There is every reason to believe that one of the rising big men in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague is ready to play even better when the Top 16 gets underway next week. Ali Traore was a marquee signing for Lottomatica Roma over the summer, thanks to his breakout season in the Euroleague with Asvel Basket of France last year. The 25-year-old left-hander certainly did his part in helping Roma advance, scoring the third-most points on the team and ripping the second-most rebounds in the regular season. But late in the regular season, after an adjustment period, he concentrated more than half of his scoring and almost as much of his rebounding in just the last four games. With those performances giving him great momentum, expect Traore to become a big factor in Roma's dreams in the Top 16, too.
Born in Ivory Coast, Traore started his career with Asvel Basket of France, and even made his Euroleague debut with a brief appearance at age 16! Looking for extended playing time after a short stay in the United States, Traore joined Quimper of the French second division, where his size and post skills did not go unnoticed. Soon, first-division French power Chorale Roanne signed him for the 2005-06 season. Traore then moved to Le Havre before returning to Asvel in the summer of 2008. It all clicked last season, as Traore averaged 14.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 10 Euroleague games - more than seven years after his competition debut.
It took some time this season for Traore to a adjust to a new club in a new country. Once he did, however, he became a force again, playing some of the best basketball of his career. Just when Roma needed to assure its place in the Top 16, Traore blossomed. He scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half as Roma shook off its nearest pursuer, Spirou Charleroi, with a big home win in the sixth game. He followed that with three more games scoring in double figures, plus his first double-digit rebounding game of the season. All told, Traore averaged 14 points on 64.1% two-point shooting and 6.7 rebounds as Roma finished 5-5 to rejoin the Top 16 after a one-season absence.
Traore's resurgence offers plenty good signs for Roma heading into the Top 16. Besides coming on late, Traore registered his best regular-season performances against the strongest teams that Roma faced: 22 points and 6 rebounds against Olympiacos, 12 and 10, respectively, against Unicaja, and 12 and 8 against Real Madrid. A blue-collar player who never gives up, Traore can be truly unstoppable in the paint due to his great set of post moves, highlighted by a very effective jump hook. Traore knows how to use both hands, which turns him into a very hard-to-guard, unpredictable player. A good rebounder, especially on offense, Traore alos knows his limits and plays under control, with very few turnovers.
Traore has never played in a Top 16 before and Roma, in its three previous tries, has never won more than two games in the round. With youth and experience on his side, Traore's best years are ahead, even though he is already close to becoming a Euroleague star. The timing would be perfect for this son of Africa to make the final step to stardom in the Top 16!