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NBA welcomes first ever Cypriot player

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Nicosia-born Sasha Vezenkov, the reigning EuroLeague Most Valuable Player, is introduced by the Sacramento Kings

‘Every kid who plays in Europe wants to come to the NBA’. Born in Nicosia, the new Sacramento Kings forward is living the American dream

In a ground-breaking moment for local sports fans, Sasha Vezenkov has become the first Cyprus-born player to join the NBA.

Signed to the Sacramento Kings, Vezenkov’s journey from the Mediterranean island nation to the grand stage of the National Basketball Association is a testament to his unwavering dedication and undeniable talent.

Speaking to the press for the first time since signing a lucrative three-year, $20 million contract in July, the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Vezenkov expressed his eagerness to join a franchise that made waves in the Western Conference playoffs last season.

At an introductory news conference inside the team’s Golden 1 Centre practice facility, Vezenkov said he was “really happy, really excited,” to be joining the Kings. “It was a big decision for my career, and I’m really happy to do it for Sacramento. I’m really thankful to the organisation because throughout the last year, they came overseas. They showed me their commitment. They showed me how much they want me to be here, and I’m really happy.”

Basketball Pedigree

Vezenkov was joined at the press conference by his parents, Sasho and Yanka. Sasho, a former professional basketball player and coach who represented the Bulgarian national team and competed in two European championships, adds a layer of basketball pedigree to the Vezenkov family name.

Vezenkov’s on-court prowess is undeniable, with his reputation as one of Europe’s most lethal shooters preceding him. In a November 2022 game against Alba Berlin, he scored 24 points without a single dribble. Monte McNair, the Kings’ general manager, lauded the new team member’s size and shooting prowess, underscoring how seamlessly he fits into the Kings’ pace-and-space offence, which led the league in scoring last season.

“He’s got incredible shooting, size, IQ,” McNair praised. “Just a winner, EuroLeague MVP, Greek League champion… so he’s had a ton of success on the international stage, and we’re excited to see him carry that over to the NBA.”

Born in Nicosia

Now 28 years of age, Vezenkov was born in Nicosia to Bulgarian parents. Raised in Cyprus and Greece, he holds triple citizenship for Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Greece. His basketball journey kicked off in Cyprus with APOEL Nicosia’s youth teams in 2005 before, aged 14, he relocated to Greece and joined Aris’ youth teams in 2009.

Despite initially committing to play American college basketball in the Big East Conference for Xavier University in 2013, Vezenkov ultimately chose to remain in Greece with Aris.

Vezenkov embarked on his professional career with Aris’ senior men’s team in the Greek League in 2011. His journey saw him named the Greek League’s Best Young Player several times and achieve remarkable scoring and rebounding feats. During the 2014–15 Greek Basket League season, he dominated the league, leading in scoring and rebounding, earning accolades as the MVP, Most Improved Player, and Best Young Player of the season.

While an NBA debut beckoned, he withdrew from the 2015 NBA draft for international players. Instead, in July 2015, Vezenkov signed with the Spanish ACB League’s FC Barcelona, where he continued to excel on the European stage, winning the Spanish Supercup title in 2015, and named to the all Spanish League All-Young Players Team of the 2016–17 season.

Feeling at Home

On 12 July 2018, Vezenkov signed a two-year deal with Olympiacos, which was extended for another two years in July 2020. During this time, he recorded his EuroLeague career-high on 18 March 2021, scoring 31 points in an 80–84 win at Alba Berlin.

A regular starter at Olympiacos, Vezenkov earned the prestigious title of EuroLeague MVP, becoming only the second player to win both the EuroLeague MVP and Alphonso Ford EuroLeague Top Scorer Trophy in the same season, following in the footsteps of Nando de Colo.

On July 18 2023, Vezenkov signed a deal with the Sacramento Kings following a year-long pursuit. And though he’s currently 7,000 miles from his place of birth, he’s already finding his feet.

“I feel like (I am) home,” said Vezenkov, when asked how he feels to be continuing his career so far from home. “Even though I’m here only a couple days, I feel like I have a new family and that helps me a lot. Every kid who plays in Europe wants to come to the NBA,” he concluded.

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