Ulm's Felicio is enjoying his first steps in Europe

Nov 25, 2021 by David Hein, Eurocupbasketball.com Print
Ulm's Felicio is enjoying his first steps in Europe

Back in 2014, Felicio helped Flamengo, his club in Brazil, defeat then-reigning Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion Maccabi Tel Aviv to win that season's Intercontinental Cup. Felicio was 22 years old when Flamengo downed Maccabi 156-146 over two legs in Rio de Janeiro – losing the first game 69-66 and then taking the second contest 90-77 – and he remembers the moment well.

"Those two games are still in my memory like it was yesterday. No one expected us to do what we did against such a strong team like Maccabi. But we believed in ourselves, we knew we could do it and we did it," said Felicio, who played 2 minutes of the second game, picking up 1 point and 1 rebound.

"We were playing at home with thousands of fans supporting and pushing us. I would have to say those are the best memories I have from that time. Having my family in the arena as well to witness that for sure made it even sweeter."

"I knew what I wanted for my future as a basketball player."

One could argue that the 2014 FIBA Americas League champion Flamengo did not beat the real Maccabi team that claimed the 2014 EuroLeague crown. But the Maccabi team in Rio featured Alex Tyus, Guy Pnini, Devin Smith, Sylven Landesberg and Yogev Ohayon all back from the title-winning team. The team also included Jeremy Pargo, who played for CSKA Moscow the previous season and lost to Maccabi in the final, as well as Brian Randle, Aleks Maric, MarQuez Haynes, Nate Linhart and Jake Cohen.

And facing those stars of European basketball left an impression on Felicio.

"It definitely meant a lot to me to be able to play against them and see them so close. It gave me an understanding of what I would have to do and sacrifice to be on the big stage just like they were. It's not easy, but it's definitely a price I'm comfortable paying," Felicio said.

Fast forward nine years to 2021 and Felicio is once again facing European competition, but this time on the continent of Europe. And the Pouso Alegre native is also looking to re-establish his career after playing the last six years in the NBA.

Felicio signed with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent in 2015 and shared time his first season between the Bulls and the team's D-League affiliate, finishing the 2015-16 campaign with 31 games with the Bulls. The following three seasons saw him play 66, 55 and 60 games, averaging at least 4.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in each season.

Felicio failed to really make an impact with Chicago the next two seasons, appearing in 22 games in 2019-20 and then averaging just 4.7 minutes in 18 NBA games in 2020-21.

This past off-season Felicio decided it was time to head to Europe.

"I knew what I wanted for my future as a basketball player. Everyone wants to play at the highest level possible and everyone should think like that," Felicio said. "I wasn't getting playing time in the NBA, so I decided the best path for my career was to go somewhere where I would be able to play."

He signed on a one-year contract with Ulm, which gave him the chance to play in the competitive German League as well as the EuroCup.

"Out of the options, Ulm was the one that made the most sense for me at this point. Of course, speaking with Coach Jaka [Lakovic], seeing how much he wanted me here and playing EuroCup were some deciding factors for me over other places," Felicio said.

Europe wasn't a complete unknown for him, though.

"I knew quite a bit from watching EuroLeague and watching some of my Brazilian friends or former teammates who play or played here before. It's definitely different to watch and play the games," said the big man, who played in the 2016 Olympics and the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 for the Brazilian national team.

"I was surprised by how physical the game is."

Felicio also talked to his former Bulls teammate Javonte Green, who played at Ulm in the past.

"He had great things to say about Ulm. Of course, it helps to know other players' perspectives, but at the end of the day it was all my deciding and what I thought was best for me," he said.

Felicio has played quite well in his European debut, averaging 10.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.4 steals through five games, including a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds in the double-overtime win over Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana in Round 4.

Still, the play in the EuroCup has been a bit of an eye-opener for Felicio.

"I was surprised by how physical the game is and the fact that you have less space on the court to operate. It's a more thoughtful game in general, too, where you use more plays and a little less individual talent to win games," he said. "My goal for this year is to play the best I can and help Ulm achieve success. I believe we do have a strong team that can play with anyone and we have been proving that."

One thing is certain, he also knows the feeling of beating a reigning EuroLeague champion.