A major highlight in a big win for AX Armani Exchange Milan over Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul on Friday night was the return of center Arturas Gudaitis. The big man went down with an ACL injury at the start of February, and spent nearly nine months waiting for his EuroLeague return. But the way he played on Friday, it was like he never missed any time at all.
"It feels great," the excited center said in his on-court interview for EuroLeague.TV right after the win. "I am just doing what I am supposed to do on the court, and I really enjoyed playing in front of this crowd that gave us a lot of energy."
Gudaitis came off the bench after 3 minutes in the first quarter, and Milan went to him twice on the first five possessions. He had 9 points before halftime, and continued to battle to finish with 17 points. He also had 5 rebounds, helping Milan win the all-important rebounding battle 37-31. The Lithuanian played more than 21 minutes on his return to action, going 5-for-8 for two-pointers and 7-for-9 from the free throw line, which are both above his shooting averages from last season.
That kind of productivity was nothing new for Gudaitis, but it was for coach Ettore Messina, who now not only has two big quality centers in Gudaitis and Kaleb Tarczewski but also decided to use them both together on a few possessions.
And while Gudaitis had reason for a double celebration with a victory on his comeback, it was also a big night for Fenerbahce big man Joffrey Lauvergne, who also returned to EuroLeague action on Friday night after going down last season a week after Gudaitis. Lauvergne played almost 22 minutes, and had 14 points and 8 rebounds. His return was one of the rare bright spots for Fenerbahce in this loss.