Zenit St Petersburg point guard Andrew Albicy is enjoying his first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season more and more. The soon-to-be 30-year-old veteran rookie has come into his own as this EuroLeague season has progressed. His game-winner on the road against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in Round 15 lit the fuse on Zenit's recent run of four wins in seven games, during which Albicy has averaged 8.8 points and 4.1 assists.
Albicy joined Zenit after having earned All-7DAYS EuroCup First Team honors last season while leading MoraBanc Andorra to that competition's semifinals. He then helping the French national team win the bronze medal at the 2019 World Cup. Why he has waited so long to become a veteran rookie in the EuroLeague may be a question for others, but Albicy does not carry a chip on his shoulder, in part because he has faced doubters his entire basketball life due to his height -- or rather, his lack of it.
"To me, being small has never been a disadvantage."
"Yes, 1.78 meters," he nods. "But to me, being small has never been a disadvantage. In today's basketball you have a lot of tough, small point guards. For me it has never been problem."
Rather, the Zenit point guard looks upon his size as an advantage, one that gives him more speed, reaction time and energy than most bigger players, which come in addition to his some of his other qualities, like leadership, court vision and defense.
"It is exactly that," Albicy confirms. "Yes, having height has its advantages. But being small has its own advantages. I think us smaller point guards make use of those advantages every time."
Indeed, smaller guards like Real Madrid's Facundo Campazzo, last year's scoring champ Mike James, and former EuroLeague champions Ali Muhammed and Tyrese Rice, all have shined in the EuroLeague in recent years. That's not to mention the unbelievable performances this season and last by Shane Larkin. Among the current crop of EuroLeague newcomers, Albicy has been joined by ALBA Berlin's Peyton Siva as point guards finding success in their debut seasons.
"Every time they did not pick me because I was small, that was an extra motivation."
Though all of those players stand couple of centimeters taller than Albicy, each them is 1.85 meters or shorter. They boast a common trait that makes them stand out even among the EuroLeague's best players.
"Quickness," Albicy says. "We are faster than bigger men. We can take advantage of that. We can pass our defender and use our court vision. So, it is not problem to be small."
Albicy has the added advantage of experience, which he values more than any physical trait -- and puts to good use: "With experience, you see better the defense that you will face, and you know how to react"
Albicy believes that the disadvantage of being short can be overcome on the defensive end, too:
"I think I can defend anybody. Press full-court, steal the ball better than bigger guys. That is our advantage. A lot of people will try to post up against us, but I have no problem with that. I try, by being smart, to force them into mistakes, draw a foul, trick them a little bit."
To best use stature to his advantage, Albicy knows that one aspect of the game can help him a lot: shooting, in which he has improved dramatically over the last two seasons. He made 44 threes on 43.1% accuracy in 20 EuroCup games with Andorra last season. In this one, he has knocked down 4 three-pointers in three different EuroLeague games and made at least 1 in nine of the last 11.
"I work on my shot because I know that if I make shots, people will come closer to defend me and then I will use my speed to go to the rim, or pass the ball," he says. "That is very important."
Albicy also works on improving his physical shape, but believes that mental approach and mindset make the big difference.
"I am hungry all the time," he says. "I want to be the best on the court, to 'kill' my opponent, so to say, every time I can."
Still, there were plenty of slights when Albicy was younger that motivated him to do all the work it has taken to reach where he is today. Although he grew up with Racing Paris, he never played for INSEP, the France's National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance, which usually has had all the country's best players under its tutelage. Albicy was used to being looked over as a teenager, however.
"Every time they did not pick me because I was small, that was an extra motivation," he admits. "Every time I would play against guys from INSEP or another sports academy that also thought I was small, that would be a motivation for me."
The worries about his height quickly went away because of how Albicy played. He was soon a member of the youth national teams, which he led to the U20 European Championship gold medal back in 2010 as tournament MVP. France defeated a Greece team led by Kostas Sloukas, Kostas Papanikolaou and Vangelis Mantzaris. Although it happened a decade ago, Albicy refers to that experience as "one of the most important parts of my career."
"It was a long road, but I finally put my two feet in the EuroLeague."
"It showed me the way to be the best among my generation," he says. "And right after that, Vincent Collet invited me to play with the national team at the 2010 World Cup, where I did not expect to play, and I played 20 minutes against Spain right away. I realized that I can play at the high level and that I will be a basketball player."
Now, that he is competing at Europe's most-elite level, he doesn't lack for more motivation as he looks at players his size around the EuroLeague.
"Shane Larkin and Facu Campazzo, they are short like me. If I could play like them, it would be good for me," Albicy smiles. "I always said I wanted to play against the best players in the world. It was a long road, but I finally put my two feet in the EuroLeague. I am in my prime, and it is important to show people I can play at this level, and stay at this level."