Nicolas Batum’s road to stardom has greatly accelerated over the past three years.
A European star in all youth categories: winner with the U16 in 2005, winner and MVP with the U18 in 2006 and Silver medallist at the 2007 U19 FIBA World Championship.
He made a name for himself during the 2007 Hoop Summit, in which he was a clear MVP.
Probably the best European player from the 1988 generation with Italy and Knicks star, Danilo Gallinari, there were some doubts about Nico’s ability to fight for playing time in a tough and sometimes very individual NBA environment.
The talent was there, but some journalists were comparing Batum to a dear caught in car headlights.
Well, in his very first NBA season, starting 76 of his 79 games played, he turned out to be much more than the “Bambi” that some described him as.
Forced into what many have labelled a stupid trip to Portland a few days before the Qualification finals for EuroBasket 2009, to check out a minor shoulder injury, he was perturbed by this 64 hour trip back to Oregon.
But Batum is now, in the absence of Mike Piétrus, a key player for a French team short in depth on the wings.
Nicolas hurt his shoulder again during the 2009-10 pre-season and needed surgery, which made him miss the first three months of competition.
However he came back strongly and by the end of January 2010, he had helped the Trail Blazers, plagued with injuries all year, to make the play-offs.
Batum scored 31 points against Minnesota on 27th February, and even pushed European star Rudy Fernandez a bit further down Portland’s bench -not a minor achievement.
He finished the NBA season averaging double figures (10.1 ppg), adding 3.8 rebounds while shooting nearly 52% from the field. Nicolas’ personal story is quite sad, since his father, Richard Batum, a former pro player in lower divisions, died on a basketball court from aneurismal rupture while Nico was still a child.
The story was a kind of secret in his family, or at least not a topic discussed often between Nicolas and his mother.
So years later, when Batum was visiting NBA franchises and having medical check-ups, he innocently answered to a question saying his father died from a heart attack.
This answer threw open questions about his own health and almost compromised his NBA career.
A dream move to the Spurs fell through as he joined the Trail Blazers.
Well, we imagine he does not regret to living in Oregon rather than in Texas now, since the young Blazers seem to have a future as bright as Batum’s.