A fun-to-watch forward who brought his team close to the Final Four for a second consecutive year, Novica Velickovic of Partizan Belgrade, has been rewarded with the 2009 Euroleague Rising Star Trophy in a vote of the competition's head coaches. Velickovic, 22, exploded in his fourth Euroleague season, becoming not only Partizan's newest go-to scorer, but one of the competition’s most decisive players in the crucial Top 16 round. Indeed, Velickovic won the MVP award for February, the only month exclusively devoted to the Top 16, while leading Partizan into the playoffs. He finished the season as Partizan's top scorer, with 11.5 points per game, and it's second best rebounder, with 5.1 on average. Velickovic was also among his team's best three players in steals, assists and blocks. Velickovic also ranked among the Euroleague's best 25 players of the season in both scoring and rebounds. Most of all, Velickovic proved to be a team leader despite his age at the most crucial juncture of the season, averaging 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds in Partizan's four victories during the Top 16. Led by Velickovic, the young Partizan team generated such a following in Belgrade that the team broke the all-time attendance record for European club competitions by attracting 22,567 fans to its last Top 16 home game. For his unique combination of talent and leadership skills, the Euroleague head coaches have tabbed Velickovic as the rising star of the competition this season.
February MVP: Novica Velickovic, Partizan
Interview: Novica Velickovic
The five-year old Rising Star Trophy recognizes the best Euroleague player who was younger than 22 on July 1 of the summer before the season started. In one of the closest votes ever, Regal FC Barcelona forward Ersan Ilyasova and Real Madrid point guard Sergio Llull tied for second place, right behind Velickovic. Further back in third place was his Partizan teammate, swingman Milenko Tepic. Fifth place was tied between Emir Preldzic of Fenerbahce and yet another Partizan youngster, forward Jan Vesely. The Rising Star Trophy is among several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Already announced have been the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, which was won by Igor Rakocevic of Tau Ceramica
, and the Best Defender Trophy, which went to Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos for a fifth straight year
. Still to be announced are the nominees for the All-Euroleague team. The All-Euroleague first and second teams, plus the Euroleague MVP, will be revealed at the Euroleague Basketball Awards Ceremony on May 2 during the Final Four in Berlin. The Aleksander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year are post-season awards.
A year ago, Velickovic had already established himself as a key to Partizan's first playoffs appearance of the decade. This season, he returned as a team leader to repeat that accomplishment, leading a young team whose competitive spirit attracted massive attention in Belgrade and beyond. Velickovic shined from the very beginning of the season, showing himself to be a new leader for head coach Dusko Vujosevic as Partizan upset Real Madrid in its Euroleague home opener. Velickovic would score in double digits in six of the first seven regular season games to put Partizan in position to reach the Top 16. In the next round, he started even stronger, with 19 points and 10 rebounds - his fifth career double-double - as Partizan topped regular season group winner Lottomatica Roma and Velickovic earned the Top 16 Week 2 MVP honor. That lit the fuse for four consecutive victories with which Partizan locked up an early playoff spot. By pacing the team in scoring, rebounds, steals and index rating for the month, Velickovic proved the driving force in Partizan's playoff run and, as such, was Euroleague Basketball's choice as MVP for February. Later, in his team's final Euroleague game of the season, Velickovic re-confirmed his potential with 26 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in Game 3 of the best-of-five playoffs against defending champion CSKA.
Velickovic is the fifth winner of the Rising Star Trophy. Last season the award went to Danilo Gallinari of AJ Milano. Rudy Fernandez of DKV Joventut won it in 2007. The 2006 trophy was awarded to Andrea Bargnani of Benetton Treviso while in 2005 the winner was Erazem Lorbek of Climamio Bologna.