I remember it was in September 2007 when I saw Ilian Evtimov (201-F-1983, college: NC State) play for the first time in Basketball City Mainhatten in Frankfurt when he was only in his second professional season and first in Germany with the then Deutsche Bank Skyliners where he would spend two seasons. I saw him sink some three’s on that day in an exhibition game against French team Strasburg and right away fell in love with his three point shot. It is funny that a few years later, I would visit Strasburg regularly to watch Evti play. He shot it with grace and I loved his release and jump. I tried to copy it on the playground basket and probably got his jump right, but the accuracy was simply miserable. It didn’t take me long to think of a nickname for my radio play by play calls and had a lot of joy screaming Ilian swishhhhhhh Evtimov whenever he dropped three’s. I really enjoyed following and covering Ilian in Frankfurt and it wouldn’t change after he departed Frankfurt and would continue as his career continued in other countries. It became a habit of mine to see him play with Chalon in Strassburg which was only a two hour drive from Frankfurt. I would of seen him play every season in his incredible six year stay in Chalon, but having games almost every weekend to cover in Germany, it was real lottery to catch a free weekend in my schedule and see him play. But before my Strasburg visits, I was lucky to be able to see him play a Eurochallenge game in Germany in January 2012 against the Telekom Baskets Bonn. I picked the perfect game to watch, because despite losing on an incredible last second shot by Simonas Serapinas, it was one of his best games with Chalon. In the game in Bonn, he was perfect with 21 points on 7/7 shooting. Another great game he had was nailing Hyres-Toulon for 30 points and 9 three’s. But there was one other game that also will forever be stacked in his top three personal best games. ‘The finals of the French cup, I made 8 threes, and one mid distance where my foot was on the line. I won the MVP, and as Greg Beugnot has said, I was the only player that was able to take an MVP with Blake Shilb on the team. Those 3 games remain my best shooting performances as a pro. Bonn was a great game, as I felt I couldn’t miss a shot. And I didn’t. Should of shot more. They beat us at the buzzer with a fade away corner shot after a very difficult pass’, remembered Ilian Evtimov. He played with Elan Chalon from 2010-2016 winning four titles and it was only normal, that the club would remember the 2011-2012 season where Evtimov and co won the triple. But there was also one more incredible ceremony on April 9, 2022 and that was the retirement of Ilian Evtimov‘s number 12. Chalon will always be a second home for him as his number 12 will forever be hanging high above in the Le Colisee.
Ilian Evtimov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, but also has the French citizenship. He went to school in Sofia and went to high school in Winston-Salem in North Carolina thus getting a grip early on the English language. He then had the privilege to play at North Carolina State from 2001-2006 reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2005 and played a total of 128 games and learned how to shoot the three shooting over 40% in his last two seasons which would become his bread and butter as a professional. He turned professional in 2006 and returned back to Europe and played briefly in Spain with Estudiantes and then played a full season with VidiVici Bologna (Italy-Serie A). He then made the next step and played in Germany for the Deutsche Bank Skyliners from 2007-2009. His first season was incredible as he played 10 ULEB Cup games averaging 14.5ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.7apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 48.3%, 3PT: 40.7%, FT: 85%; and 44 BBL games averaging 13.1ppg, 5.1rpg, 2.1apg, 1.3spg, 2FGP: 41.4%, 3PT: 33.9%, FT: 86.2%. His second season wasn’t quite as good anymore as his coach had issues with his play. He left Frankfurt and continued with Proteas EKA AEL Limassol (Cyprus-Division A) playing 13 EuroChallenge games averaging 10.9ppg, 3.3rpg, 1.3apg, FGP: 46.8%, 3PT: 45.6%, FT: 83.3%: FT-2 (90.9%). After a solid but not great season in Cyprus, he had to find a new challenge. But that wasn’t so difficult for him. It is usually coaches that have players on their radar, but usually not players that have teams on their radar. He knew in 2009 before landing in Cyprus that his long term goal would be Chalon. ‘I actually had a very good year in Cyprus, to the point that I had stayed in touch with numerous coaches there. The league was much better than I expected to be frank. But I knew my future was not in Cyprus. The reason I took that job was actually calculated. I saw they we played Eurochallenge, and I saw they played against Chalon. My goal was exactly to do well against Chalon and go there the following season. This is exactly what happened. I had a very good game against them when we played them home, with an over 20 points game’, remembered Ilian Evtimov. He arrived in Chalon in 2010 and one can say the rest is history. If there is one guy that he will forever be thankful for will be head coach Gregor Beugnot. ‘Coach Beugnot offered me the opportunity to come and play in France. I was little known in France despite having a French passport because I had spent most of my time in the USA in college, but also outside of France during my first professional seasons. Chalon is where I found a coach who believed in me, used my skills, explored them, and hid my weaknesses. In addition to this, we had a very complimentary team, where everyone respected and knew their role’, said Ilian Evtimov.
