08 October, 2019
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Ten players to watch in the 2019-20 season

MIES (Switzerland) - More than 400 players, several of them new faces, are included on the rosters of the 32 teams that enter the Basketball Champions League battle this week.

It is of course impossible to predict who among them will leave their mark on the 2019-20 season and —hopefully— several positive surprises are bound to spring up along the way, but the championsleague.basketball editors and collaborators have picked ten players they think you should keep an eye on as the competition tips off.

Ricky Ledo,  Anwil Wloclawek
SG/SF -  6ft 7in (2.01m)
 

 

By Igor Curkovic

Okay, we all know that Ricky Ledo has 30 points in his hands every single night out there, right? Right. The question is - given his recent track record - can he put it all together for an entire season, and can he take a club like the Polish champs to new international heights?

I think so. Nope, I believe so. Ricky became a father last year, which for sure opened up new horizons in his mental preparation for a season, and the whole of Europe should be worried because of his: "Ready to prove EVERYONE WRONG!" quote on Instagram.

You don't want to see a highly motivated Ledo up against you. Three-pointers with unlimited range, amazing 6ft 7in frame for his drives to the rim, finishes with both left and right, Ricky has the full offensive package. Under Coach Igor Milicic, he could be set to play the best basketball of his career.

Victor Sanders, Telenet Giants Antwerp
SG - 6ft 5in (1.96m)


Sanders helped Antwerp reach the Final Four last season

By Igor Curkovic

Sanders is a man we all saw last season, as a part of the New Kids On The Block from Antwerp, and it was hard to see the Belgian band keeping their core intact for another hit.

With Paris Lee, JaeSean Tate, Ismael Bako and Tyler Kalinoski out, and they were Antwerp's top scorers last season, it's time for Victor to take on more offensive responsibilities and put up double digits on regular basis.

Strong legs are his biggest advantage, Sanders is a two-way beast that could end up leading the steals department by the end of the season.

James Feldeine, Hapoel Jerusalem
SG - 6ft 4in (1.93m)

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by Austin Green

Sometimes James Feldeine is human, and sometimes he’s simply a fireball with basketball shoes on. Don’t believe me? Just ask poor Nymburk, who Feldeine torched in Gameday 5 last season, dropping 35 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the three-point line. A couple months later, Feldeine was still smoldering, scoring 20 against Nymburk in just 25 minutes.

Few players in Europe can match Feldeine’s consistency and ceiling as a scorer. He finished fourth in the Basketball Champions League last season at 16.4 points per game, and he helped lead Jerusalem to the Quarter-Finals where they eventually lost to Tenerife.

This season, Feldeine has already led Jerusalem to one trophy, scoring 21 points in a one-point win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Winner Cup. Don’t be surprised if Feldeine and Jerusalem add the Basketball Champions League trophy to their collection in May.

 

Jerai Grant, SIG Strasbourg
PF/C - 6ft 8in (2.03m)

 

by Austin Green

Jerai Grant was perhaps the most underrated player in the Basketball Champions League last season. He racked up five double-doubles for Neptunas, including an 18-point, 12-rebound performance in a win over his new club Strasbourg.

Grant finished last season ranked second in rebounds per game (8.3), third in field goal percentage (61.3%) and 15th in points per game (14.5). He was the main reason why Neptunas reached the Quarter-Finals, and his addition makes Strasbourg a legitimate Final Four contender this season.

Zach Hankins, ERA Nymburk
C - 6ft 11in (2.11m)

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By David Hein

You all know many of the stars of the Basketball Champions League -and if you want to catch up on some of the new players and teams this season, check out the two Coast to Coast preview podcasts (Groups A and B  and Groups C and D) - but here are two names you might not know - yet!

Zach Hankins with ERA Nymburk. Expect this 6-11, 23-year-old big man to shoot over 60 percent from the field and rack up alley-oop dunks and blocks aplenty all season. Hankins is making his professional debut this season, but he’s an NCAA Division II champion so he knows how to win.

He runs the floor well, can finish with both hands around the rim and has some good footwork - besides priding himself on playing defense. Hankins also comes from a town of 2,500 people in northern Michigan, rides horses and majored in environmental biology. Oh … and his social media handle is @Hankymckspanky. ‘Nuf said.

Adrian Banks, Happy Casa Brindisi
SG - 6ft 3in (1.91m)

 

By David Hein

My second player is Adrian Banks of Happy Casa Brindisi. While Hankins is just beginning his career, Banks is nearing the later stages of his. So that’s when you start looking at looking at legacy and what mark you left on the game.

Banks still has plenty of gas left in the tank at 33 years old and he excelled last season with Brindisi - averaging 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals. Banks has admitted that having two kids has put on hold his hip-hop/rap music-making career  but it hasn’t slowed down his game, which features a great drive to the basket, solid shooting, good defense and excellent playmaking.

And he has thoroughly enjoyed coming back to play for Brindisi head coach Francisco Vitucci, who was his coach last season for the first time since bringing Banks to Varese for the 2012-13 season. Look for big things from Brindisi this season - thanks in large part to Banks.

