Iffe Lundberg has become indispensable for Virtus Bologna. Source: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Iffe Lundberg has become indispensable for Virtus Bologna. Source: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Iffe Lundberg – EuroLeague’s Mr. Clutch

Basketball OlyBet 24.04.2024

When it comes to making a shot in the EuroLeague when a game needs to be won, who should you give the ball to? Mike James? Sure, the American is a great choice. But even better is to trust Gabriel Lundberg, known as Iffe.

Playing for Virtus Bologna, the combo guard shone once again last night in Istanbul as they defeated the local team Anadolu Efes 67-64 in a play-in match. The final nail in the hosts’ coffin came from Lundberg himself, who sank a three-pointer with 11.5 seconds remaining, putting Luca Banchi’s squad six points ahead and steering the Italian club towards victory.

It wasn’t the first time Lundberg had excelled in clutch moments this season as he has knocked down crucial shots for Virtus in six different games.

Interestingly, out of these six shots, Lundberg has made five from mid-range or beyond the arc. Only once did he drive to the basket, hitting a tough close-range shot against Partizan Belgrade’s center Bruno Caboclo at the end of December.

However, Lundberg’s preference for avoiding drives to the rim shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many players argue that in the final seconds, it’s not advantageous for a guard to penetrate the paint, as fouls are rarely called, and opposing bigs aggressively contest any attempts.

Pioneering Danish Basketball

Denmark isn’t renowned for its basketball prowess, and few notable players have emerged from the Scandinavian nation. Older basketball fans might recall forward Christian Drejer, who played three seasons in the EuroLeague in the 2000s but didn’t have a significant role while wearing the jerseys of Barcelona and Lottomatica Roma.

Drejer, who was drafted into the NBA in 2004, might have had a more illustrious career, but a severe left foot injury during the 2002/03 season plagued him throughout his career, ultimately leading to his retirement at just 25 years old.

While Olimpia Milano’s forward and EuroLeague star Shavon Shields was born and raised in the US, he also has Danish heritage through his mother, Senia. Shields has represented the Danish national team.

The list of well-known Danish basketball players ends with Drejer, Shields, and Lundberg. Interestingly, while Drejer was the first Dane selected in the NBA draft, Lundberg became the first to step onto its court. In 2022, he played four games for the Phoenix Suns, averaging 3.3 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.8 rebounds while shooting a mere 26.3% from the field. Granted, it was a small sample size.

Taking a Step Back

Born into a family with a Nigerian father and a Danish mother in Copenhagen, Lundberg made his first move abroad at the age of 22 when he signed with a team in the Spanish second division. He performed admirably for Manresa, helping them promote to the top tier and playing an important role in their first season back at the ACB level.

It was only a matter of time before Lundberg made a leap to a higher level. Although he stayed in Spain in the summer of 2019, he joined Lenovo Tenerife, where he didn’t receive as many minutes as he did with Manresa, which didn’t sit well with the 193 cm tall guard.

While Lundberg was seen as a point guard in Spain, he became a clear backup in Tenerife, as the legendary Marcelo Huertas predominantly orchestrated their attacks.

In 2020, Lundberg took several steps down the club ladder but with the aim of becoming an indisputable leader and getting back on the radar of top European clubs. He spent eight months and two days with Zielona Gora in Poland and was simply fantastic. While his statistics in the Polish league were decent, it was his performances in the VTB League that caught the eye – averaging 20.4 points and 5.4 assists.

Kosma Zatorski, Zielona Gora’s general manager, recalled that Lundberg’s joining was heavily influenced by their then-head coach, Žan Tabak, a NBA and EuroLeague champion as a player. “He has excellent knowledge of the European basketball market and connections. Many players want to play here just because of Žan,” he said.

In November 2020, Lundberg played two games within three days that caused a stir in European basketball circles. In EuroBasket qualifiers against Lithuania and Czech Republic – both won by Denmark – he scored 28 and 38 points, respectively, hitting seven three-pointers in the victory over Czech Republic.

Zielona Gora’s phones were buzzing after these games. Russian club Lokomotiv-Kuban came calling, but the Polish team turned their offer down. “We understand that keeping Iffe in Poland is difficult, maybe even impossible. Right now, we are trying to enjoy the situation and do everything to make him happy,” Zatorski said at the time.

However, a few months later, in February 2021, Lundberg and Zielona Gora parted ways, when the EuroLeague giant Moscow CSKA came knocking. To be fair, Lundberg’s performances in that EuroLeague season were impressive, as joining a club that late is never easy, but he struck up a good rapport with then-CSKA head coach Dimitrios Itoudis and was one of Russia’s team’s standout players.

Almost exactly a year after joining CSKA, Russia invaded Ukraine, and alongside Tornike Shengelia, Marius Grigonis, Johannes Voigtmann, and Joel Bolomboy, he was one of those who left CSKA. A couple of weeks later, his NBA dream became a reality with the Suns.

Up and Down Stint with Virtus

Upon his return from North America, Lundberg needed a new team. Eventually, he signed with the former EuroLeague powerhouse Virtus, where head coach Sergio Scariolo didn’t ultimately appreciate him and didn’t see the Dane in the 2023/24 season’s plans.

Looking at Lundberg and the ongoing season from Virtus’ perspective, they were fortunate that Scariolo clashed with the Bologna club’s management to such an extent that the coach was shown the door just a few days before the first official game of the season. Luca Banchi, his replacement, had no intention of letting Lundberg go.

This season, he has represented Virtus in 34 games, only missing the opener against Zalgiris Kaunas. Lundberg’s performances have been and down, but when the Dane is on, he’s simply magnificent.

In an interview given to Eurohoops a month ago, Lundberg noted that while he isn’t more confident compared to last season, he’s had more opportunities to showcase his skills under Banchi. Speaking about his game-winning shots, he said: “I’ve always enjoyed taking responsibility. I’m not afraid of those moments. But what’s most important is that both the coaches and teammates trust me in those situations.”

While Lundberg has mostly been used as a shooting guard in the EuroLeague, his ability to lead the game and find teammates with timely passes hasn’t disappeared. Take, for example, last week’s battle against Efes: Virtus’ ace scored 12 points and dished out seven assists, all while committing just two turnovers.

His defensive efforts also deserve praise. During the regular season, Lundberg was often poor in defense, but against Efes, he made a tremendous effort to contain the opposition and managed to limit one of EuroLeague’s top scorers, Shane Larkin.

However, last Friday, Virtus faced Baskonia in the final play-in game, with the Italian club ultimately grabbing the last spot in the quarterfinals. Their focus from now on – preparing and improving for the next season.


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