The movie buff who last saw the Money Heist which is the best TV series he has ever watched didn’t waste any time in his first season with Chalon winning the French Cup. He played 33 games averaging 11.6ppg, 4.2rpg, 1.9apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 50.5%, 3PT: 39.8%, FT: 84.2%. One could see during this season that this was a team with special characters that exactly knew their roles and everyone had each others back. But most important no player was satisfied, but extremely hungry. ‘Everyone on the team had something to prove. The team was assembled with guys that had a chip on their shoulder and wanted to prove they could play at that level. Bryant Smith was Blake Shilb’s back up, knowing that Bryan was the all time leading scorer of the Ulep Cup. I will never forget what he told me. If I am going to be a back up and not even play some games, I will make sure that the person in front of me is going to be the MVP. That’s exactly what happened’, stressed Ilian Evtimov. After that incredible season, one could of expected more incredible feats, but three titles? One could of expected winning another title, but winning three in a season is extremely rare. It is fair to say that the 2011-2012 Elan Chalon team was one in a century team. ‘The chemistry and the ingredients were perfect. We dominated everyone. It was an energy that I had never seen or felt before. You walk in the gym, and the opposing team comes and says hello to you. But with a fear in their eyes. We had totally instilled fear in the opposing teams. Orleans was the team that was the toughest, hard-core, made of men, a little like the Pistons bad boys, and we had to overcome our mental toughness to beat them’, expressed Ilian Evtimov. In the French Pro A league he averaged 9.9ppg, 4.1rpg, 1.7apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 42.4%, 3PT: 42.0%, FT-1 (94.7) and in the EuroChallenge averaged 10.0ppg, 4.6rpg, 1.3apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 35.7%, 3PT: 46.0%, FT-1 (95.2%). One of the toughest games that season was overcoming the feisty Orleans squad 85-83 in a do or die semi-final clash. ‘That team was rough, tough, mean, tricky, and athletic. They had all the ingredients to make our life miserable. It was a true chess match between the coaches, each game you saw different strategies, set up, plays, adjustments. The players as well. The fans went nuts. Down 12 with 3 minutes to go, few believed we would make it happen. Coach took a time out, he didn’t yell, he didn’t need the drawing board, he just smiled, laughed and asked us. Alright, it all comes down to this. All year long. All the running, the conditioning, the wins, the losses. You know you can come back and beat this team. So I am just going to ask you. Do you want to do it? There was no extra motivation, extra excitement after these words. Simply, we looked around, looked each other in the face. Said ok, let’s do it and end it so we go to the finals. Stops, tough shots, threes, and the buzzer beater from Blake to top it. It was like in a movie’, expressed Ilian Evtimov. In the final they had less problems against Le Mans that featured top players like Alex Acker and Taylor Rochestie and ex Skyliner Travon Bryant. ‘We were up 20 or 25 by halftime. The media had gone to say Le Mans was going to beat us, they literally screwed them up. We were not to be challenged. After all, we were a bunch of guys with a chip on their shoulders that wanted to prove they belonged. This was playing into what made us great all year. When we started the playoffs, we wrote on the board, 33 days left. From the last regular season game to the last championship game. I asked Brayan if he was ok for us to write that down, so people’s head would be mentality prepared they were not going home for another 33 days. Each day that went by, we scratched a day. Then came the final and the -1, and we knew we didn’t just sacrifice a full month away from home and our families to lose in the finals’, remembered Ilian Evtimov. Two guys that will always be like brothers to him will be Malcom Delaney and Blake Schilb that were so instrumental for the team success that season. ‘Malcom was an extra ordinary player. It was his first year out of college. Obviously he wanted to be the go to guy, but understood there was a hierarchy. Understood Blake was our Michael Jordan. So he plugged himself in perfectly to that, and he excelled and became an even better player. It was obvious Malcom was not going to stay long in France or Europe. To me, he was cheated not being drafted and starting his NBA career immediately after college. The kid knew basketball like a veteran. As for Blake, he is the most complete and smartest player I had ever played with. You would try to overpower him with physique and hacks, he would find a solution. You would try to outsmart him, he would find a solution and be 3 steps ahead of you. You would put a big guy to guard him, he would start knocking down threes. Let’s not forget the 2012 2013 season where he literally killed the Euroleague during the return games. He showed what he was really about’, stated Ilian Evtimov.
