BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Deyan Ivanov joined Spanish side Estudiantes this summer, taking in the advice of twin brother Kaloyan |
By Dimitris Kontos
The Ivanov twin brothers, Deyan and Kaloyan, are not only two of the finest Bulgarian players, but also have the capacity of shrinking the seemingly vast world of European basketball into a microcosmos.
Between the two of them, and despite the fact they are still only 27, they have played the game in seven different countries and plied their trade at over 20 different clubs.
The Ivanovs constantly compare experiences and exchange information, to the point that one cannot help but remember the line which Tom Cruise's character utters in the 2005 film War Of the Worlds: 'Haven't you heard? Between me and my brother, we know everything.'
In the summer, Deyan returned to Spain to join historical club Estudiantes.
Not by coincidence, the Madrid team are coached by Txus Vidorreta, who was at the helm of Alicante two years ago, when Kaloyan was playing there.
"And he [Kaloyan] has got this year in Avellino the coach I had last year," Deyan hastens to add when fibaeurope.com points out the fact.
Francesco Vitucci, who was Deyan's coach at Cimberio Varese last year, is now in charge of Sidigas Avellino in the Italian Serie A.
"I'm not going to lie, I chose Estudiantes only because of Txus [Vidorreta]," Deyan admits.
"For me he is one of the best basketball coaches and you know, I had never practised with him but I trust my brother.
"My brother told me he was one of the best coaches he had ever played for.
"So we talked with Txus, he showed me he is also a great person, and he shows it on and off the court."
Estudiantes is the third Spanish club that Deyan suits up for, and the 11th in his career.
The Madrid outfit started their Liga Endesa season with a defeat at Unicaja Malaga, but the 2.05m Bulgarian power forward has enough experience to know that this was just a minor pothole on a long road.
"We are a very young team and we expect to compete in every game," Deyan said.
"We have in almost every position players of 20 or 21 that have little experience in professional leagues.
"We have very clear objectives this season, we hope to go to the Copa del Rey and the [Liga Endesa] play-offs, it's going to be very difficult, but I hope we achieve it.
"The team is a very good prospect for the future, but this first year is going to be difficult."
|Kaloyan was Bulgaria's leading scorer and rebounder during the EuroBasket 2015 1st Qualification Round|
The Ivanov brothers are at their best when they play on the same team. They started their career together but in the last years they coincide only on the national team.
As a frontcourt duo, Deyan and Kaloyan combined for 26.3 points, 15.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game last summer, as Bulgaria reached the finals of the EuroBasket 2015 1st Qualification Round.
They lost however 61-49 to Estonia in the second leg of the tie, failing to secure the coveted ticket to Ukraine.
Deyan remembers every detail about the summer campaign vividly, but is not at all bitter about the outcome, despite the fact Bulgaria won six of their seven games to reach there.
"They [Estonia] also played all those games but they won in the last one," he says with a smile.
"One has to be the winner and the other has to be the loser, that's basketball.
"It's a sport and it has to be like this, the competition is like this, it doesn't matter if you drop out in the first game or you lose in the final.
"Nothing went wrong for us, it was just a final, we beat them in the first game, they beat us in the second.
"We went there, there were 8,000 people in the stands, they put on a great show.
"If you see the stats you will see they were better than us only in the first quarter, so credit to their public for giving them wings at the start of the game.
"After that we were better from the second quarter onwards but we couldn't come back from 15 points down in the first.
"It's a final, it can go both ways, so it's nothing strange."
|Deyan left a lasting impression in a Bulgaria jersey early in his career|
DEVELOPING NATIONAL TEAM PLAYERS
Deyan and Kaloyan left their native country at the age of 18 to pursuit their basketball dreams.
The big jump for the twins came after they delivered their credentials on the international stage in 2004.
Deyan averaged 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds at the U18 European Championship in Zaragoza with Bulgaria - Kaloyan contributed 16.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in the same tournament.
"My brother and I had to leave our home, we had very good European championships during our junior years so we had the luck to go to Russia, to a very good club for young players, [Avtodor] Saratov," Deyan explained.
"Bulgaria until the age of 18 is good for a young player, but after that you have to leave if you want to grow further, because the competition is not very strong.
"I think we have to change the mentality of the clubs to change basketball in Bulgaria.
"Right now they are only focusing on winning the championship, which is really wrong, because first place in the Bulgarian league does not even give you the right to play in Europe."
So what could be a way forward according to one of the two most cosmopolitan Bulgarian players right now?
"In my opinion, we have to look at Croatia or Serbia, we need to have two good teams and every other team has to turn into machines that produce players," Deyan suggests.
"We need to produce the players for the national team, even if they leave to play in Spain, in Turkey, in Italy, in the VTB [United league].
"So we don't need to make a championship that can compete with those leagues, we need to develop players that are competitive in those strong leagues.
"The important thing is to have a strong national team, the national team is what counts."