EuroLeague Rising Star: Goga Bitadze

Goga Bitadze of Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, who made his presence felt from the moment he first stepped onto a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague court, has been rewarded for his stellar play with the Rising Star Trophy for the 2018-19 season. 

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The award, which is voted by the league's head coaches, recognizes the best player in each EuroLeague season who was under the age of 22 on July 1 of the previous summer. Despite signing with Buducnost in December and playing in just 13 games, the 2.12-meter center was a sight to behold when he took the court. Bitadze, 19, averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game for an average performance index rating of 16.3. Due to his lack of games played, Bitadze did not qualify for the statistics leaders board. 

Had he been eligible, however, those averages would have ranked first in blocks, fourth in rebounds and eighth in PIR. Bitadze is the first center in 13 years to be voted the Rising Star by EuroLeague head coaches.

Yovel Zoosman of Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv came second in the voting by EuroLeague head coaches. Georgios Papagiannis followed closely in third place. The Rising Star Trophy is one of several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Mike James of AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan was formally announced as the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner earlier this week. Still to be announced are the EuroLeague Best Defender and the All-EuroLeague First and Second Team members. The identity of the 2018-19 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague MVP will be revealed at the Final Four in Vitoria-Gasteiz. The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the EuroLeague Club Executive of the Year are post-season awards.

Bitadze was marked as a future star early and left BC Vita Tbilisi in his native Georgia at age 16 to play for Mega Bemax in Serbia, with whose U18 team he dominated the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament circuit. 

He led Mega to the 106-17 championship game, where he shined with 17 points, 20 rebounds and 5 blocks before his team fell to U18 CFBB Paris 65-58. Bitadze was named to the all-tournament team. He began this season by posting monster numbers for Mega in the ABA League (20.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for a PIR of 24.6 per game) before moving to Buducnost.

In Round 15, Bitadze made his EuroLeague debut a spectacular one, pushing FC Bayern Munich to the brink with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks in just 23 minutes off the bench in a 93-88 road loss. He proved that his performance was no fluke a week later with 23 points, 8 boards and 3 blocks for a PIR of 31 at AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. 

Bitadze was at the heart of Buducnost's three-game winning streak between Rounds 18 and 20 with his lone double-double of the season (13 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) in a 73-60 victory over reigning champion Real Madrid. 

His best shooting performance came in Round 22 against Khimki Moscow Region with 17 points on 5-of-6 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line. Bitadze finished the season strong, too, with 16 points and 8 rebounds in the Greek capital against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. After 13 games, Bitadze had blocked a shot or more in all but two of his appearances, posted a PIR in double figures in all but three, and tallied at least 10 points in all but four games.

Bitadze is just the third center to win the Rising Star Trophy, and the first since Andrea Bargnani did so with Benetton Treviso after the 2005-06 season. The inaugural EuroLeague Rising Star award also went to a center, Erazem Lorbek with Climamio Bologna in 2005. 

They were followed by Rudy Fernandez with DKV Joventut Badalona in 2007; Danilo Gallinari of Armani Jeans Milano in 2008; Novica Velickovic of Partizan Belgrade in 2009; and Ricky Rubio of FC Barcelona in 2010; Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid in 2011 and 2012; Kostas Papanikolaou of Olympiacos Piraeus in 2013; Bogdan Bogdanovic of Partizan Belgrade in 2014 and again with Fenerbahce Istanbul in 2015; Alex Abrines of FC Barcelona Lassa in 2016; and Luka Doncic of Real Madrid in 2017 and 2018.

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