The Euroleague Rising Star Trophy has a repeat winner for the first time! Real Madrid forward Nikola Mirotic, whose breakout a year ago earned him the vote of Turkish Airlines Euroleague head coaches, is the Rising Star Trophy winner once again after dramatically improving his output this season. If last season Mirotic rose from a prospect to an important contributor for Los Blancos, this season he took the next step as a full-time starter and bona fide star. It was a season full of firsts for the 21-year-old forward. After just 10 weeks, Mirotic had notched his first Euroleague double-double, his first weekly bwin MVP honor and his first bwin MVP of the month award, for December. Despite being its youngest regular player, Mirotic led Madrid in performance index rating, 14.6 per game, and ranked among the team's top three in scoring, shooting percentage from all ranges, rebounding, steals and fouls drawn. Moreover, he was the Euroleague's single best free throw shooter, making 56 of 61 tries for a 91.8% accuracy rate, while ranking ninth overall in performance index rating. Mirotic won the award despite stiff competition from a strong crop of young talents. His emergence as one of the best young talents in the world and a leader on one of basketball's historic clubs convinced Euroleague head coaches to make Mirotic their choice again as the Rising Star Trophy winner for the 2011-12 season!
The Rising Star Trophy recognizes the best Euroleague player who was under the age of 22 on July 1 of the summer before the season started. Mirotic was one of several young stars of whom this year's Euroleague head coaches thought highly. Partizan mt:s big man Milan Macvan finished second in the voting, while center Furkan Aldemir of Galatasaray Medical Park and Olympiacos Piraeus guard Kostas Sloukas also garnered votes. Amazingly, both Mirotic and Aldemir will by age be eligible for the 2013 Rising Star Award, too. The Rising Star Trophy is one of several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Earlier in the week, the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy was credited to Montepaschi Siena playmaker Bo McCalebb. Still to be announced are the winner of the Best Defender Trophy and the nominees for the All-Euroleague team. The All-Euroleague first and second teams, plus the Euroleague MVP, will be revealed at the Efes Pilsener Euroleague Awards Ceremony on the evening of May 12 at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul during the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four. Two other awards, the Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year, are post-season awards.
Mirotic got off to a slow start to the season, but once he got going, there was no stopping him. He made his first start of his Euroleague career in Week 2, but had little impact. Through four games, Madrid was 2-2 and Mirotic had yet to score in double figures and was shooting far below his normal numbers. He got going in Week 5 with 17 points in a win against Anadolu Efes. Two games later game came his first Euroleague double-double: 11 points and 10 rebounds in a road win at EA7 Emporio Armani Milano. Mirotic followed that with one of the best games of any player this season. He scored 12 of his career-high 26 points in the first quarter alone to lead his team to an 88-64 rout of Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and into first place in Regular Season Group C. Mirotic added 21 points on 10-of-10 free throw shooting and 8 rebounds against Partizan and then 16 points against Efes as Madrid clinched first place with six straight wins to close that stage of the season. Mirotic was rewarded with the bwin MVP award for December. In the Top 16, he picked up where he left off, dropping in an exquisite shot with 0.5 seconds left to give Madrid a thrilling 80-81 road victory over fellow Spanish club Unicaja. Mirotic added 18 points in two more games, including the second against Unicaja, when he also had 10 rebounds for his second double-double. In the end, Madrid missed out on the playoffs due to a tiebreaker, but with Mirotic just starting out, the team appears to be in great shape for years to come. For the season, he finished with 12.5 points on 57% two-point and 43.9% three-point shooting plus 4.5 rebounds over 16 games.
As the first two-time winner of the prestigious award, Mirotic’s name now eclipses some of the other European basketball greats to receive the honor. Erazem Lorbek, then of Climamio Bologna, was the recipient of the inaugural Rising Star Award in 2005. He was followed by Andrea Bargnani of Benetton Treviso in 2006, Rudy Fernandez of DKV Joventut in 2007, Danilo Gallinari of Armani Jeans Milano in 2008, Novica Velickovic of Partizan, who is now Mirotic’s teammate in Madrid, in 2009 and Ricky Rubio of FC Barcelona Regal in 2010. Mirotic will be honored as the Rising Star Trophy winner at the Euroleague Awards Ceremony during the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four.