By Antonis Stroggylakis / email@example.com
If you find yourself in an empty EuroLeague arena (a common reality nowadays due to health protocols amid the coronavirus crisis), you’ll discover that you can pick up all sorts of sounds, and noises from what takes place on the floor and around it, apart from the usual squeaking of sneakers: Coaches shouting directions and systems from the bench. Players communicating with each other on the floor. Some doses of complaints to the referees.
With a couple of seconds remaining in the game between Olympiacos Piraeus and Anadolu Efes in “Peace and Friendship” stadium, there was one guy, in particular, at the bench of the Turkish team, whose voice couldn’t go unnoticed. “Get it up, get it up, that’s what we do now.” It was Shane Larkin‘s battle cry and call for high-fives and celebration to his teammates ahead of the happy conclusion of his season debut and his first match overall since March.
Larkin wasn’t simply expressing his particularly high spirits after finally returning to action with a win following his recovery from surgery and having to spend months without touching the ball. More importantly, he wanted to transmit some valuable and beneficial air of positiveness that he believed his squad lacked. Make everyone realize that, with him back on board, Efes will be heading to an upwards course once again after a 1-3 record before the match in Piraeus.
It was something he felt it was his duty to do so.
“We lost in some games that we wanted to win. And when I first got here, I could feel that energy. It wasn’t as positive as we’d like it to be. So, to be able to come here against a good team and get a win. You just want to put that energy upon your teammates. Be that leader and tell them that we’re good,” Larkin told Eurohoops in the aftermath of the victory and right before leaving the gym with his team for the trip back to Istanbul, Turkey.
“This is what we do now. We don’t lose. We win,” Larkin added.
Larkin was lusting to play again and he made his craving abundantly obvious not long after jumping into the game off the bench at the end of the first quarter.
After getting his feet wet by attempting a couple of 3-pointers and looking to be involved mainly by initiating offense for others, Larkin’s instinct and raw aggressiveness took over and he began driving to the basket. These otherwise devastating penetrations crashed like waves on the rock erected by Olympiacos big man Livio Jean-Charles who blocked Larkin twice, resulting in the Efes guard making some hard and rather ugly, near-scary landings on the floor.
“I was excited,” Larkin said to Eurohoops. “In the first half, I was forcing a lot of things and I made a lot of mistakes, I got my shot blocked a bunch of times. Just trying to find my rhythm. Trying to get back in the game, game rhythm, game shape. All those things.”
Other players would likely stop right there and adjust to a milder approach in their first match following long months of inactivity and surgical operations. For Larkin, that was completely out of the question. It would go against his character and it would be an insult to his favorite “be yourself” mantra if he didn’t continue operating in the way his inner voice was commanding him to do.
Even though it was Larkin’s season debut and he had made few practices with Efes, he didn’t relent and kept attacking the rim. His efforts would pay off much later and during the game’s most critical hours: He delivered 11 out of his 15 points in the fourth period, including back-to-back 3-pointers and then an extremely tough layup for the 70 – 75 for Efes with a minute remaining.
“As the game progressed I started making a couple of shots touch the basket. And stopped getting my shots blocked,” Larkin mentioned with a laugh.
Larkin’ excitement was building up for ages and it naturally reached peak levels once it was ruled that he is cleared to play vs. Olympiacos. The night before, he couldn’t even sleep much.
“[I slept] A little bit,” Larkin said. “I kept waking up in the middle of the night. I was super excited. It has been a long time. The last time I played a EuroLeague game it was against this team at home.”
The game Larkin was referring to was the stage of one of his numerous historic outings in EuroLeague. He had dropped 40 points against Olympiacos in a home win for Efes, becoming the first player to score 40+ points in multiple games this century in the competition.
EuroLeague paused the season and later canceled it in May, while the same applied in the Turkish BSL League. Larkin, the frontrunner for EuroLeague MVP before the competition was cut short, had surgery on both his knees and began the long recovery road that ended with him stepping on the hardwood for a game once again on October 29.
“It was somewhat emotional,” Larkin said on his feelings upon playing again and while exuding a visible sense of relief and accomplishment. “Because you never know how you’re going to end up after surgery. And I had been playing through a lot of pain over the years. Playing with painkillers, playing with bad knees. And to step back out there healthy, and not having those same issues and be able to be back with my team and play in the EuroLeague where I love to play… It was just a great moment for me. And I received a lot of love throughout Europe and throughout the States. I’m just happy to be back here, I hope to be able to grow and get better.”
After the final buzzer sounded in the arena, Larkin began moving to the designated zone for the standard post-game interview, together with Vasilije Micic, Efes’ top scorer and passer in the game with 20 points and seven assists. Larkin put his arms around his usual partner in crime as they walked together to talk about the match, joyful for the reunion of arguably the most lethal backcourt duo in EuroLeague.
“Micic is one of my best friends,” Larkin said. “To be able to be back out there as a pair. It’s really good. He had to do a lot the last couple of days without having another guy who can create. To be able to come back and give him a breather and be able to have a guy who can help me lean into the game. It’s just great to be back playing with him. We’re just going to continue to get better.”