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The Cava-List: International Men of Mystery

From Their Land to THE LAND

Over the weekend, the Cavaliers’ brass completed a difficult deal – sending Larry Nance Jr. to the Blazers in a three-team deal that eventually netted them Lauri Markkanen, a 24-year-old seven-footer with a world of potential.

Markkanen – who starred in his single season with Arizona before being tabbed with the 7th overall pick of the 2017 Draft – grew up in Vantaa, Finland, the country’s fourth-most populated city, and both his father (Pekka) and mother (Riikka) played professional basketball.

On October 20 – when Cleveland tips off the 2021-22 campaign against the Grizzlies in Memphis – the young Finnish big man will join new teammates, Cedi Osman (Turkey), Ricky Rubio (Spain) and Mfiondo Kabengele (Canada) on a docket of former foreign-born players who’ve worn the Wine & Gold – the subject of today’s Cava-List.

The list is long, so we had to pare it down. And because the list isn’t ordered, it wouldn’t be fair to give the same space to Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania) – who played 23,835 minutes with the Cavaliers – as Andrew Bogut (Australia) – who played less than one. Originally, we tried setting the bar at 50 games played – just to sneak our guy, Christian Eyenga (Republic of Zaire), in under the wire – but it just didn’t work.

So, apologies to Bruno Sundov (Croatia), Butch Lee (Puerto Rico), Sasha Kaun (Russia), Luol Deng (Sudan), Milos Babic (Serbia), Martynas Andriuskevicius (Lithuania), Jose Calderon (Spain), Sergey Karasev (Russia), Jiri Welsch (Czechoslovakia), Milos Babic (Serbia), Deng Adel (Sudan), John Amaechi (Great Britain), Semih Erden (Turkey), Anthony Bennett (Canada) and Edy Tavares (Cape Verde) – who played in one game as a Cavalier and blocked six shots.

It’s also true that Steve Kerr was born in Beirut and that Kyrie Irving has dual citizenship in both the U.S. and Australia. And if I missed anyone, somebody can yell at me on Twitter (@CavsJoeG) – which is always pretty sweet.

With that in mind, here’s today’s Cava-List of players who’ve logged at least 100 games for the franchise after being born outside the States on this great, flat planet of ours …

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

While it’s true that the List is not ordered, it just wouldn’t be right to start out with anyone aside from the Large Lithuanian.

When he was picked with the 20th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Cavalier fans had barely heard of Ilguaskas, who hailed from Kaunas, Lithuania – the birthplace of his idol, Arvydas Sabonis.

After missing his first season, undergoing right foot surgery just a few months after being drafted, Big Z played in all 82 games during his “rookie” campaign – winning MVP of the Schick Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend and giving Rik Smits and the heavily-favored Pacers all they could handle in the postseason.

But between that season (1997-98) and the 2001-02 campaign, Ilgauskas was limited to just 29 total games, with another pair of foot surgeries in between. Those injuries and the ensuing rehab might’ve induced a lesser man to call it a career. But for Big Z, this merely served as a rebirth, bouncing back to play 62 games in 2001-02 and, the following season was named to his first All-Star Game, joining the East squad in Atlanta.

Over the next seven years with the Cavaliers, Ilgauskas never played less than 64 games in a season – starting 81 games in back-to-back campaigns and, as the team began its ascent in the standings, Z continued to climb through the franchise’s all-time record books.

Before wrapping up his career in Cleveland following the 2009-10 season, Ilgauskas (10,616) would go on to become one of just four Cavaliers to have topped the 10,000-point mark, joining Austin Carr, Brad Daugherty and LeBron James.

One day after breaking the 10,000-point plateau, Big Z swatted four shots against New Jersey to become the franchise’s all-time leader in blocked shots, finishing with 1,269.

When his career in Cleveland came to an end, Ilgauskas ranked in the team’s top 10 in 12 major statistical categories and had suited up for 771 games as a Cavalier – at the time more than any player in franchise history.

The Cavaliers retired his jersey on March 8, 2014.

Not bad for a player whose career almost ended after two seasons.

Anderson Varejao

Who could have possibly predicted the return of Anderson Varejao to the Wine & Gold late last season?

The Wild Thing – who still makes his home in Cleveland – was able to put on a Cavaliers uniform one more time last year – and looked pretty damn good in limited minutes.

The 30th overall pick of the 2004 Draft by the Orlando Magic out of F.C. Barcelona, Varejao was originally thought to be a throw-in on a deal that also landed Drew Gooden in exchange for Tony Battie and two second rounders. But he wound up playing nearly 12 seasons in Cleveland before being part of a painful-but-necessary three-team trade in 2016 that landed Channing Frye.

A tenacious rebounder and dogged defender, Varejao suited up for 591 regular season games and 71 postseason contests for the Cavs. Among the organization’s all-time leaders, he ranks 7th in games played – beneath Austin Carr and above Mark Price. He’s 4th in offensive rebounds, 5th in defensive rebounds, 6th in overall rebounds, 7th in blocked shots and 8th in steals.

Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson was a skinny 19-year-old Canadian kid when the Cavaliers made him their second first round pick (No. 4) in 2011 – three selections after taking Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall.

