By Yarone Arbel
If you're trying to find the reason Tartu Rock made history and qualified for the Final Four of the EuroCup one of the main ones is George Tsintsadze.
The Georgian point guard is only 22 but you can't really tell that when you watch how he handles his team on court.
Despite his young age Tsintsadze and the fact this is his second season in Estonia, is already has big names on his resume like CSKA and Dynamo Moscow, but right now those big names don't concern him very much. Right now he wants to play and win.
He started to play basketball in Georgia at the age of nine, and after two years moved to one of the basketball academies in his native country. The next step was a local senior team, but the big break came only in the summer he was 17.
An invitation to a basketball camp in Moscow, Russia changed the route of his career. The staff of the big empire CSKA Moscow laid their eyes on the talent and following the eyes were their hands. Tsintsadze was signed on a long term deal and moved to the Russian capital.
The move was too fast and too soon for the talent. He became one of the youngest players to ever play in a Euroleague game, but the bottom line was very few minutes at the end of the season. The following season he traveled between Samara and Ural Great in what was "a wasted season" according to him, and next was half a season with Dynamo Moscow.
"I had a very good experience in Dynamo. I didn't play as much as I do here, but coach Dusan Ivkovic taught me a lot and I had a good time there," but he still looked for the big minutes so he could improve his game.
The move to Estonia for the 2006/07 was a blessing but not a natural one. Knowing that the country doesn't have a big legacy of basketball didn't make Tsintsadze take the first flight to Tartu, but "After I checked and saw they play in the Baltic league and the EuroCup I was ready to sign," he tells fibaeurope.com.
"The most important thing for me was to get minutes and play, so I could improve my game. I knew I could get it there, and when I realized I'll play in good competitions, I understood this can be the right place for me.
"I'm a young player, and have a lot to work on. I don't need to be a in a top European team right now, like before. For what I need now this is the perfect place for me."
The first season he was still adjusting, but still produced 10.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and was one of the top five passers in the Baltic league with 4.0 assists per contest. This season it's blooming time, but he's still humble enough to know he has a long way full of hard work before he makes it back to the top, this time as a key player.
Tsintsadze knows what made the difference for him this year.
"Last year I played around 20-25 minutes a game, and I wasn't free to play my game. There were other players who got more chances to shoot and create," says Tsintsadze.
"Now, with the new coach, we play more team basketball. It's easier for everybody to play this way, and we also play tougher on defense. I get to express myself much better in this situation," and expressing he does.
Tsintsadze is leading his team in points (14.6), assists (5.2 - 2nd best in EuroCup) and steals (1.6 - 9th best in EuroCup). His game is very creative, and his athletic abilities allow him to slash to the rim easily time after time, where he can finish well or dish the ball to an open team-mate.
"I'm very young, so I need to improve all aspect of my game and work hard. Some things I need to focus on are my defense and my shot and decision making," which is obvious considering he leads the EuroCup in turnovers per game (3.5).
Making it to the EuroCup Final Four wasn't in his plans but just like his team as time moved on, he got used to the idea.
"When we started to practice I didn't expect us to go so far, but during the season, when we saw we can match and beat other teams, I changed my mind. It was very hard to beat Ural Great in the quarter-finals, but we had our home advantage and that helped us a lot."
It's easy to see the excitement of Tsintsadze when he talks about Tartu's home court and the push they get from the fans.
"At home we're a different team. It's very hard to beat us over there. We don't have a huge gym, around 3,000 seats, but it's always full and the fans keep pushing us the whole game. They create a huge atmosphere."
"The management worked hard to get as many fans to come with us here, and I think we have about 200 fans. It's not a lot, but I hope they'll be able to create a good atmosphere for us."
Coming into the game against Barons the leader of Tartu sounds full of confidence in his team's chances to win and advance. Despite the two losses to the Latvian side in the Baltic league, he's sure this game could be a different story.
"In the first game we lost them it was in Tartu and they took off only in the last 2-3 minutes. It was still the early part of the season and we weren't in good shape. The second game they took a big lead right from the start, but things are different now," he's trying to explain the change.
"After that we found our game and when a team finds their game it's very difficult to stop them. Right now we play like a team. It's going to be one game and everybody knows that in sports anything can happen in a given night."
An indication of how special this season is for Tsintsadze was seen in the deciding game of the quarter-finals. Facing Ural Great, one of the Russian teams that didn't give him enough credits in his young years, Tsintsadze showed he's a big-game player and produced his best performance of the season - 25 points (season high) behind 10/10 from the charity stripe in addition to four rebounds, three assists and only two turnovers.
"I finished the first half with very few good plays, but in the second half it was just 'my day'. My team-mates were helping me, I have great understanding with my back-court team-mate Tanel Tien, and together we took over the game."