The Rest of the World continued their dominance over their European counterparts in the FIBA Europe League All Star Day in Nicosia, Cyprus on Thursday night. Just as in last year’s game in Kiev, the game was a closely fought affair (102 – 106), but the Rest of The World came good at the end, behind an MVP performance from Shammond Williams.
The Rest of the World were in control for nearly 35 minutes, but Europe came storming back in the final 5 minutes.
The UNICS Kazan guard had a hand in his side's final 11 points of the game, scoring 8 himself and dishing an assist to Ruben Wolkowisky (BC Khimki) for the game-breaking three-pointer.
Williams’, who finished with 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds, timed his interlude to perfection.
Europe trailed 77-86 at the 3rd quarter break. Three baskets from Europe’s inside combination of Kaspars Kambala (UNICS Kazan) and Erez Markovich (Nahariya) gave their side a quick start. Then it was Fenerbahce’s Omer Onan who scored lay-ups on consecutive possessions, followed up with a 3-pointer from Jon Steffanson (Dynamo St Petersburg), which cut the score to 88-90 and saw Europe right back in contention.
Williams answered on the next 3 possessions with a driving lay-up, jump shot and 2 free throws, to keep his side ahead, 95-98.
He then found Wolkowisky for an open 3 to extend the gap to 6 points, 95-101.
Although it was that shot that probably ended Europe’s hopes, Williams sealed their fate on the next play. Following a steal by Kelly McCarty (Dynamo St. Petersburg), Williams found himself all alone with the basket at his mercy. The 188 cm finished his style, and his reverse double-pump jam finished Europe off with a flourish.
Despite almost single handedly winning the game for his side, Williams was modest about his MVP display.
“We did a great job as a team and we really gelled,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who is the MVP or how many points anybody scores. We came here to win and that is what we did.”
A win for the Rest of the World looked a certainty for almost 30 minutes. Europe led 11-7 after 5 minutes, but the Rest of the World soon took control. A three-pointer by Williams gave them their first lead, and it was Williams again who nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give his side a 27-34 lead at the end of 10 minutes.
While the Rest of the World managed to spread their offense, Europe were more reliant on individual play.
Ratko Varda (Besiktas) was particularly impressive for the Europeans early on. Guarded by the formidable Art Long (Mariupol), Varda (18 points) showed his entire offensive repertoire, scoring from inside and out and hitting 8 first quarter points to keep the scores close.
But in the second and third periods, the Rest of the World maintained a comfortable lead. Kamabala (20 points) and Markovich remained dangerous inside for Europe, but they couldn’t close the gap.
It was only in the final moments that Europe managed to string together a scoring run and suddenly the game was serious.
“We took it pretty seriously,” said Kelly McCarty after the game. “You saw guys playing more defense than usual, and guys were actually trying to win. There was a couple of guys talking to the refs, telling them to make some calls, so there was some competitiveness going on. It wasn’t just a cakewalk.”
For Rest of the World Coach David Blatt, the win capped a positive experience.
“When you’re involved with a lot of really good players, in this case great players, as a coach it’s quite easy,” said Blatt.
“You can put in a couple of sets and give guys a framework to work within, and then allow them to use their talent and knowledge in the game to make plays and make good decisions. In this case at the same time, we want to give a good show to the fans."
And a good show was exactly what the fans got.
The event was the first of its kind in Cyprus, and the Eleftheria stadium in Nicosia was filled to the rafters with a capacity 5,000 crowd. They not only saw an All-Star game, but a 3-point shootout, a performance from the Slamnation and a concert featuring Constantinos Christoforou and Helena Paarizou, who will represent Cyprus and Greece respectively at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest.
For Lemesos player Michael McDonald, the All-Star Day was not only a chance to play with some of Europe’s top players, but to promote basketball in Cyprus.
“I think this is a real good event for Cyprus,” he said. “Everybody had fun. I think this is the first time anything like this ever happened, so I’m excited for Cyprus as a country.”
I had a great time, seeing old friends, so it was overwhelming for me. I had the time of my life, especially at this point of my career. The team I’m on right now (Lemesos) is like my extended family and I love it here.”