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Ben Madgen: The Scoring King of Belgium signs in Lithuania
Former NBL star Ben Madgen has signed with Lithuanian side Panevezys Lietkabelis.
Madgen's signing in Lithuania comes off the back of his stellar season in Belgium, one in which he was crowned scoring champion in delivering 19.6 points per game. After what was such a fantastic year, Madgen certainly wasn't short of options when it came to his next side.
"Every team bar one from Belgium offered me a contract, as well as various teams through Europe," explained the South Australian in speaking with The Pick and Roll.
But what Madgen was really searching for was European cup competition - either Eurocup or Euroleague. So when Lietkabelis came knocking it was an easy choice.
"This team (Lietkabelis) plays in the Eurocup, just below the Euroleague, and are also in the Lithuanian league, which is very strong and considered one of the best in Europe," said Madgen.
It was not only European teams that were chasing the guard's signature, with his beloved Sydney Kings also offering him a contract. Madgen speaks with great passion when it comes to his former side, so knocking back a spot on what is an extremely talented roster was difficult.
"I love playing for Sydney and it was hard to say no this year," explained the former NBL Rookie of the Year. "I had a lot of great chats with Gazey [Andrew Gaze] and what they are doing is really exciting...I really want to win a championship there so you never know for next season."
Last year was Madgen's first in Europe, and despite being 31 - an age in which most deem as being 'over the hump' - he has continued to improve. His body is also responding well to the European style of play and training.
"I think that's probably the fittest I've ever been throughout a season, no injuries, and I felt really good."
Widely recognised as a competent scorer, Madgen's defense has improved drastically in Europe. Over the past six weeks he attended an academy in Antwerp called Corodo. This has allowed him to add more weapons to his offensive arsenal, with a lot of work going into ball handling and creating space with and without the ball.
The Belgian Scooore League has in the past featured the like of Jermaine Beal and Dontaye Draper - familiar names to the Australian NBL. Allowing up to six imports per side has aided a rapid improvement in the quality of their national league and coincides with the improvement of the Belgium national team, climbing 7 spots in the most recent FIBA rankings (44).
"It's [Belgian league] very good actually," explained Madgen. "I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they had one Eurocup team and four other teams in the FIBA Europe Cup."
The Augusta alumnus explained that comparing it to the NBL was a difficult task due to the different styles of play, difference in players, and also the way the two were officiated.
"It's probably a bit hard to compare [the Belgium league] to the NBL. The really good teams in Belgium would do well in the NBL, whereas the lower teams would struggle a bit against the talent that the NBL has got."
Madgen's new side will make their Eurocup debut this year, and have drawn the likes of AEK Athens and Brad Newley's former team Gran Canaria in the group stage.
Last year Lietkabelis finished 7th in the Lithuanian league and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The eventual champions, Zalgiris Kaunas, featured Rio Olympian Brock Motum.
Madgen was the lone Australian in Belgium last year, but this season he is excited to go up against a fellow Aussie.
"Brock and I are good friends, we roomed together for the Boomers during a tour for I think about a month, so we got pretty close. It will be nice to be able catch up with a fellow countryman, so I am really looking forward to seeing him again."
Despite missing out on a medal, Madgen was still impressed by the Boomers efforts at Rio and the way that they played.
"I thought they played fantastic bar the Serbia game. Every other game was good to watch and I think they really did Australia proud."
He still hold a desire of returning to the Boomers' side, but realises that he isn't getting any younger and there is some exceptional talent coming through the ranks at the moment. The 31 year old does however take inspiration from the likes of John Rillie and Peter Crawford, both making their Olympic debuts late in their career.
Basketball is not the only thing drawing Madgen's attention at the moment, with he and his wife Bria expecting their first child. So 2016/17 is sure to have highlights on and off the court for the Madgen family as they continue their European adventure.