More than 12 years after making his first appearance on the European stage, Alexis Ajinca returned to make another debut as LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne wrapped up first place in Group F with a 72-61 home victory over Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar on Wednesday night.
Ajinca was just 18 years old when he played his first EuroLeague game, appearing for just over a minute in Pau-Orthez's thumping 89-67 win over Fenerbahce Ulker on December 21, 2006. Before long the rising young star headed to the United States, but returned to France in 2011. The giant big man enjoyed a couple of great seasons with Strasbourg, netting an average of 17.1 points over nine games in the 2013-14 EuroLeague campaign before again departing to the NBA.
Now, after recovering from serious injury problems, which kept him out of action for more than 18 months, Ajinca is back in Europe for the third time, hoping to play a key role in ASVEL's charge for the 7DAYS EuroCup title before next season's promotion to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
Judging from his debut on Wednesday, Ajinca will contribute plenty for ASVEL over the coming weeks. He made his first mark by scoring the game's initial basket after just 14 seconds, but saved his biggest impact on the opening ticks of the second half: in the space of 90 seconds, he made a pair of close-range strikes and then added a triple for a personal 7-0 run, turning a 3-point deficit into a 4-point lead – and that proved to be the key turning point of the game, with ASVEL never trailing again.
Ajinca finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds and a blocked shot in 16 minutes on the floor. Not bad for a player who is still regaining his rhythm after such a long injury absence. As ASVEL gets ready for the quarterfinals, it was certainly enough evidence to suggest that Ajinca's third spell in European basketball could be his most productive yet.