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November MVP: Sani Becirovic, Lottomatica Roma
December 1, 2008
A player who has withstood a roller-coaster career by means of his strong character, Sani Becirovic of Lottomatica Roma, has been chosen the MVP for November by Euroleague Basketball. At age 27, Becirovic has already seen the highs and lows of Euroleague competition this decade, scoring more than 20 points per game as a teenager, losing two seasons to a career-threatening injury, and returning to become a continental champ with Panathinaikos in 2007. Having arrived to the Italian capital this season with the role of veteran floor director, Becirovic filled it to perfection in November. Whether going home to Slovenia to face his old club, Union Olimpija, challenging one of the Euroleague's historically toughest home teams, Tau Ceramica, or squaring off for first place against Fenerbahce, Becirovic was consistently the right man in the right place at the right time for Roma. He finished the month averaging 19 points, 3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in almost 27 minutes per game. His efforts added to those of his teammates to produce three stellar victories that landed Rome alone at the top of Group C. For helping to make his team one of just two holding first place exclusively at midseason, Sani Becirovic is Euroleague Basketball's choice as the MVP for November.
Euroleague Basketball's MVP of the Month honor is in its fifth season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance during the previous month. The award for November was decided considering the three regular season games played by all teams during that month.
November could have gone either way for Roma, which started the month with a 1-1 record. The first game was in Ljubljana against Olimpija, where Becirovic had starred for two seasons as a teenager, and where mighty Tau had survived by only a single point the previous week. Roma never let it get so close as Becirovic was everywhere in the 67-78 victory. He came off the bench early to give Roma its first lead and helped bust the game open in the second and third quarters before finishing with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Next stop for Roma was Vitoria, Spain, where Tau had lost only once in the previous three seasons and 34 Euroleague games. This time, Becirovic entered the game late, but quickly gave Roma its biggest lead and helped preserve double-digit advantages into the final quarter, when his great free throw shooting - 24 for 28, or 85%, for the month - held off a Tau rally for a 90-93 Roma victory. He finished with 23 points again, marking the first time since his 2000-01 scoring shows at Olimpija that Becirovic had surpassed 20 points in consecutive Euroleague games. To top off the month, Roma hosted Fenerbahce for a winner-take-all first-place showdown. Becirovic made his first start of the season and scored off the opening tipoff, and had 6 points by the end of the first quarter, but mostly dedicated himself to playmaking after that. It was still a three-point difference just before the final minute, but Becirovic fed a teammate for an uncontested dunk then drove through Fenerbahce's defense for the basket to seal the victory.
Roma was one of three teams, including CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos, to finish November with perfect 3-0 records. But its two road victories, including one at the Euroleague's toughest place to play in recent years, made Roma's accomplishment less expected. The result: midway through the regular season, Roma is in first place exclusively for the first time since its return to Euroleague play in 2003-04 after more than a decade away. Good times have returned for Roma, and the arrival of Becirovic - a born scorer who re-invented himself as a floor general after a horrendous injury – adds doses of leadership and clear-eyed perspective that all good teams need. Becirovic will receive his November MVP award at an upcoming Lottomatica Roma home game.
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