COVER – After missing more than a month due to injury, Vladimir Micov reminded everyone just how valuable he is to AX Armani Exchange Milan with a big fourth quarter in the team’s come-from-behind victory over Zenit St Petersburg.
It is well documented that AX Armani Exchange Milan made major upgrades to its roster last summer with a battle-hardened group of stars with a long record of success arriving to play for Coach Ettore Messina in the hope of firing the team to its first playoff appearance since 2014 – and maybe even its first Final Four this century.
That heady list of new talent was led by four-time EuroLeague champion Kyle Hines, who was joined through the arrival door by another former title winner Luigi Datome – a pair of players who have more than 500 EuroLeague appearances between them. Malcolm Delaney was also recruited to add more flair and firepower to a backcourt already containing Sergio Rodriguez, all complemented by the scoring power of Kevin Punter, the athleticism of Zach LeDay and always-reliable do-everything glue guy Shavon Shields.
So far, the investment into that array of talent is paying off, with Messina’s men climbing to third in the standings by reeling off their sixth straight win with a come-from-behind home triumph over Zenit St Petersburg, 82-76, on Thursday night. Several of those stars played key roles: Hines recorded the game’s highest PIR (20), while Punter, Rodriguez and Delaney all scored in double figures as they combined to make 7 of 13 three-point attempts.
Another big contribution, however, came from another veteran whose role on the team should not be – but perhaps often is – overlooked. Vladimir Micov, who was playing only his second game back after a five-week spell on the sidelines through injury, took a major part in wrestling the game under Milan’s control in the all-important fourth quarter.
Micov’s decisive impact started with 7:28 remaining when he bustled to the basket and scored with a foul, adding the free throw to reduce his team’s deficit to 61-63. Just 36 seconds later, after Delaney plundered a steal and Punter provided an assist, Micov followed his three-point play with a three-pointer, giving Milan its very first lead since midway through the first quarter. He wasn’t quite finished: after Zenit battled back to retake the lead, Micov scored again to make it 72-71, with less than 3 minutes remaining. That gave Milan the lead for good and Micov’s final contribution totaled 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal – the latter of which came, appropriately, with the very last touch of the game as he intercepted a desperation pass from Austin Hollins.
At the age of 35, Micov might only be a role player for Milan over the remainder of the season. But his vast experience – 228 EuroLeague games and counting over the course of 10 seasons in the competition – will further add to an already potent mix. As one of Milan’s longest-serving players, now in his fourth season at the club, on Thursday night he served a gentle reminder that although the new stars in town are obviously very important to the team’s title tilt, they are not the only ones.