Giorgi Shermadini, Iberostar Tenerife
C - 7ft 1in (2.16m)

 

By Dimitris Kontos

Young fans might believe the hook-shot was depicted in Paleolithic cave paintings and that 'pass him the ball in the low post and let him go to work' is an ancient Aramaic phrase, but an old-school center can still be enormously valuable — as long as they are as efficient as Giorgi Shermadini.

The Georgian big man is the second-leading player in efficiency rating (25) after the first four games in the new Spanish Liga Endesa season. He’s a more than decent rim protector but his biggest strength is on the offensive end, where he is currently averaging 18,5 points at a mind-blowing 75.6 percent from the floor. His scoring average will likely decline as the season progresses, but his shooting accuracy will stay sky-high: in his six years in Spain, he has never shot below 60% from the field.

Shermadini frequently commands double-team coverage when he receives the ball with his back to the basket and has developed into a shrewd player who will either kick out the ball to a shooter or draw the foul. He is at a very good age for a big man, he has Marcelinho Huertas at the point guard spot and a coach who knows how to use him in Txus Vidoretta, so if he stays healthy he is poised to have one of the best seasons in his career.


Kendrick Ray, AEK
G - 6ft 2in (1.88m)

 

By Dimitris Kontos

It’s true that on other teams there are a lot of guards of similar age - Ray turns 26 years old in January - that have played more games at the highest level than the new AEK player, but there are mitigating circumstances: He had to sit out an entire year in college, he took the decision to come to Europe (joining Czech champions ERA Nymburk) only two years ago, and last season he landed in an already stacked Maccabi Tel Aviv backcourt and could not get sufficient playing time.

But none of that can deny the fact that Ray is a scoring guard who is equally capable of hitting shots from deep or putting it on the floor and  driving to the basket . His pull-up shot following a blazing-fast crossover dribble is simply poetry in motion.

The big question mark is whether playing alongside a charismatic scorer like Keith Langford, who takes the lion’s share of AEK possessions, will hinder or help Ray’s play. If it’s the latter, we could bear witness to a fantastic individual season by the 26-year-old New Yorker.

 

R.J. Hunter, Türk Telekom
SG - 6ft 5in (1.96m)

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By Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

When you have a league that is so hard to pick, it makes sense (to me at least) to tell you to watch out for players that share that same air of unpredictability.

A first-round draft pick playing their first season in Europe is always an intriguing story. R.J. Hunter comes in with nothing unpredictable about his ability as a player - his last NBA game in Boston finished with him dropping 17 points and shooting 4 of 10 from behind the arc. 

Hunter will provide guaranteed scoring, but any time a player adjusts to their first season in Europe, there are always some questions to answer. Especially when that player is 6’5” (1.96m), 190lbs (88kg) and adjusting to a much more physical game in Europe. After a quick start in the Turkish BSL, those questions have lasted about as long as Antonio Brown on the Patriots. 

 

Hunter has put up 15.5 points, 2.5 assists, and 4 rebounds in his first 2 games, helping Turk Telekom to get the season started with a winning record. The fact that he is elite at the most important skill in basketball (shooting) must have also assisted the adjusting process. Hunter is lightning-quick on the draw and he’s not shy to let it go. The fact that he needs so little space to get his shot off makes him a 2v2 nightmare in the pick-and-roll, particularly when the screener is a body as big as his giant teammate Moustapha Fall.

Get used to seeing Hunter take one dribble round the screen and splash 3-balls in the tiniest crack of space. Any big man thinking they can afford to be an extra step deeper on the drop coverage will probably end up wanting to re-evaluate their life choices. Hunter’s also more than just a pure shooter. He has great court vision and a range of passes to punish defenses for sending two players in his direction.

If there is a question remaining, it is possibly about the age-old challenge for American rookies in Europe; resisting the home-sickness and lasting the grind of playing a full season in two competitions. I guess we will just have to watch the season unfold.

Arturs Kurucs, VEF Riga
SG - 6ft 3in (1.91m)


The VEF Riga guard was a standout player for Latvia in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup


By Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Having an older brother that already made the NBA must be a tough act to follow for any young hooper trying to build a rep for themselves. The younger Kurucs brother may have a substantial chip on his shoulder but it works for him, and he’s already made a good start when it comes to emulating his big bro. 14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists saw Arturs Kurucs lead a very talented Latvian generation to a silver medal in the 2018 FIBA U18 European Championship. He followed that up with 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists in the FIBA U19  Basketball World Cup this past summer.

In four games for VEF Riga in the Latvian and Estonian League, Kurucs has started out averaging 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists whilst shooting 52 percent overall, 41 percent from three and 88 percent from the charity stripe. Those are some very impressive numbers for a 19-year-old.

Genuine combo guards that have been born and raised in Europe used to be a rarity, but that is exactly what Kurucs is. The Latvian is much more than a dead-eye shooter. Handling the ball in the pick-and-roll or on the drive, Kurucs is equally lethal as a playmaker.

It's more than just the impressive stat lines that make the young Latvian stand out. Kurucs is smooth and plays the game in a way that makes it look easy. The Basketball Champions LeagueL will undoubtedly be a huge step up for Kurucs and ask questions of him that he's yet to answer, but his coach at VEF Riga, Janis Gailitis, has already told us that we should expect Kurucs to be a positive surprise this season. Who are we to disagree?