Sasha Vezenkov is no stranger to proving himself on a new team

Oct 11, 2023, 1:51 PM | Updated: 2:39 pm

Greek forward Sasha Vezenkov of Olympiacos Piraeus in action during the 2022/2023 Turkish Airlines ...

VITORIA-GASTEIZ, SPAIN - OCTOBER 21: Greek forward Sasha Vezenkov of Olympiacos Piraeus in action during the 2022/2023 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season Round 4 match between Cazoo Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz and Olympiacos Piraeus at Fernando Buesa Arena on October 21, 2022 in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. (Photo by Gari Garaialde/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gari Garaialde/Getty Images)

When first introduced as a member of the Sacramento Kings, the mindset that allowed Sasha Vezenkov to reach the NBA eventually was apparent.

I will try to improve in every practice, in every game,” Vezenkov said. “The time of adjustment, I have to mentally and physically be ready to adjust fast.”

Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown recently said the former EuroLeague MVP is not guaranteed to be in the rotation to start the season. Luckily, Vezenkov is no stranger to needing to prove himself. It’s the fourth time Vezeknov has chosen to join a better team and rediscover his ideal role since starting his professional career 12 years ago.

At age 16, Vezenkov signed with his first professional basketball team, Aris B.C., in the Greek Basket League. The then-teenager played 24 minutes in his rookie campaign, 289 minutes in the subsequent year, then 724 minutes in 13-14, where he finally broke into the starting lineup. By his fourth season, he won Most Improved Player and MVP of the GBL with tallies of 17 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on 48/39/78 shooting splits.

Despite successfully working his way up to star status in the GBL, Vezenkov elected to expand his horizons. He joined Barcelona in the Spanish Liga ACB, which allowed him to participate in the premier European tournament, the EuroLeague. After logging upwards of 1,100 minutes in the year prior, Sasha Vezenkov took a lesser role in the immediate for an increased potential upside.

He chose to start the process of establishing himself all over again. He was a sporadic starter under former EuroLeague-winning head coach Xavi Pascual, who had led Barca since 2008. Vezenkov struggled to find a rhythm throughout his three years, averaging 13-19 minutes per game. Playing under three head coaches in as many seasons didn’t do him any favors.

“How far can I go and not give up or ‘break.’ It was a difficult period for the team. I never blame anyone for that. To some extent, I think I may not have deserved to go through all of this, but on the other hand, I made mistakes myself,” he conceded.

Individual growth is rarely linear. No, Vezenkov did not make a significant jump as a player in the Spanish league, but he seemed to develop mentally. With another coaching change on the horizon, returning home to EuroLeague competitors Olympiacos B.C. was his next move – starting fresh again.

In 2018-19, his debut season with Olympiacos, he started three of their 28 EuroLeague games. Two seasons later (the 19-20 season was cut short due to COVID-19), his starts and minutes increased before skyrocketing from there. So did his recognition. Sasha Vezkenkov followed up his first All-EuroLeague first-team appearance with an MVP award last season.

He’s used to the process. Sacramento is his fourth professional team and the third time he’s decided to accept a lesser role to join a better group. Other former EuroLeague MVPs who eventually made their way to the NBA were also brought along slowly.

Nikola Mirotic averaged 11.4 minutes in his first 10 NBA games. Nemanja Bjelica was allowed more initial opportunity on a Minnesota Timberwolves team that ended 13th in the Western Conference. Development is not the Kings’ priority, it’s winning as many basketball games as possible, and their depth is substantial.

While Vezenkov potentially being out of the rotation to start the season could be disappointing, it was always part of the process. He’s no stranger to adjusting to new teams, but this may be the greatest learning curve he’s faced with the differences in the NBA game, quicker, more athletic competition, and Sacramento’s free-flowing schemes.

The reigning EuroLeague MVP has proven to have the growth mindset needed to climb his way up the rotation, and the Kings are hoping to see an increased comfort level with each passing day.

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Preseason Schedule

  • Wednesday, October 11th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Lakers – 7 PM PST (in Anaheim, CA)
  • Sunday, October 15th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST
  • Wednesday, October 18th – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST
  • Thursday, October 19th – Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz – 7 PM PST

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Regular Season Schedule

  • Tuesday, October 24th – NBA regular season begins
  • Wednesday, October 25th – Sacramento Kings @ Utah Jazz – 6 PM (Season Opener)
  • Friday, October 27th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM (Home Opener)

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Sasha Vezenkov is no stranger to proving himself on a new team