the hype and excitement, Fenerbahce have crumbled and, along with fellow Turkish side Besiktas, who won last season’s Eurochallenge are joint bottom of the same pool with opposite records.
For Brown, he has exceeded the expectations and for the Siena fans that did say that he would make a difference, their crystal ball has worked its magic. It took three games for Montepaschi’s main attraction to get fully acquainted with his surroundings but when he did, the Italian side’s ambitions of ‘rebuilding’ went out the window, along with Bo McCalebb and Fenerbahce, a team that Siena have beaten so far this season.
With the first two games being losing efforts, Brown stepped up against Unicaja Malaga with 22 points and 6 assists but unfortunately, his side would lose that game also. The good times though, were just beginning.
In his next game, Brown exploded for 34 points, 16 of those points coming from the foul line as he amassed an index rating of +43. Siena won that game 93-90 which then began a five-game winning streak, which confirmed their qualification.
Meanwhile in Istanbul, the ex-Siena trio over at Fenerbahce was struggling to get out of Group A and needed a last-day victory over Mapooro Cantu to advance to the Top 16, where they have so far lost all four of their games.
It’s a much different story for the lads from Tuscany. And Brown’s best performance came in week two of the Top 16 stage when they travelled to the Ulker Sports Arena.
Brown led Siena with 41 points and 7 assists, his points tally was the joint highest recorded in the Euroleague while his index rating of +50 was tied for sixth all-time. The man he replaced, Bo McCalebb got 17 points and 3 assists before fouling out. Brown no doubt won that exchange as his side won 98-92 with the return in Siena on February 28.
And just last week, with Montpaschi down 72-67 with under a minute remaining at Olympiacos, Brown stepped up in the last 30 seconds to score five straight points and a crucial rebound to guide the Italians to a monumental 74-72 win, scoring seven points in the last minute.
The beauty of the Top 16 stage though is that we have ten games left before we move on to the quarter-finals. There is still plenty of time for Fenerbahce to come back and improve their fortunes. A lot can happen in a few months, no doubt about that. But, as we read the current form-book, it looks a long way from happening.
At the moment though, this season’s leading scorer in the Euroleague is out-shining his predecessor and last year’s scoring champion. Unless Piangiani has some other bright ideas, this trend will continue to move forward.
John Hobbs is TalkBasket’s lead Euroleague writer and has covered the Euroleague and its players for BBC Sports World, Catalunya Radio and SLAM. Follow John on Twitter: @johnswisshobbs (www.twitter.com/johnswisshobbs)