7DAYS EuroCup scoring ace dishes with Joe Arlauckas
Partizan's Kevin Punter visits The Crossover
For the first time in the history of the Crossover with Joe Arlauckas, the guest is a player from the 7DAYS EuroCup! Kevin Punter is starring for Partizan NIS Belgrade this season as it mounts a challenge to get back to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague one year after he helped a rebuilding AX Armani Exchange Milan make its long-awaited return to the EuroLeague Final Four.
Arlauckas founded a kindred spirit in Punter and revealed the many things they have in common throughout the podcast. They both hail from New York, though different parts of the state. They know many of the same people, played for some of the same clubs and both played for Punter's current head coach, Zeljko Obradovic.
There was never a doubt about Punter's basketball talent growing up, but he still had to overcome many obstacles to find his way to a professional career. Academic struggles derailed his college plans and almost caused him to give up the game. He was forced to completely retool his jump shot in college and missed the second half of his senior season with a broken foot. When his first contract to play in Europe was offered, another problem arose.
"I didn't even have a passport! The team gave us 48 hours to sign the deal. I don't even have a passport!" Punter recalled. "At this point, I had to report in like two and a half weeks, I don't have a passport. I had to tell my agent, 'I don't even have a passport, so I can't go. I don't know what to tell you.' Finally, we ended up getting a passport expedited, signed the deal and that started a whole 'nother chapter of my life."
Punter played in Greece, Belgium, Poland and Italy before he got the chance to play in the EuroLeague for the first time with Olympiacos Piraeus in 2019. He started on opening night and played a team-high 31 minutes, but Coach David Blatt soon resigned due to health issues and Punter's role on the team began to diminish. It became one of the toughest points of his career.
"I was taken out of the lineup for whatever reason and slowly the minutes just dropped and dropped. They signed two more players and you know how that goes. Coaches have different visions of things and it's just the business of basketball," Punter explained. "I kind of lost myself in that, trying to figure out how I could play more, figuring out who I was. Once again, you start thinking about… the rumors are, 'He's not a EuroLeague player because now this happened'… It's the outside noise. That was a tough couple of months."
His former coach at AEK Athens, Dragan Sakota, brought Punter to Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade midway through the season and there he proved he was a player for the highest levels. He averaged 15.9 points on 48.3% three-point shooting in 12 EuroLeague games with Zvezda, which caught the attention of Coach Ettore Messina, who wanted Punter as part of his rebuilt squad at AX Armani Exchange Milan alongside established stars such as Kyle Hines, Luigi Datome and Malcolm Delaney, all of whom the club signed in the summer of 2020.
"It was really dope, man, because I watched some of these guys play. So to come into that, it was humbling for me," Punter said. "The biggest thing for me that year was, I don't want to say keep up, but apply pressure just like those guys apply pressure. They've been doing it for years. I'm young coming up, I haven't really done anything up until this, so I'm asking people every day. I'm working hard every day. And I'm just gonna bring it every day. That was kind of my mentality."
Punter fit right in and assumed a starting role on one of the best teams in the league. He led Milan in scoring with 14.3 points per game in helping it reach the Final Four, where he poured in a game-high 23 points against FC Barcelona in the semifinals. But after one season in the fashion capital, Punter sought new motivation and found it with one of Europe's storied teams.
"I always need something to motivate me. I've been motivated for the last six years. That's kind of how I like to build each season. So one thing I asked [Coach Obradovic] was ‘What is your plan? Where do you see this team?'" Punter explained. "Once he said, 'Get back to EuroLeague. And we're trying to do it now, like right, right now,' that was all I needed to hear. Obviously, with him being the coach he was, I didn't need to know no more."
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Mario Hezonja, Vasilije Micic and Walter Tavares, coaching greats such as Dimitris Itoudis, Andrea Trinchieri, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others.