MVP Is Back: E.J. Rowland Joins Khimki

Khimki Moscow Region parted ways with Tyrese Rice and Petteri Koponen, but didn't take long to find a replacement, signing former VEF guard and 2012-13 regular season MVP, E.J. Rowland. Exclusive for VTB-League.com, Dmitry Kolinov reveals why this was a good signing for Khimki.

Over eight seasons in the VTB United League, plenty of star players have featured on middle-of-the-road teams and posed a threat to the top contenders. Some struggled to meet expectations, others were terrific for two-three games, but E.J. Rowland stormed to the 2012-13 regular season MVP award, becoming the first and only player in League history to average 5+ rebounds and 5+ assists in one season. He also made VEF competitive in a group that featured two Euroleague teams (Zalgiris and CSKA) and VTB finalists (Lokomotiv).

One of the main secrets to Rowland's success was his unquenchable drive and energy (

even off the court

). His career reminds one of an extended journey in which the hero refuses to give up, always moving on in search of something better. Since college, Rowland has never stayed at a club for more than two seasons. He's always looked to get better and reach the next level. Ultimately, that's meant playing basketball on three continents, gaining Bulgarian citizenship and signing for 11 different clubs, including Spanish power Unicaja, Eurocup contenders Banvit (where Rowland played under Dimitris Itoudis) and, of course, VEF Riga, where he has many fond memories.

The move to Khimki is another step in the journey. Once again, Rowland is moving to a new country where he'll face a new challenge and gain fresh motivation.

For much of his career, E.J. has both been the primary ballhandler, responsible for orchestrating an offense centered around one player (unusual in Europe), as well as serving as the main scoring option. That said, Rowland has never been seen as selfish, managing to remain an effective distributor and off-the-ball threat. Which is exactly what Khimki lacked last season. While Tyrese Rice and Alexey Shved occasionally clicked, Petteri Koponen's numbers plummeted from the 2014-15 campaign.


Rowland is not as highly sought as Rice on the free-agent market and hasn't won as many games in the Euroleague or Eurocup, not to mention finals MVPs, but he can help bring a new dimension to Alexey Shved, Sergey Monia and Khimki's other perimeter players. That type of backcourt talent is much more comfortable with an unselfish guard. It's also important that the American has no fear handling the ball on the perimeter or taking a big shot. The combination of experience, versatility and quality that he brings should give fans confidence, rather than doubt in his abilities.

Khimki fans are most concerned about Rowland's age and

physical fitness

. He's seen as an older player and one expected to decline. But everyone forgets that last season's top scorer, Keith Langford, is the same age as Rowland, and the #2 scorer, Ryan Toolson, is only a year younger. So why focus on his age, when he put in an MVP-level performance in Israel last year? His signature steals and

fast breaks

have been on highlight reels across Europe for several years. Expect that to continue this season as he joins a team that preaches an up-tempo style.

Rowland isn't likely to even be the #2 guy at Khimki. Shved and Jones III's experience in the NBA overshadow E.J.'s Eurocup-heavy career. It's also difficult to believe that he can once again compete for an MVP, given the improved quality of the League. But Dusko Ivanovic loves point guards that pass the ball, so who knows. The Montenegrin has coached an impressive amount of talent in his time: Dimitris Diamantidis, Shammond Williams, Marcelo Huertas, Pablo Prigioni, Jose Calderon. Each of these playmakers reached a new level after playing for Ivanovic and the last three earned spots in the NBA. That's why E.J. is probably thrilled about the move. He's never played for such a well-regarded coach (Dimitris Itoudis was still on the rise at Banvit), or teamed up with a star like Alexey Shved. This is the closest he's ever been to one of Europe's top clubs.

Finally, the acquisition will benefit the League. Fans won't treat the returning MVP like "just another American." Rowland is someone who can still break records, make the highlight reels and affect the outcomes of games. Oh, and fans will absolutely want to see Rowland at the first-ever VTB United League All-Star Game, myself included.

Dmitry Kolinov