Ryan Toolson of Zenit St. Petersburg comes from a family of basketball shooters. His uncle Danny Ainge made over 1,000 three-point shots in his NBA career and his cousin Andy Toolson was a great shooting guard who played in Spain, Greece, Italy and the NBA. Ryan reached the Eurocup semifinals with Benetton Treviso in 2011 and returned to the competition with Zenit after playing for Montragranaro, Aliaga Petkim, Gran Canaria and Unicaja. One of the best scorers in the competition and a father of three, Toolson will tell us all about Zenit's performance in the competition and life in beautiful St. Petersburg!
It has been a good season for us until now. So far, the team has been playing great. We have a really good system. We figured out how to use all of our really good players and take advantage of that. It's true, though, that we lost Kyle Landry for the rest of the season and that is a huge loss for us. We are trying right now to learn how to play without him. That are rumors that the team probable won't buy another foreigner, so we just going to have to play with what we have. We are changing a few of our plays around to play without him.
We were first in our regular season group. We didn't even have to fight towards the end. We had a guaranteed spot going into our last game against Besiktas. We felt that the Eurocup Regular Season was really successful and are really proud of what we did. But we now start a new, shorter group and it looks like it is going to be a tough one. In this team, the foreigners have really important roles. Our coach and his system put me in a really good position to score. We have good point guards and good big men who set screens for me. It has been working out so far.
The biggest win for us until now was the first one, on the road against Avtodor Saratov. That helped us kind of start on a good foot. I had 35 points in that game, which always helps, of course. Other teammates had huge games until now - Zabian Dowdell a 51-index performance against Szolnoki in Hungary. I got injured in the second quarter and 'Z' played incredible. He had a double-double with 14 assists and 24 points. I think he only missed one shot!
Our next opponents are Venice, Ludwigsburg and Zielona Gora. It is going to be a lot harder than the first group. The fact that there are only four teams means that it is going to go by really quick, so every game is going to be even more important than the last one. After losing Kyle, it is going to be extremely difficult for us. Starting the Last 32 in Venice is tough: we come off a road loss against Krasnodar in the VTB League which I hope it won't affect us very much.
I played for Benetton Treviso five years ago, which is 25 kilometers north of Venice. We went there many times and it is a beautiful city, of course. Unfortunately, with basketball, you only go from the airport to the hotel, to the gym, then back to the hotel and to the airport. We went to the Eurocup Finals with Benetton in 2011. It was a Final Four format. That was a really successful year: we started out a little slow and had to figure out the chemistry but had arguably one of the best teams, not just in Italy, but in Europe. We had Alessandro Gentile, who is now a European superstar with Milan; Donatas Motiejunas, who is playing incredible right now for the Houston Rockets; Stefan Markovic, who played in the Euroleague and the Eurocup for the past few years; and Devin Smith, who has been incredible for Maccabi in the last three years. We were an excellent team and were hosting the Eurocup Finals. It was a little disappointing to lose against Seville in the semifinals.
St. Petersburg is actually a very beautiful city and it doesn't have the Russian vibe that Moscow or other cities have. It is very European. All the buildings are very European and it is a very beautiful city. The only thing that is has been difficult for me to adjust to is just the cold weather and the dark days. For the last three years, I was in the Canary Islands and Malaga, whose nickname is the Sun Coast - and now I barely see the sun. I think that is the only tough adjustment that I had to go through so far. My wife and kids do a good job when I am not playing basketball: we go out and do fun activities. When life outside basketball is great, things are a lot easier for me.
I come from a big basketball family. My cousin Andy Toolson also played in Europe for many years and my uncle, Danny Ainge, was a NBA star. Before I started to play in Europe, me and my wife went to talk to Andy, who played in Spain, Greece, Italy and the NBA. He told us we would have a blast and that I should take advantage of our time because as a basketball player, you cannot play until you are 50 or 60 years old. We will have great stories to tell our kids and our grandkids about the fun time we had in Europe. We have experienced a lot of different cultures. My son was born in Italy and my twin daughters were born in Malaga two years ago. Europe kind of feels more like home than America does!
We will see what happens next. We are third in the VTB League so even with this loss against Lokomotiv, we are doing fairly well. We just want to finish the first half of the VTB on a good note. As for the Eurocup, we have to keep playing strong because one loss can take us out of the next round. We don't want to look too far ahead. Right now, without Kyle, we have to figure ourselves out again and see what works!
Wish us luck - here comes the Last 32!