The Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, awarded annually to the Euroleague player with the most points averaged over a minimum number of games, has been won by Marc Salyers of Chorale Roanne. Salyers became the first player whose team was eliminated at the end of the regular season to win the only post-season Euroleague award based purely on statistics. The minimum games to be eligible for the Alphonso Ford award is 13, and Salyers played all 14 regular season games with Roanne to became the winner with a scoring average of 21.79 points, almost 4 points per game more than any other player. Salyers was the only player to average more than 20 points in the regular season and also the only one to get 300 points in the opening phase. His performance came as no surprise, however, as Chorale Roanne entertained everyone during its Euroleague debut with a run-and-gun scoring show. "I never had the chance to prove myself at the top level before this," Salyers said. "Just playing the competition was something special, but leading the Euroleague in scoring means a lot to me."
Salyers was not only the regular season top scorer, but arguably one of the most spectacular players this season, pleasing fans with three-pointers from way downtown and alley-oop dunks. Willie Solomon of Fenerbahce Ulker was second in the top scoring race (17.9 ppg), Jeremiah Massey of Aris TT Bank third (17 ppg.) Hollis Price of Lietuvos Rytas fourth (16.85 ppg.) and Nikola Pekovic of Partizan Igokea fifth (16.43 ppg.). Salyers had a Euroleague season-high scoring record of 40 points against Fenerbahce and broke the 25-point barrier three other times - against Brose Baskets, AXA FC Barcelona and Panathinaikos - during the regular season.
Salyers follows Igor Rakocevic of Tau Ceramica, Drew Nicholas of Benetton Treviso and the trophy's first winner, Charles Smith of Scavolini Pesaro, to become the fourth player to win the award. Alphonso Ford died of leukemia in September 2004 after a career in which he was the competition's top scorer twice, in 2000-01 and 2001-02, both seasons with Olympiacos. He subsequently led Montepaschi Siena in scoring as it reached the 2003 Final Four in its debut Euroleague season. The Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy is the first in a series of Euroleague end-of-season honors. Other to be announced shortly include: the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy for players under 22, the Euroleague Best Defender Trophy, the All-Euroleague first and second team, and the Euroleague MVP, the last two to be revealed at the Euroleague Basketball Awards Ceremony on May 3 during the Final Four in Madrid. The Aleksander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year are post-season awards.
The Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy highlights of an interesting career for Salyers, who recently turned 29 years old. Salyers has been filling the baskets virtually everywhere in Europe for the last eight years. Once he finished his career at Samford University, averaging 17.2 points in his senior season. Salyers had to work his way up a long ladder to the Euroleague. He started with two seasons at Basket Draghi Novara in Italy's second division. He reached the 30-point mark in eight games, getting as many as 39 in a game against Reggio Emilia and averaging 19.4 in 32 games in the 2002-03 season. Salyers moved to Oyak Renault Bursa, boosting his scoring average to 25.3 points in 23 Turkish League games. After a brief stay in Pau-Orthez, he returned to Turkey to play for Fenerbahce. Salyers showcased his scoring skills in a European club competition, averaging 16.6 points in 19 FIBA Europe League and helping Fenerbahce to make it to that competition's semifinals. After an eventful season in which Salyers played for four teams - Gravelines Dunkerque of France, BG Leitershofen of Germany, the Pusan KTF Magic Wings of South Korea and Montecatini of Italy, he reached an agreement to join Roanne for the 2006-07 season. Salyers has played his best basketball since that moment, averaging 19.1 points while helping Chorale to win both the French League and the Semaine Des As titles, earning MVP honours in both ocassions. He had 27 points in the French League final against Nancy and scored 29 in the Semaine Des As title game against Le Mans. Salyers has gone one step higher by winning the Alphonso Ford Trophy in the prime of his career.
Marc, congratulations on winning the Alphonso Ford Trophy. How does it feel to be part of Euroleague history as this season's top scorer?
"Of course, it is a big honor for me. Growing up, I didn't know much about the Euroleague, but once you have played a couple of years over here, you know how special it is. Being considered the best scorer in the Euroleague is great. It is a big honor, no question about that."
What did it mean for you to be part of the Euroleague and what impressions were you left with about the competition?
