It's one thing for a player to work his way up the ladder to a Turkish Airlines Euroleague powerhouse, where a tradition of success already creates great expectations. It is something more, however, when that same player arrives to replace his idol.
Such is the case of CSKA Moscow forward Vladimir Micov, in his third Euroleague season, who will turn 28 during the playoff series his team starts Wednesday against Caja Laboral Vitoria.
Micov alighted in Moscow fast on the heels of a player he had watched, studied and admired for many years: the great Ramunas Siskauskas, a former MVP and two-time Euroleague champion who retired at the end of last season.
"For almost my entire career, he was my favorite player," Micov says. "I'm just trying to be like him because, let's say, that we are pretty much similar players. He's tall like me, he plays the same position as me – the 'three' – and we can maybe play anywhere from the 'one' to 'four' spots, the same positions."
But when it comes to playing their natural position, small forward, there is no one that Micov holds in higher esteem than the guy who's spot he filled on the CSKA roster, Siskauskas.
"For me, he's an unbelievable 'three'," Micov says. "He's an unbelievable player because he can do everything: come and go, shoot, post-up, pick-and-roll…everything."
Although Micov and Siskauskas never coincided on the same team, there did share the court once. In 2009, during Micov's rookie Euroleague season, CSKA visited his club at the time, Caja Laboral. Micov would score 2 points in 11 minutes that night, some of which he spent guarding Siskauskas, who ran the show with 24 points in a 67-71 win for CSKA.
"I guarded him a few times," Micov recalled. "It was unbelievable to watch him, because he was not an athletic player. He's not quick, but everything that he does, he does with his head first... He could do whatever he wanted with the ball.”
When Siskauskas announced his retirement last spring, CSKA moved to add Micov, who had just turned in a fine second Euroleague season with Cantu of Italy, averaging 10.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists while making almost 40% of his three-point shots and 86% of his free throws. Although CSKA was replacing a player who did it all, Micov doesn't consider himself a direct successor to one of the top names in Euroleague history.
"At the moment, it's not good to say what difference there is between us, because he was one of the best three-man in Europe before he retired last year, and I have five, six, seven years ahead of me in which to play basketball," Micov said. "For me it's just a question of trying every year to do my best and trying to improve a few more things to maybe – in a few more years – be compared with Siskauskas."
Through 24 games this season, all but 7 coming off the bench, Micov is averaging 7.3 points while ranking eighth overall in the Euroleague by making 29 of 63 three-pointers, or 46%.
While aspects of their playing styles are undeniably similar, Micov is not merely an imitator.
"I just try to do some things like he did," he insists.
Neither does Micov feel any excess pressure because of the big shoes Siskauskas left to be filled.
"I don't want to feel any pressure going onto the court," he says. "The last thing I want is to feel like 'Siskauskas was here, so now you've arrived and you have to replace him -or do even more.' So I think it's just better to try to do my best."