Sasha Vezenkov took another momentous step Thursday in a lifelong, worldwide journey that ultimately brought him here, to the United States, where he will test himself against the NBA’s best as one of the newest members of the Sacramento Kings.
Kings general manager Monte McNair joined Vezenkov at the podium for an introductory news conference inside the team’s Golden 1 Center practice facility.
Vezenkov, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward who signed a three-year, $20 million contract with the Kings in July, said he is eager to join a team that went to the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference last season.
“I’m really happy, really excited,” Vezenkov said. “It was a big decision for my career and I’m really happy to do it for Sacramento. I’m really thankful to the organization because throughout the last year, they came overseas. They show me their commitment. They show me how much they want me to be here and I’m really happy.”
Vezenkov’s parents, Sasho and Yanka, attended the news conference after taking a walk through the DOCO plaza earlier in the day. His father is a former professional basketball player and coach who played for the Bulgarian national team and competed in two European championships.
Vezenkov is regarded as one of the most lethal shooters in Europe. In a November 2022 game against Alba Berlin, he scored 24 points without taking a single dribble.
McNair said Vezenkov’s size and shooting ability make him a perfect fit for Sacramento’s pace-and-space offense, which led the league in scoring last season while recording the highest offensive rating in NBA history.
“He’s got incredible shooting, size, IQ,” McNair said. “Just a winner, EuroLeague MVP, Greek League champion ... so he’s had a ton of success on the international stage and we’re excited to see him carry that over to the NBA.”
Vezenkov said this opportunity in Sacramento is a dream come true.
“Every kid who plays in Europe wants to come to the NBA,” he said.
Vezenkov is a 28-year-old Bulgarian who was raised in Cyprus and Greece. He committed to play collegiately for Xavier University in the Big East Conference but ultimately chose to remain in Greece, where he started playing professionally at 16.
The Brooklyn Nets selected Vezenkov with the 57th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, but again he elected to remain in Greece. He played for Aris Thessaloniki from 2011-15, FC Barcelona from 2015-18 and Olympiacos from 2018-23.
Vezenkov is a three-time Greek League MVP and the reigning EuroLeague MVP, joining a list that includes Andrei Kirilenko, Sergio Rodriguez, Nemanja Bjelica, Nikola Mirotic and Luka Doncic. Vezenkov was named EuroLeague MVP last season after averaging 17.6 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 38% from 3-point range to lead Olympiacos to the championship game at the EuroLeague Final Four.
The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired the draft rights to Vezenkov in 2021 in a multi-team trade involving James Harden. The Kings acquired his rights from the Cavaliers in exchange for the 49th pick in the 2022 NBA draft.
That marked the start of a yearlong courtship as the Kings worked to bring Vezenkov to the NBA. The organization sent several representatives overseas to scout and build relationships with Vezenkov, including McNair, coach Mike Brown, assistant coach Jay Triano, Vice President of Player Personnel Phil Jabour and Chief Operating Officer Matina Kolokotronis.
That process paid off in July when Vezenkov, after much soul searching, reached an agreement with the Kings. He received a warm welcome from Kings fans when he made his first appearance in Sacramento on the final day of the California Classic in July. Vezenkov was seen chatting with Brown, McNair, assistant general manager Wes Wilcox, Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé and others, but he was not formally introduced because his contract had not been finalized.
Vezenkov then accompanied the team to Las Vegas for the first few days of the NBA Summer League before returning to Bulgaria. Now, he’s back, ready to get acquainted with his new teammates with training camp set to begin Sept. 27.
Brown attended Thursday’s news conference along with assistant coach Luke Loucks, point guard De’Aaron Fox, forward Keegan Murray and other members of the organization.
Asked how he feels about continuing his career so far from home, Vezenkov said: “I feel like (I am ) home. Even though I’m here only a couple days, I feel like I have a new family and that helps me a lot.”