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Kevin Punter, anatomy of a return


Kevin Punter had been the great star of Olimpia’s preseason. At the Kaunas tournament, against EuroLeague teams, he took the MVP award. A week later he was a key player in the Super Cup triumph in Bologna. Then on his debut in the Italian league, before he could play a single EuroLeague games, he was injured, stopped right when he was playing at a very high level.

KP returned last week and immediately extended his streak of consecutive double figures EuroLeague games. In his third consecutive appearance, his second in the EuroLeague, he had his career best of 29 in terms of individual rating. In that game he also scored 22 points in less than 30 minutes on the court and set his personal best of three steals in a single outing, to certify his growth at the defensive end of the floor, an underrated aspect of a repertoire in which obviously the shooting ability stands out.

Punter is in his second EuroLeague season, but Olimpia is his third team in two years. In Europe, he won the BCL twice, first with AEK Athens and then as the MVP with Virtus Bologna. From there he moved higher, to Olympiacos, where things did not go as he hoped so he eventually was moved to the Red Star where he did very well. Punter goes to Tel Aviv tomorrow riding a streak of 14 games with at least one made three and 11 double-figure games, a streak which obviously began in Belgrade. Against Maccabi last year he scored 22 points, two points shy of his career best of 24, set against Alba and Panathinaikos, the same 22 points that he scored last week against Zalgiris Kaunas wearing the Olimpia’s jersey.

His reputation as an athletic shooter is what led him to play in the EuroLeague after a career in which he was definitely labeled as a late bloomer, starting with his last season in college, Tennessee, when he completely changed his shooting mechanics and reinvented himself as a shooter. “Entering my senior season – he remembers – I knew that I had to raise my level a little more, just to be able to try to play in the NBA as well. I spent the whole summer working, working, working, and improving. That summer I didn’t take a shot outside the paint. Coach Rick Barnes rebuilt my mechanics from the scratch. It took all summer to get the results I wanted.”

The injury that occurred in Bologna, in the first Italian league game, was a bad, unlucky, break. Punter responded by working hard in the gym. The video above begins just like that, with the first shots taken while sitting on a chair. Then slowly, without ever backing down, he returned to the court, washed away the rust and exploded again throughout the Zalgiris game.