He is the second-youngest player registered in the competition - after Millan Jimenez of Valencia Basket - and as of Tuesday, he is the first player born in 2002 to play a game in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague this season. Born August 5, 2002, Matthew Strazel made sure no-one will forget his EuroLeague debut. The guard played a big role in LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne's win against one of the powerhouses in the competition, KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Strazel was not even born when ASVEL last beat Baskonia at home, 73-71, on December 29, 2001. That day, a young Luis Scola led all scorers with 19 points. Scola, currently with AX Armani Exchange Milan, was playing in the EuroLeague before Strazel was born!
Many expected ASVEL to have a superior teenage talent contributing from the point guard spot this season, but with Theo Maledon sidelined by a shoulder injury, Coach Zvezdan Mitrovic turned to another youngster to take his place. Strazel came off the bench late in the first quarter and hit his first shot, a three-pointer from the right wing. Three minutes later, he struck again from downtown, downing a catch-and-shoot bomb from the right corner that ignited the crowd. Strazel would have time to bury another long shot, from deep, to tie the game for the first time since the opening basket. When the dust settled, he played 13 minutes and finished the game with 9 points, hitting 3 of his 4 shots from beyond the arc.
"I felt a little bit of pressure when I came on the court, but I was focused on my defense and I had the chance to make some open shots," Strazel said. "Coach gave me my chance, he told me he’s confident in me and I’m very thankful!"
The element of surprise was at play for ASVEl, too. Baskonia was simply not prepared for Strazel when he came into the game. "I am surprised, because we never saw him before," Baskonia head coach Velimir Perasovic said after the game.
"Matthew [Strazel] is a good guy, a talented player. When I saw him in practice for the first time last year, he played with the older guys and had to respect them in a positive way. He felt comfortable, shot, passed the ball and played hard on defense," Mitrovic explained when asked about Strazel in the post-game press conference. "I think the guy deserved the minutes and I like to give chances to everybody in my team. He grabbed his chances and played well."
The future looks very promising with two 21st century playmakers, Maledon and Strazel, and Mitrovic is well-aware of the damage they can cause. "I planned to play him in Kaunas, too, you know? But he was injured and had some family problems. He made some mistakes, but he played some minutes tonight. It is the future of our basketball, not only ASVEL, but also in France. He is on the good road and has to stay on the right track now," Mitrovic said. "We have Theo Maledon and him, two talents who are not easy to find. If you have players like Theo and Matthew, it is really a pleasure to give them the chance to play serious basketball."