If one team is a surprise to be seen standing alone with a 2-0 record atop its Top 16 group, it is Unics Kazan of Russia, a rookie in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. And if there is one player who has everything to do with that startling success, it is veteran guard Henry Domercant, who is Euroleague Basketballs choice as bwin MVP for January. In the first month of the new year and its first Top 16 games ever, Unics not only became the only team so far to defeat two group opponents that were seeded higher at the recent Top 16 Draw. It also became the first Euroleague newcomer since 2003 to win its first two Top 16 games. In both of those showdowns, at home against Fenerbahce Ulker and on the road at defending champion Panathinaikos, Unics came back from sizeable deficits that Domercant did a whole lot to erase. If resting on its unexpected regular season success was ever a risk for Unics, Domercant made sure that did not happen at the start of the Top 16. In January, he improved on his already-impressive regular-season averages to 18.5 points on 41.7% three-point shooting plus 4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Those numbers translated into a performance index rating of 26 per game, but they only tell part of the story. Unics could easily have lost either game without Domercants big production in timely moments and against elite defenders. He made the difference in the most important numbers of all, Unics taking a 2-0 lead in Group G with four Top 16 games left. All of which makes Domercant a compelling choice as bwin MVP for January!
The bwin MVP of the Month honor is now in its eighth 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 teams performance. The award for January was decided based on the two Top 16 games that all teams played between Wednesday, January 18 and Thursday, January 26. Euroleague Basketball partner bwin is the sponsor of the MVP of the Month award. Just as the best Euroleague player each month combines performance and leadership for success, so does bwins sponsorship communicate its conviction to be the best betting brand in European basketball.
The first game of the Top 16 took place in Kazan, but things did not go the hosts’ way early. After a 0-15 Fenerbahce Ulker second-quarter run, the Turkish champs led 21-38 and Domercant had just 1 point to his name. Then, the shooting guard netted 2 free throws to end his team’s lengthy scoring drought and help narrow the gap to 14 at the halftime break. Unics started to make its way back in the third quarter, though Domercant’s role was limited to 2 points, 2 assists and 1 steal. Then, he took over the fourth quarter. A Domercant triple gave Unics its first lead since the games early minutes, 58-56. After FB Ulker tied the game, Domercant buried triples on Unics’s next two possessions. When the dust cleared, he had single-handily outscored FB Ulker 11-6 in the first 7 minutes of the fourth quarter and put Unics on the path to victory. He finished the night with 16 points, 3 assists, 2 steals and a career-high 2 blocks as Unics snatched a 76-71 win. The next week, Unics travelled to Greece to visit the defending champs, Panathinaikos. Domercant knew what to expect from the hostile OAKA crowd from his playing days at the Greens’ biggest rival, Olympiacos. On this night, he went to work early. With Unics down by 7 points after 4 minutes, Domercant came through with 8 points before the first quarter ended, to prevent the game from getting ugly. In the second quarter, after his teammates narrowed the gap, Domercant went to work against one of the game’s premier defenders, six-time Euroleague Best Defender Dimitris Diamantidis. His fade-away jumper over Panathinaikos’s star guard put Unics ahead 35-36. After Panathinaikos answered, Domercant put Kazan ahead once more. The game was still close late in the third quarter when Domercant went to work again with a layup and a dish to Aleksey Savrasenko that made it 56-63 at the end of the quarter. His triple to start the fourth made it a 10-point game and Domercant polished off the win with free throws down the stretch. His final tally in Athens was 21 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists as his team stunned the champs 83-89. It marked the first time in eight years that any team visiting Athens had scored so many points and won against Panathinaikos.
For Domercant, who turned 31 before the Top 16 started, this is his sixth Euroleague season with his fourth different team. His teams have made the playoffs in four of his previous five seasons. So far in this one, Domercant is ranked fifth among all Euroleague players in scoring (16.8 ppg.) and second in three-point shooting accuracy (53.1 %) with more threes made (34) than any other player. Furthermore, his 4.4 rebounds per game is not only on pace for a career high, but more than any other guard to reach the Top 16. And his 7.5 fouls drawn per game is also No. 2 in the Euroleague. With Domercant firing on all cylinders, more specials nights figure to be in the making for Unics Kazan, whose fans can enjoy watching one of their stars receive his award at an upcoming home game.