Dejan Tomasevic: memories of the first-ever Eurocup legend

Apr 24, 2013 by Print
Dejan Tomasevic: memories of the first-ever Eurocup legend
Pamesa Valencia, 2003 ULEB Cup champ

The Eurocup wants to take the opportunity to remember its original champion, Pamesa Valencia, exactly 10 years after lifting the trophy. On April 24, 2003, Valencia defeated Krka Novo Mesto 78-76 in Game 2 of the two-way finals, sweeping the series to become the competition's first champion. The iconic picture of two homegrown players, Nacho Rodilla and Victor Luengo, lifting the trophy is one of the best images of the first season of what was then called the ULEB Cup. The competition's first finals MVP was Dejan Tomasevic, who took over in decisive Game 2 with 28 points, making 11 of 15 two-point shots and 6 of 8 free throw attempts, to go with 11 rebounds and 5 assists. His peformance index rating of 38 is still a Eurocup final's all-time record. had the chance to talk to Tomasevic to celebrate 10 years of an outstanding performance, which allowed Valencia to lift the first of its two Eurocup titles.

"Truth to be told, it was a different day. We played against Krka at home and had beaten them in Slovenia. All my friends were in the stands, my family, too, and for the first time, I was in the position to win a European title," Tomasevic remembers. "It was a beautiful night."

Valencia had put together a strong team that year, bringing in Tomasevic and Fabricio Oberto, who both were coming off winning the Spanish League and the Spanish Copa del Rey with Tau Ceramica. They were the stars of a team that featured Rodilla and Ale Montecchia at point guard, Luengo, Pedro Robles, Brian Cardinal, Jose Antonio Paraiso and Fede Kammerichs at shooting guard and small forward, as well as Asier Garcia and Bernard Hopkins joining Tomasevic and Oberto around the baskets, all coached by Paco Olmos. Rodilla and Luengo had their number retired by the club years later. The goal was clear, according to Tomasevic. "That's why Pamesa inked players like me or Fabri (Fabricio Oberto) - to win titles. From the very beginning, we knew which was our goal when we came to Valencia. We worked really hard all season and managed to win the title," he said.

The road to the final was not easy for Valencia. The club ranked second in its regular season group and swept its two-way eighthfinals series against RheinEnergie Cologne, but a 13-point road loss in Game 1 of the quarterfinals against Zadar left Valencia in a difficult position. In Game 2, however, Robles fired in 8-of-10 three-point shots on his way to 28 points, leading 5 players in double digits in a series-clinching, 105-84 home win. Once in the semifinals against Estudiantes, Valencia grabbed a 68-55 in Game 1 with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists from Tomasevic, who was taken to hospital the following week.

Tomasevic was not supposed to play in Game 2 but showed up against all odds. "I remember that I had a lot of problems but the team doctor, a great guy, helped me a lot. I was in hospital but left it after two days because I wanted to play. The doctors did not want to let me play but I took a flight to Madrid to play the game. You may play games like this once in a lifetime and I didn't want to miss it," he told us. Estudiantes led by 16 midway through the fourth quarter, but Pamesa reacted with a 1-10 run that included points by Tomasevic, and sealed its ticket to the final.

Everyone in Valencia expected the team to win the ULEB Cup title, as Tomasevic remembers. "I believe that this team, the city, the club president and its people deserved a title like this, because they had worked hard for many years and invested a lot of money," Tomasevic said. "For many years, they supported the game, fighting and suffering, and we managed to win the title and get Valencia to the Euroleague for the first time."

Nacho Rodilla and Victor Luengo of Pamesa Valencia celebrate the 2003 ULEB Cup title (Photo: Valencia Basket)Valencia left no doubt about its power by downing Krka Novo Mesto 78-90 in Game 1 of the two-way finals. Rodilla led the way with 15 points, Oberto added 14 while Hopkins and Robles each had 12. Jamie Arnold had 28 points for Krka, which had downed two other Spanish teams, Lleida and Joventut, to reach the finals. Game 2 happened to be a big celebration, as Valencia stayed away from trouble and swept the series. It was Pamesa's first European title in three tries, after losses in the Saporta Cup final in 1999 and 2000. Tomasevic was almost unanimously voted MVP, with 51 of a possible 57 votes.

"It was special to be the first MVP, but I always think team first. I was a small part of my team and am very happy that we won. I am part of a great club's history," Tomasevic admits. "I was lucky to work with Paco (head coach Paco Olmos), Fabri and many players that deserve the best. Every time I go to Valencia, people remember that title. I feel great every time I go back to Valencia."

Of course, the competition evolved through the years and Tomasevic, who had won world and European championships with the former Yugoslavia and went on to win the Euroleague with Panathinaikos in 2007, follows the Eurocup more than he did before. "I have a lot more time now and have watched many Eurocup games," Tomasevic told us. "It is clear that the Eurocup has a great level. It grows bigger and bigger every year, especially because the winner gets a spot in the next Euroleague, which is a plus. It is a very beautiful competition."

Tomasevic keeps great memories of that title and will never forget that night but it is his personal memories and his overall experience in Valencia what he treasures the most.

"All titles are important but if you arrive to a new club and win its first title, it is something special. It is great when you read that you are important in your team and everyone loves you," Tomasevic told us. "The love I had with the people in Valencia, managers, players... is really important to me. The title is important, of course it is, but being loved so much was equally important to me."

A decade has gone by but few fans - if any - in Valencia have forgotten his team's great performance in the 2002-03 ULEB Cup and the finals MVP - an unconventional, talented big man with a high basketball IQ and the court vision of a point guard. The first true legend in competition history, the leader of the original champion, Dejan Tomasevic.