From 2007-2013, former Hawaii standout Matt Lojeski was building a resume in Belgium that few could match. The 6’6 sharpshooter, who played his first two years with Aalstar before spending the next four with Oostende, compiled two Belgian League MVPs, two Belgian Cup Championships, two Belgian League Championships, a Belgian Cup MVP and a FIBA Intercontinental Cup Championship. He established himself so well in Belgium that he’s now an actual citizen of the country and a member of their national team.
However, Lojeski no longer plays in Belgium. After watching him dominate the league for the sixth straight year, Lojeski got a call this summer from one of the premier teams outside of the NBA: Olympiacos of the Euroleague. Many regard the Euroleague as a league tougher than college basketball. It’s littered with former pros including Carlos Arroyo, Keith Langford, Nenad Krstic, Vasileios Spanoulis and Andres Nocioni amongst many, many others.
“I think there are about four or five teams, this is probably one of them that you can kind of compare to NBA structure, professionalism just the way they run the team,” Lojeski said to Basketball Insiders. “In Europe, unless you’re a really big name guy, when you’re on a bigger club the main thing is can you help the team. They have really, really high expectations. The biggest thing is you want to be on a team that is winning; when you are winning everybody is happy. On smaller teams or in previous years you might want to get good stats and look out for yourself but being here, we won the Euroleague two years in a row, we have high expectations, it’s about winning. The main thing is win.”
Olympiacos currently sits in the fourth spot in their group with 11 days remaining until the field is trimmed down from 16 to eight. As long as they can hold onto the spot they’ll remain in contention to defend their title and compete for a championship, which Lojeski has become accustomed to as of late.
If you compare Lojeski’s numbers with Olympiacos to his in Belgium, you’ll notice a steep decrease. But, that’s not an indication of any drop off. It’s actually an indicator of how he’s willing to sacrifice his game. He’s no longer the go-to option, but he’s settled into his role nicely with Olympiacos, averaging an efficient 11.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists. In Euroleague games he’s shooting an astonishing 60 percent from two point range and 42 percent from three.
“In previous years I have had the ball a lot more, played pick-and-roll, and been more of a focal point on offense,” Lojeski said. “This year I have done some of that but not as much. You have Vassilis Spanoulis, last year’s MVP of Euroleague, he gets the ball most of the time. Offensively where I look to score is catch and shoot, attack off close outs, slash a little bit. One of my strengths is the getting in the open court and getting fast break baskets. I try and do a little bit of everything since I don’t have the ball that much.”
While a lot of players would opt for the glory that comes with being the top option and not having to play a secondary role to anybody, this was the right step for Lojeski to take as he hopes to continue climbing the ranks up to the NBA.
“I think I do a pretty good job of playing without the ball, I am a pretty good spot up shooter, catch and shoot guy and I think I move well without the ball,” Lojeski said. “As far as NBA, this role I’m playing now is pretty similar to what I would be doing on an NBA team.
“I might not great at one thing but I think that I am pretty good at a lot of things. Offensively I try to find the open scorer, I’d say I’m a really good shooter, sneaky athleticism, I’m a smart player, I’m a pretty good rebounder. Most people kind of underestimate me, I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have a great physical body or don’t look the part of a very good player but I try and look for good shots when they’re open.”
At 28 years of age, Lojeski acknowledges that the window to get into the NBA is only getting smaller. While it would be the crowning accomplishment on what has already been an impressive career, he’s really come into his own overseas and knows his playing days are far from being over.
“Being here for a while I’m comfortable with some of the guys,” Lojeski said. “You talk to guys, who are extremely determined to do whatever they need to do to get back home; I have been extremely fueled by staying here and making good money now. For me if it happens it happens and if it doesn’t it doesn’t.
“I’d probably have to gain some weight, maybe put on like 10 pounds of muscle. Really just work on one on one defense, some of the guys I would have to guard would be very physical. Maybe some ball handling, obviously I’m not doing that that much but I was trained well doing it last year.
“I don’t see it happening unless it happens in a year or two. You know Pero Antic for the Hawks? He was actually on Olympiacos last year and now he is on the Hawks, so it’s possible, I’ll just have to wait and see.”
If Lojeski does get the call, and it’s a distinct possibility as several teams strongly considered signing him last offseason – including the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s going to be a major adjustment. As strong as the Euroleague is, some of its best have struggled in the NBA and returned overseas. For Lojeski, though, it would mark a return to home more so than a complete and total culture shock like it has to others, and he believes he’s never been more ready.
“I have experienced a lot,” Lojeski said. “One of the biggest things is confidence, believing in yourself. Some of the teammates I’ve played with, they have the talent but they lose confidence in themselves or they don’t stay focused on basketball and are worried about other things. It’s not easy for some of the new guys that come, they get homesick or they just can’t handle it. I’ve grown as a person, going through different situations. Basketball wise I’d say I’ve gotten a lot smarter, I’ve developed my game, improved my dribble. It’s just slowly, each year, gotten better and better.”
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