The shooting sniper who didn’t think Will Smith’s retaliation by slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars was correct would play four more seasons with Elan Chalon and reach two more finals. He gave the word consistency a new meaning averaging 9,0ppg in the French Pro A and shot better than 40% from outside in three of the four seasons. ‘It is always difficult to lose a final or a final four. Especially when we hosted the Europe Cup. But some teams are meant to overcome challenges, others are built to fold when it gets tough. I had never played again on a team that had the mental toughest we had in 2012’, stressed Ilian Evtimov. He also got the opportunity to play at the highest stage in Europe playing Euroleague. He battled Alba Berlin and remembers the two games. In one game he scored 13 points and in the other put up the goose egg going 0/6. ‘ Frankly I don’t remember the stats. But I do remember being up 15 against Alba in Berlin at halftime. Would we have won that game. We would of advanced to the top 16 which had not been done for a long time by a French team. If I shot 0/6 against Berlin, that means they knew to guard me well meaning I posed a serious threat to them’, laughed Ilian Evtimov. He had so many great teammates over the years. Two other guys that he will never forget were Sheldon Williams and Brandon Davies. Williams played in the State of North Carolina at Duke while he was at North Carolina State then played 6 years in the NBA and then played only one season in Europe before closing out his career in China. While Brandon Davies had his first stop in Chalon after playing briefly in the NBA. He had to pay his dues at first in Europe but since has become an impressive Euroleague player and landed with FC Barcelona. ‘Sheldon and I have tremendous amount of respect for each other. You can find on Google many pictures of us guarding each other in college. He is an amazing person, and an amazing player. In Chalon we spent a lot of time playing together as he played the 5 and I played the 4. We stay in touch to this day. Brandon went through a difficult time when he played with us. He was very very talented but then was sidelined for I don’t remember which reason. I spent a good amount of time letting him know that he was gifted, talented, and that he would bounce back and prove everyone wrong. I am not sure he has great memories from playing in Chalon, but it certainly helped him become who he is today. An amazing player with an unbelievable career’, warned Ilian Evtimov. One weekend that I will never forget was the 2016 Fiba Europe Cup final 4 in Chalon which hosted the event with teams Enisey, Openjobmetis, Fraport Skyliners and Elan Chalon. Everybody in Frankfurt wanted to see Ilian Evtimov battle his former club for the title. But on this weekend the basketball God had other ideas. Frankfurt won the title, but beat Openjobmetis in the final while Evtimov had to watch. ‘I was actually looking forward to playing Frankfurt in the finals. The way I had played against Estudiantes (my professional experience) in 2007 with Virtus Bologna for 3rd place of the Eurochallenge. We had lost to Valencia in the semi finals, they had one of the best teams in Europe with Marc Gasol, Fuscka, Shammond Williams and other superstars. I imagined playing Frankfurt and dropping a 20 point game and a title. But the story turned out different’, remembered Ilian Evtimov.