And before he departed as a free agent one offseason ago, Thompson inserted himself into franchise lore forever as the blue-collar backbone of the team that won the 2016 NBA Championship in seven epic games.

One of the best guys and hardest workers in team history – a player Coach Tyronn Lue called the “heart and soul” of that title-winning squad – Tristan suited up for 447 straight contests as a Cavalier.

Timofey Mozgov

Acquired from the Nuggets in a mid-season deal back in 2015, the loveable Russian center played in 122 regular season and 33 Playoff games with the Wine & Gold and, although his minutes were reduced in his second Finals appearance with Cleveland, was part of the squad that won the World Championship in 2016.

Once filmed riding a bear into the city limits for a winter hat promotion at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Timo did have some big games for the Cavs – including a 28-point, 10-rebound outburst against Golden State in Game 3 of the 2015 Finals.

After that game, Mozgov – possibly the funniest player on that roster – had this exchange at the postgame presser …

Reporter: “You had a phenomenal night inside, scoring virtually at will. In fact, the points in the paint piled up. Yet, it did not free up the perimeter opportunities for the Cavs. Was it a combination of just more of a harassing defense on the part of the Warriors tonight, or, as Coach Blatt said, was the team a bit tired, a bit exhausted from the three games in five nights and the travel? Or a combination?”

Timo: “That's a long question. Can you repeat it, please?”

DeSagana Diop

Although he never lived up to the “Baby Shaq” nickname given by John Lucas after the Cavs tabbed Diop with the 8th overall pick of the 2001 Draft, the native of Dakar, Senegal still played in 193 games for the Cavaliers.

The affable, well-rounded Diop, who speaks five languages, played for the Mavericks, Bobcats and Nets before his retirement at age 31 and is now an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets.

Samardo Samuels

The undrafted big man from Trelawny, Jamaica – and high school teammate of Tristan Thompson – played in 109 games with the Cavaliers during the down period after LeBron’s first departure and before his return. In those 109 games, Samuels’ squad won just 22 of them.

The soft-spoken bruiser on the boards currently plays for Libertadores de Querétaro of the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional in Mexico.

Vitaly Potapenko

Picked one spot ahead of Kobe Bryant (and eight spots before Zydrunas Ilgauskas) in the 1996 Draft, the rugged center known as the “Ukraine Train” played two-and-a-half seasons with Cleveland before being traded to the Celtics for Andrew DeClercq and a future first rounder that turned out to be Andre Miller.

Vitaly returned as an assistant coach with the Wine & Gold and was on the staff that won the 2016 NBA title and is now an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Sasha Pavlovic

The 19th pick of the 2003 Draft by Utah, Pavlovic played five seasons with Cleveland – his best in 2006-07 as the Cavaliers made their first trip to the NBA Finals, averaging an even 9.0ppg, shooting 41 percent from long-distance.

The Serbian-Montenegrin shooting guard, who played in 302 regular season and 42 postseason games with the Cavs, played nine NBA seasons overall, finished his career with the Blazers in 2012-13 after stints with Dallas, New Orleans, Minnesota and Boston.

Omri Casspi

Casspi, the first Israeli player drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft – No. 23 to the Kings back in 2009 – logged 108 games with the Cavaliers after arriving in an offseason trade for J.J. Hickson.

Before returning to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2018 to finish his playing career, Casspi played for six different NBA squads after leaving Cleveland.

Ante Zizic

Speaking of former Cavaliers suiting up for Maccabi Tel Aviv, big man Ante Zizic – who played in 113 games over three seasons with the Wine & Gold after arriving in the Kyrie Irving deal along with Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and a future first rounder that turned out to be Collin Sexton.

Despite some bright moments, the native Croatian never found his footing with the Cavaliers and after playing in just 22 contests in the 2019-20 campaign, left the States to join the Israeli Premier League heavyweights.

Matthew Dellavedova

When it comes to Cleveland sports folk heroes, they don’t get much bigger than Matthew Dellavedova.

Delly’s NBA journey began as a Summer League invitee – trying to get noticed among a rookie grouping that included Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix. Even Cory Higgins and Kenny Kadji came to Vegas with better odds.

But Mike Brown and his staff saw what every staff since them has seen – that Dellavedova was born to play the position, is tougher than a two-dollar steak and acts as extension of the coach on the floor. Cleveland needed a third point guard behind Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack, and a local legend was born.

Delly posted so many heroic performances as the scrappy Aussie underdog from Maryborough, but none bigger than his epic Game 3 performance in the 2015 Finals – scoring 20 points while stymying Steph Curry as the Cavs took a 2-1 series lead over the Warriors. While his teammates celebrated and spoke with the media, Delly spent that postgame on the trainer’s table, with an IV plugged into his arm.

He spent two-and-a-half seasons with Milwaukee after inking a free agent deal in the 2016 offseason and returned to Cleveland in early December 2018 as part of a three-team trade.

On that memorable first night back in Cleveland, with the crowd chanting his name, Delly drilled three triples, finishing with 15 points off the bench in a dramatic win over Knicks.

Injuries limited Delly to just 13 games last season with one start – leading both teams with 10 assists in that contest.

This season, Dellavedova will suit up for Melbourne United. But he’ll always be a Cavalier.

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