He was almost 30 years old before he first reached the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, but after hooking up late this preseason with Panathinaikos Athens, point guard Janis Blums is now playing in the competition for the third season of the last four - and doing better than ever. A native of Latvia, the Panathinaikos guard came a long way to make his mark on continental basketball.
"Latvia is very small and my hometown is very, very small. So for sure when I was younger it looked like it was very hard to get [to the Euroleague]. But you can make your dreams come true," Blums said. "I needed 12 professional years to make my dream to play here in the Euroleague."
He first fulfilled that dream in the 2011-12 season with Spanish side Gescrap Bilbao Basket, which he helped to reach the playoffs in the club's debut Euroleague campaign. He also played the 2012-13 Euroleague with Lietuvos Rytas of Lithuania.
Blums was just 21 when he went abroad to play for the first time with WTK Anwil Wloclawek in Poland. Since then he has also played for clubs in Lithuania, Italy, Spain, Kazakhstan and now Greece. Throughout all his journeys, Blums has not forgotten where he came from. He's quite proud to represent Latvia – along with Laboral Kutxa forward Davis Bertans – at this level.
"Basketball is number one in Latvia," Blums explained, adding that the success of players like himself and Bertans, or in the recent past of others like Kristaps Valters and Janis Strelnieks, helps the game grow in their country. "There's more interest now for young players, too. They know us and I hope a few players in the future will play here [in the Euroleague], too."
Though he joined Panathinaikos on a short-term contract at the end of the preseason, Blums made an immediate impact and after just six weeks had already signed an extension through the summer of 2016. His 24 three-pointers so far this season are the second-most per-minute among all Euroleague players, behind only Milos Teodosic of CSKA Moscow. And no one still playing in the Top 16 has made more three-pointers at a higher percentage than Blums.
That Blums has become been one of the Euroleague's top three-point shooters this season is not really much of a surprise. During his Euroleague campaigns with Bilbao, Rytas and now Panathinaikos, the three-point specialist has taken and made more than three times as many shots from downtown (60 for 145) as he has from two-point range (18 for 47), and has done so with better accuracy (41.4% to 38.3%).
Beyond the three-point shooting, experience and leadership that Blums, now 32, brings to the floor every night for the Greens, he also possesses a trait that is no less admirable for the lack of attention it receives: durability. Blums has played entire seasons where he not only didn't miss games, but was on the floor for every practice, too.
"There were a lot of times when I didn't feel good or was a little sick or had pain somewhere. It doesn't matter," he said. "For me, I didn't want to miss practice or the game. I went and tried to do my best to help the team."
That kind of commitment and work ethic has helped put Blums where he is today. His resume boasts championships with three different clubs and three appearances in the Eurocup semifinals, as well as reaching the 2007 Eurocup championship game with Rytas. As a key contributor off the bench for the Greens this season, look for Blums to continue draining threes and to help lead his team to fight for glory at every turn.