Estonian champions set for BCL debut
TALLINN (Estonia) - Kalev/Cramo marched through the Basketball Champions League 2021-22 Qualifying Rounds to reach the Regular Season for the first time, and do so as current Estonian Cup winners, Estonian League champions and the reigning Latvian-Estonian title holders.
Roberts Stelmahers was a legendary player for Latvia and numerous clubs throughout his 19-year-long playing career. His coaching career started as soon as he retired, with plays called in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, before taking over at Kalev/Cramo in 2019 and getting the clubs to new heights.
Stelmahers had to overhaul the roster in the summer of 2021 to get the team ready for their inaugural BCL season:
That's because Marcus Keene, Janari Joesaar, Indrek Sunelik, Chavaughn Lewis, Janis Kaufmanis, Sten Sokk, Marques Townes, Devin Thomas and Maurice Kemp all left the club. As of late September, eight new players arrived in Tallinn.
Silas Melson is a 25-year-old guard from Portland, Oregon. He was a solid rotational piece for the Gonzaga Bulldogs from 2014 to 2018, averaging 31 minutes per game as a senior, and starting his own journey overseas in 2018-19, when he played in Greece.
He started that season with Lavrio and finished it with Hapoel Beer Sheva, but a trip up north in 2019-20 allowed us to see the best Melson to date. Silas averaged 20.8 points per game for Kouvot in Finland, earning a boarding pass to Belgium. With Limburg United he scored 17.0 points per game, with a career-high 1.3 steals per game.
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Davion Berry is a 29-year-old guard who draws comparison to Damian Lillard straight away - both of them are from Oakland, California, both of them led Weber State in scoring, and they were even teammates on an AAU team. In fact, it was Lillard who recommended Berry a switch to Weber State after Davion had started his college career with Cal State Monterey Bay.
Berry then moved to Torino in the second Italian division, and had a couple of NBA G League stints with the Maine Red Claws and Raptors 905. He also played in Greece, Germany, Russia, France and Israel, and was one of the main reasons why Kalev/Cramo got over Mornar Bar in the Qualifiers, knocking down five three-pointers and scoring a team-high 21 points.
The man in the middle is Kamari Murphy, who has previous BCL experience with Rasta Vechta in 2019-20, averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 19 minutes per contest for the German side. Murphy was a dominant presence in the Qualifying Rounds, with 13.7 points and 8.0 rebounds for Kalev/Cramo.
Murphy played for both the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Miami Hurricanes in the NCAA, and then tried his luck with the Long Island Nets in the NBA G League in 2017-18 and 2018-19, collecting 99 games in those two seasons. After playing for Rasta Vechta, he stayed in Germany, and joined Fraport Skyliners in 2020-21.
JeQuan Lewis is another new name in the backcourt. The 27-year-old played for the VCU Rams in the NCAA, and was a part of the Wisconsin Herd squad in the NBA G League. But the guard didn't get a call up to the NBA in 2017-18, so he went overseas.
In 2018, he joined Goyang Orions in the Korean League, and already in December he was in Greece, playing for Kymis. He spent the 2019-20 season with PAOK, and played for Ramat HaSharon in Israel in 2020-21. His impact with Kalev/Cramo was immediate, Lewis averaged 16.3 points per game in the Qualifying Rounds, including a 24-point outing in the Final in Tallinn.
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The arrival of Kristjan Kitsing shouldn't be looked as the others over the summer. That is because the 30-year-old big guy first joined Kalev/Cramo back in 2010, and played six seasons with the club, with brief excursions to Parnu, Taltech, Bakken Bears, Rytas Vilnius, Tartu Ulikool and even Estudiantes Concordia in Argentina in 2015-16.
Kitsing is now back, as is Egert Haller, a 26-year-old point guard who spent the 2016-17 season with Kalev/Cramo. Over the last two seasons, he played for Rakvere Tarvas, averaging double digits in both the Latvian-Estonian League and the Estonian League.
Ojars Silins is a 28-year-old career journeyman from Latvia. The forward is best known for his seasons in Italy, four of them were with Reggio Emilia, where he was a valuable rotational piece with 20 or minutes per game in three of those four seasons.
Silins also played the BCL, back in 2018-19 with Sidigas Avellino, and spent the 2020-21 season with Astana in Kazakhstan, putting up 8.6 points per game in the VTB United League.
Silins is not the only Latvian newcomer in town. Marcis Vitols is 29, he will help in the backcourt rotation, getting his second season outside of Latvia in his career - the first one was in Odessa in Ukraine in 2018-19.
Vitols played for Latvijas Universitate from 2011 to 2014, then spent a couple of seasons with Valmiera and three more with Ogre. Finally, after being a solid team player throughout his career, Vitols got to play for two of the biggest clubs in Latvia. He was in Ventspils in 2018-19 and 2019-20, then moved to VEF Riga for the 2020-21 season, appearing in five BCL games, as well.