"One of my goals after a couple of years in European basketball was to play the Euroleague and try to prove myself. I had some good years and I was a good scorer, but I never had the chance to prove myself at the top level before this. It was really important for me to have a great season in my first Euroleague year. Just playing the competition was something special, but leading the Euroleague in scoring means a lot to me, individually. It is just as strong as I expected. I had already played against some Euroleague teams in domestic competitions. I kind of knew that we had to face a very strong team every single night. There are no easy games in the Euroleague and you need a good start to do well. We played Panathinaikos one week, Real Madrid the next or Barcelona the following one. The playing level just shows how great the Euroleague is."
Your team, Chorale Roanne, entertained everyone with a run-and-gun show. How enjoyable was it to play your and the club's Euroleague debut in that exciting style?
"I love our style. We are a team that wants to please fans. It was great to play the Euroleague, even when we didn't have to chance to play in the Top 16 like wanted to, but we were really close. We managed to lose two narrow games against Partizan, games that we were leading, and it happened the same against Fenerbahce. But we played well and finished the season with a big win in Rome in the last game. We tried to send a message that we were a dangerous team that always wanted to win and not just show up. It was exciting."
You are just as capable of hitting deep three-pointers as throwing down monster dunks. Where did your versatility come from?
"I didn't play basketball growing up as a little kid. I only played streetball, but I didn't play any organized basketball those years. There are no rules in streetball, nobody posts up and everyone plays run-and-gun. You shoot some deep shots, sometimes you take crazy ones. I am tall and I proved myself facing the basket at an early age, before starting to play organized basketball. So maybe this is where that versatility comes from."
From the Italian second division two seasons ago to a Euroleague award winner is quite a jump. What can fans expect from Marc Salyers in the future?
"Hopefully, a lot more. I am 29 but my body is in great shape and I've had no injuries in my career. Like I said, I didn't play basketball until I was 17 years old, so I'm late bloomer. I am sure I have many years left to go."
Tiago Splitter of Tau Ceramica has an added reason to celebrate his team's fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four. Splitter also earned the Quarterfinal Playoffs, Game 3 MVP honor by piling up the best performance index rating, 27, of three games this week. Splitter tallied 18 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks as Tau defeated Partizan Igokea 85-68 in a do-or-die third game to win their playoff series. He made 7 of 9 two-point shots and 4 of 5 free throws and also added 2 assists, a steal and 5 fouls drawn. This is the second time this season Splitter has earned weekly MVP honors, having also accomplished the feat back in Week 9 of the regular season. Yotam Halperin and Fran Vazquez were second on the weekly list with index ratings of 25 each. Halperin posted 17 points, 9 assists, 3 steals and 8 fouls drawn as Maccabi bested AXA FC Barcelona 88-75. Vazquez, who was on the losing end in that contest, finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. He also had 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Maccabi teammates Will Bynum and David Bluthenthal, as well as CSKA Moscow teammates Matjaz Smodis and Ramunas Siskauskas, rounded out the leader chart with indexes of 23 each. Siskauskas made a career-high 5 three-pointers among 6 tries for 24 points in CSKA's 81-56 win over Olympiacos. Smodis had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in that game. Bluthenthal was also 5 for 6 from downtown for a season-high 21 points and Bynum likewise scored 21 off the bench for Maccabi.
Individual highs: Zoran Planinic, Tau Ceramic, career-high in blocks
Siskauskas was the week's top scorer with his 24-point performance in CSKA's win. He finished the playoffs with an 18.7 points per game average, second-best to only Barcelona's Gianluca Basile with 19.3 points per game. Vazquez had the only double-double of the week and led all players with 13 rebounds, giving him 8.3 boards per game for the playoffs. Vazquez was the second-best rebounder in the round, to Maccabi's Terence Morris, who finished the playoffs with 9.7 per game. Halperin's 9 assists were the most of the week and saw him overtake Theo Papaloukas of CSKA, Lynn Greer of Olympiacos and Terrell McIntyre of Montepaschi as the best passer in the playoffs. Halperin finished with 5.3 assists per game, while the other three all averaged 5 per game. Milanko Tepic of Partizan recorded a season-high 4 steals in his team's loss at Tau, but he finished far behind playoff leader Shaun Stonerook of Montepaschi, who averaged 5 per game in his team's sweep of Fenerbahce Ulker. Tau's Zoran Planinic blocked a career-best 3 shots this week after having only 2 blocks total in the first 22 games of the season. Maccabi's Morris finished the playoffs with 2.3 blocks per game.