The upcoming 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul, Turkey tips off in three weeks with CSKA Moscow versus Panathinaikos and Olympiacos Piraeus facing FC Barcelona Regal in the semifinals and the Finals scheduled for May 13.
But leading up to those must-see games, the Euroleague is handing out their annual awards this week and has already recognized the league's top scorer, rising star and overall best defender.
For those back in the States not accustomed to following the Euroleague, two of the names will certainly sound familiar. The other is simply the best point guard not playing in the NBA and a name that should be on everyone's basketball radar, especially if you are a front office executive in the league.
Andrei Kirilenko - CSKA Moscow: Best Defender
Just think - Kirilenko could be with the New Jersey Nets right, helping plan for the draft lottery and move to Brooklyn, but instead he spent the season dominating on both ends of the floor for CSKA.
On Wednesday, the former Utah Jazz forward was named by Euroleague head coaches as the Best Defender in the league. Knowing Kirilenko's ability to rebound, pick pockets, block shots and lock down the opposition, garnishing the award shouldn't come as a shock by any means.
Check the numbers: 7.2 rebounds per game, 1.9 blocked shots on average, ranked second in the Euroleague with 1.53 steals per game and was the Euroleague's only player to rank among the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks. No wonder CSKA returns to the Final Four this season.
That's just Andrei being Andrei.
Nikola Mirotic - Real Madrid: Rising Star
How much more can Mirotic's star rise?
For the second year in a row, the 6-foot-10 power forward and Chicago Bulls draftee has earned the award recognizing a player under 22-years old who shines brightly in Euroleague competition. The 21-year-old sharpshooter became the first repeat winner of the Rising Star Trophy by ranking among the team's top three in scoring (12.5 points per game), shooting percentage from all ranges, rebounding, steals and fouls drawn.
He also led the Euroleague in free-throw percentage by shooting 91.8% from the stripe. The only thing Mirotic didn't seem to do this season was fast forward time for Bulls fans, as his contract with Real Madrid runs through 2015.
Mirotic will be worth the wait.
Bo McCalebb - Montepaschi Siena: Top Scorer
If you haven't been fortunate enough to see McCalebb run the point for Montepaschi Siena (or the Macedonia national team), you are missing out. There's really no other way to put it.
Before getting into how McCalebb captured the top scorer title in the Euroleague this season beating out Vassilis Spanoulis (Olympiacos), Sonny Weems (Zalgiris) Henry Domercant (Unics) and Nenad Krstic of (CSKA Moscow), it's worth recounting the 6-foot point guard's rise overseas and the Euroleague
At 26-years old it's been an amazing journey. It goes like this for Lester "Bo" McCalebb.
After going undrafted out of the University of New Orleans in 2008, McCalebb began his professional career in Turkey with Mersin, where he averaged 17.4 points and 4.7 assists per game during the 2008-09 season and led the Turkish League with 2.7 steals per game.
The following season, the stocky, aggressive, quick point guard signed with KK Partizan of Serbia for the 2009-10 season and helped Partizan win three championships that year: ABA League, Serbian League and the Serbia Cup. McCalebb also led Partizan to the Euroleague Final Four and earned All-Euroleague Second Team honors.
While McCalebb signed a three-year deal with Montepaschi Siena in 2010 and helped the Italian club win the Italian League, Italian Cup and Supercup and reach the Euroleague Final Four, McCalebb also flourished at the 2011 EuroBasket playing for Macedonia (Bo owns a Macedonian passport). He shared the All Tournament Team stage with Tony Parker, Juan Carlos Navarro, Andrei Kirilenko, Pau Gasol and despite being the only player without NBA experience of that group, McCalebb outscored them all in Lithuania (led all scorers with 235 total points).
He kept firing away and getting to the rim this season too averaging 16.8 points per game over 17 games and shooting 52.6% from beyond the arc.
So why isn't McCalebb on an NBA roster?
There are a couple of factors involved here. He's been loyal to Montepaschi about finishing out his three-year deal. McCalebb maintains jumping to the league isn't his focus right now. Perhaps that will change when his contract expires next season, but much also depends on the offer from an NBA team.
Seems hard for McCalebb to justify leaving a situation where he's "The Man" in Europe and his status, role, minutes and compensation is secure, compared to being a back-up in the NBA.
McCalebb's as legitimate as they come.