By Lefteris Moutis/ email@example.com
EA7 Emporio Armani Milan is lagging behind in the standings, with a 7-15 record so far, but in the last five games has looked extremely competitive, with three wins and two close defeats. On the other side, FC Barcelona Lassa, with an 8-14 record, is three wins away from the top eight and needs to start a new streak that will bring the team closer to the playoffs.
Both teams are relying quite a bit on their leaders in the backcourt, who together staged one of the biggest surprises in recent years in the EuroLeague while wearing the colors of Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. Milan are betting on Ricky Hickman and Barcelona on Tyrese Rice, guards who can confound rival defenses at any time with their explosiveness and creativity.
As teammates three years ago, they managed to amaze Europe by scoring 44 points together in the 2014 championship against Real Madrid in Milan. In so doing, both completed journeys all the way from the lowest levels of European basketball to the highest.
Hickman played in Romania, in Germany, in Italy’s second division, in Finland, in Italy’s top division and finally he ended up with Maccabi, where he experienced the triumph of 2014, winning the trophy. After conquering the EuroLeague, he spent two years at Fenerbahce Istanbul, where he wasn’t able to fully exhibit his talent because of a serious injury (Achilles tendon rupture) that he suffered shortly before the end of his first season there.
Last summer, he signed with Milan to add experience, speed and explosiveness to the team’s backcourt. He is a permanent headache for rival defenses thanks to his drives. In the Milan’s last game, against Anadolu Efes Istanbul, he equaled his personal record in assists with 8.
This year, Rice is playing his third season in the EuroLeague with his third different team. After the triumph with Maccabi in 2014, when he was voted the Final Four MVP, as well, Rice was the full season and finals MVP in the EuroCup while celebrating that competition’s title with Khimki Moscow Region. He was the first player in the history of European basketball to become MVP of the championship phase in both competitions. Last season, he returned to the EuroLeague with Khimki and this year he was chosen by Barcelona to be its leader from the backcourt.
Rice also started his European journey from the ground floor, playing in Panionios Athens, Artland Dragons Quakenbrueck, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and FC Bayern Munich before landing in the EuroLeague with Maccabi.
Rice is clearly the player who determines the game dynamics for Barcelona. He ranks second among EuroLeague players in three-point shot attempts, behind Sergio Llull of Real Madrid. He is also second field goals attempted, behind only Keith Langford of Unics Kazan. At the same time, he’s the fifth-best scorer and seventh-best assist-maker in the competition. He plays for an average of 30:54 minutes per game, which ranks him third in the league.
For years it’s been said that basketball is the sport of big men, however is defined by smaller ones. Both Milan, with Hickman, and Barcelona, with Rice, are perfect examples of this.