Not many players get the chance to face their father in a professional basketball game. But Kerr Kriisa still remembers his father Valmo Kriisa nailing a three-pointer in his face and that has motivated him to become a better player – a player who took home the MVP award in helping U18 Zalgiris Kaunas win the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Kaunas.
Kriisa collected 27 points with 4 three-pointers to go with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals for a performance index rating of 32 in Zalgiris's 92-79 win in the first-place game against rival and last season's ANGT champion, U18 Rytas Vilnius. For the tournament, Kriisa averaged 19.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.0 steals for a performance index rating of 23.0 while ranking third in the competition in scoring, second in assists, first in free throw percentage (88.9%) and second in PIR.
"This is my first time playing in this tournament so I really didn't know what to expect. After the first game, I realized it's really just a normal type of game. The names are strong, but really it's just a basketball game. Game after game I started to feel more comfortable and I am really satisfied that we won this tournament," said Kriisa, who hails from Estonia. "We're very happy that we won. Before the tournament, we really weren't expecting to win this. But we kept believing in ourselves. The win is really big, especially against Rytas."
Zalgiris reclaimed its status as ANGT Kaunas winner after finishing third last season - with Rytas winning the event. Now Zalgiris is headed back to the ANGT Finals at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four. Kriisa said the current 2001-born generation now has bragging rights over last season's group.
"We all wanted to get there. Last year there were 2000-born guys, so now it's good to tell them that they didn't get [to the ANGT Finals], but we did," Kriisa said.
Kriisa is spending his first season in Kaunas after a difficult 2017-18 season that saw him move from Estonia to the Brose Bamberg system in Germany. But he really didn't play at all because he was dealing with injuries all season.
"It was my worst year ever. I had shin splints. I had to come back to Estonia. Last year was the worst year of my life," he said.
That proved to be an end to an eventful 2017 calendar year. In August, he helped Estonia remain in Division A at the FIBA U16 European Championship by finishing in in 12th place.
On February 24, 2017, Kriisa got into an Estonian Korvpalli Meistriliiga (KML) game for Tartu Ulikool against BC Valga-Valka/Maks & Mooritsa. The game was special because Valga's team included Valmo Kriisa, a 42-year-old role player at the end of his 24-year career during which he played in Sweden, Netherlands and Latvia. Tartu won 85-69 and Kerr Kriisa collected 2 points, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 rebound in his fifth game. His father tallied 4 points, four assists, 1 rebound and a steal - not to mention a big shot with Kerr guarding him.
"I remember he missed all his shots and then when I was guarding him he made a three-pointer right in my face. That's basically all I can remember and that still really hurts," Kerr admitted.
Kriisa said he learned a lot of things from his father – one being to never stand still.
"You always have to keep moving: after practice, you stretch, then you eat. You just can't sit and watch TV. This really influences your future life and how long you can play."
Valmo Kriisa knows plenty about that; he played for the Estonian national team from 1995 to 2011 and retired in 2017 after 24 years of play.
"He has a hotel business, but he's missing basketball. He's thinking about returning soon … we'll see," Kriisa said.
Kerr Kriisa seems to have reached a point where he would not face his father again in a professional game should Valmo Kriisa actually return to the game. But the elder Kriisa has already left a distinguished mark on his son – one that has turned him into a leader for Zalgiris's youth teams. And one that will make him a big part of Zalgiris's chances at the ANGT Finals in May in Spain.