Miles Schmidt-Scheuber having Ilian Evtimov as a guest in his weekly basketball radio show in 2009
So now fast forward to April 2022. The forward who lists his five best Chalon teammates of all-time with Blake Schilb Malcom Delaney Steed Tchicambou Devin Booker and AJ Slaughter had a date back in Chalon. He last played professional three years ago. After his successful time in Chalon, he would get a last nice tour of the beauty of France playing in Cholet, Lille and Roanne. He didn’t totally throw away the basketball in the last years as he would practice with his brother Vassil’s team when they were undermanned. But he defiantly doesn’t miss the game. ‘Basketball travel, the 2 practices a day, and the constant pains 365 days a year. If there is one thing true about bring a professional is that you are never really 100%’, stressed Ilian Evtimov. But he had one more basketball road trip, but this time not to play. Today he lives in Sofia and finally has more time for his family and kids being able to do school pick up duty. He also travels a lot so heading back to Chalon was a normal occurrence even if it would be a very special time. ‘I was very honored and excited. Every kid’s dream is to play professionally, win games and titles in front of thousands of people, being MVP, and hitting buzzer beaters. All of which I accomplished during my career. But having your jersey honored, goes beyond that. It is written in the books forever. My number will no longer be played with. There is no higher honor. Forever Chalon will be my basketball home. Generations down the road, hopefully my son will walk in the Coliseum, for a game to play, and he will look up and feel something special when he sees the name he carries is hanging in the arena. It was truly special to go back.. There was a museum to celebrate the 10 years since the triple title we won. The photos, the videos, the titles, cups brought nostalgia, but more importantly the people welcomed me back as if I had never left’, said Ilian Evtimov.
The ex North Carolina State great got the news some months ago about the 10 year anniversary and jersey retirement of number 12, so there was a lot of anticipation and joy leading up to April 9th. ‘ I was nervous to be honest. Even though it is so honor full, it was still exciting and I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. They certainly exceeded my expectations with the whole evening. I couldn’t help but get emotional when the jersey was being pulled up. It really hit me at that moment what was being done. The ceremony was very emotional’, explained Ilian Evtimov. He played with so many players and had dealings with so many people over the six years in Chalon that it was only normal that his phone was exploding with love. He received in person congratulations but also via videos from certain people that couldn’t be at the ceremony and also messages on social platforms.’ I haven’t kept count but it was a great amount indeed. I guess what I didn’t realize is how much that year, the team, and myself had impacted the town and the league’, said Ilian Evtimov. The whole night was very memorable and I can’t imagine what it is like to be a player and stand in a dark arena with massive cheering going on and then seeing that number get raised. The goose bumps must be unending. I remember seeing clips of Larry Bird and Kobe being honored on TV and saw Fraport Skyliner legend Pascal Roller seeing his number get raised in the Fraport arena a decade ago. It was only obvious that Evtimov had no remorse to show some feelings and have to wipe tears from his cheeks. ‘The more time goes by, the more valuable the titles and the career accomplishments become. Because it has never been done for a team to do what we did that year. And it had not been done before either. I was seeing in my head the memories, the ups and downs of the season, and even though we remember only the titles speaking of that year, there was a lot that happened that wasn’t la vie en rose. Champions are not made on the ring, they are only recognized on the ring’, stressed Ilian Evtimov. I always wondered why he didn’t finish out his career with Elan Chalon. But sometimes that inner voice knows best. ‘ Sometimes, leaving can be the better move than dragging and holding on. Yes I spent the best years of my professional career in Chalon, even off the court. But a new cycle had started and they went into a different direction. It is hard to criticize that choice as they won another title right after. But the love and warmness of the people and management has not changed. We are people before business, and there is a mutual respect for who we are and what we all accomplished together. The secretary’s job in the office selling tickets was just as important as the players on the court. We were one big family’, said Ilian Evtimov. In six years with Elan Chalon, Ilian Evtimov played 201 France Pro A games and 274 games in total and scored in double figures in 123 games (courtesy eurobasket.com). He scored 2,504 points and nailed 384 three’s. I have seen 1000’s of guys play in my almost 20 year career of covering European basketball and have to say that Ilian Evtimov belongs to my 10 favorite players of all-time that I have covered. I saw him play in every easyCredit BBL city and in Strasburg and Chalon and will never forget his game especially his three point shot. I know that he will never forget his incredible time with Elan Chalon. I’m very happy to been able to see him play with Elan Chalon during that time. He will never be forgotten in Chalon. Thanks for great memories on the court in France and Germany.